back to article Apple Fools: Times the House of Jobs went horribly awry

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Apple's official establishment. Since 1976, the House that Steves Built has pushed out some of the most beloved personal electronics products in the world. There will no doubt be plenty of articles waxing poetic on the many successes that have dotted the last four decades for the Cupertino …

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The last series of the Newton actually worked as advertised, which was a big improvement over all the previous models that didn't. Lots of good ideas that were pretty nifty for the time. Still the best address book function in any mobile device I have ever come across. And I still nurture a grudge about the Newton being cancelled.

Switched over to a Sharp Zaurus eventually which was 'in colour' and more compact, but not as good.

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Facepalm

Gulp...

Every time I see a story on the Newton, I feel a pang of sadness, because mine, in a cardboard box with accessories, developer books etc, went to the dump instead of the small "keep" pile, by mistake, during a loft clear out in circa 2006. I loved that machine (N130), despite its many flaws. Apple products ceased to be cool about the time they dropped the rainbow logo.

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Newton

Probably Jobs was right to kill Pippin, Clones, Power PC etc. But killing the Newton was a mistake actually.

I doubt Apple will be around in another 40 years, but who knows. Apple may re-invent themselves again.

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Re: Newton

No matter how badly Apple screws up, they'll still be around in 40 years. They have too much money to simply sink without a trace in that time. They certainly wouldn't be relevant if they went back to their 1985-1997 missteps, but they'd still exist.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Newton

No matter how badly Apple screws up, they'll still be around in 40 years. They have too much money to simply sink without a trace in that time.

.. as amply demonstrated by Microsoft :).

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Re: Newton

Looking forward both Apple and Slurp could disappear for different reasons most likely. A couple of key blunders, coupled with a few years of massive losses and either could be gone.

My sense Apple is less vulnerable because they provide the key components to an entire ecosystem including hardware. As long as there is a demand for the ecosystem Apple is probably in good shape. Hardware will wear out and need to be replaced and that represents potential repeat sales to Apple.

Slurp is primarily an OS and software vendor. They are more vulnerable to shifts in software usage such as large migration to cloud/SaaS options where the underlying OS is unimportant. Slurp is not primary provider of the hardware used in their ecosystem so they are vulnerable to OEM defections to another OS (the current alternative is Linux). Also, the value of software and the ability to force users to replace it is more tied to hardware life cycles going forward than to new releases. User software and OSes are generally mature products that does wear out like a microwave will. Old software, if one can still run it, will do what was designed to do when it was released just the same as when it was released.

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Re: 1985-1997 missteps???

Have you seen any of the tat they have produced in the last few years?

If they fell into a barrel of tits they would come out sucking their thumbs!

By all accounts St. Jobs was a nightmare to deal with, but you have to grudgingly admit he really knew what he was about - or at least stood his ground even if he was wrong!. Everyone else at 1 infinite loop (what an appropriate address) not so much, I guess the last person Jobs would consider working for was Jobs.

As an anti fanboi the last few years have been very entertaining, as they dropped the ball time and time again. It's going to catch up with them soon.

As far as I can see, it's just a question of how long it takes them to burn through that (mahoosive) pile of cash they are sitting on.

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Re: Newton

Worth noting that Apple killed Power PC in 2006 but it seems much earlier in the article. Jobs returned in 1997 so he took a while to get round to it.

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Re: Newton

"I doubt Apple will be around in another 40 years, but who knows. Apple may re-invent themselves again."

Actually, Apple has so much money right now, that if they ceased operations altogether, laid off all engineering and sales staff they'd still be around, and probably even bigger in 40 years as an international investment bank.

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Re: 1985-1997 missteps???

Well, the thing is, Apple is not burning through their pile of cash at the moment, they are adding to it. Net profit for the last quarter of 2015 was $11.1 billion.

"The Company posted quarterly revenue of $51.5 billion and quarterly net profit of $11.1 billion, or $1.96 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $42.1 billion and net profit of $8.5 billion, or $1.42 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 39.9 percent compared to 38 percent in the year-ago quarter."

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Re: Newton

.. as amply demonstrated by Microsoft :).

They aren't alone. Actually you could see Microsoft as being at the top of the decline that others such as Nokia or Novell. In all cases, what you see them doing is exactly what Apple's execs did at the time when they were first chucking Jobs out and it might have worked too if those same execs had any real idea when it came to innovation. The trouble is that too many of these companies fall into the hands of beancounters who only see these companies in terms of current sales and have no idea about trying things out, risk and so forth.

The article, for example, mentions Acorn. This was the company that brought the ARM into being (the chip name predated the company by a few years - the original name was the Acorn RISC Machine) and demonstrated its uses in its Archimedes and Risc PC ranges of computers yet, in the midst of preparation for a new machine that could have yet again leapfrogged the competition of the time, they were summarily clobbered by a bunch of beancounters who decided that the future wasn't in that sort of thing. They weren't prepared to risk anything, instead asset-stripping the company then going on their merry way. Acorn didn't stand a chance.

I may not have had much time for Steve Jobs but it can't be denied that Apple is a pale shadow now of what it was a scant four or five years ago and, since you mention it, Microsoft isn't either. Each continues to throw out ideas but without a clear direction other than that dictated by the bottom line which, so it seems, is the only thing a beancounter is interested in.

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Happy

Re: Newton

(the chip name predated the company by a few years - the original name was the Acorn RISC Machine)

The original ARM processor development started in October 1983, with the first test hardware produced in April 1985. ARM Holdings (when Apple became involved) was incorporated in 1990.

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Re: Newton

In 1996, Apple's Mac OS was reaching the end of its technological life. It needed another OS and was casting around on how to make this happen. It's Mac product range was getting confused and people were moving over to PCs. Ironically the Newton took 5 years to mature but by then it was due for a rewrite too.

Apple was in Triage. It needed a loan from Microsoft, the partial sale of its stake in ARM and the iMac G3, which helped rejuvenate the Mac OS product line in 1998 until OS X could come through in 2001, to survive.

You can put the boot into Microsoft, but actually the challenges Apple and other tech companies face, at a certain level, are remarkably similar. Sooner or later your base technologies get long in the tooth and then you've got to cast around for a replacement. Hopefully you can do it while cash flow is good.

Further irony: the tech platform closest to the Newton in usability (HWR, stylus support, portability) is Windows 10 and the Asus Vivotab or Lenovo 8" ThinkPad tablets.

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Re: Newton

Microsoft is going through a rejuvenation. It's trying to mature it's new Windows 10 and while it is still under development, MS will be vulnerable. Having said that it's cloud platform, Azure seems to scoring well, and so is Office 365.

The MSFT v AAPL wars can easily get tribal. But that's too simplistic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 1985-1997 missteps???

Have you seen any of the tat they have produced in the last few years?

If they fell into a barrel of tits they would come out sucking their thumbs!

By all accounts St. Jobs was a nightmare to deal with, but you have to grudgingly admit he really knew what he was about - or at least stood his ground even if he was wrong!. Everyone else at 1 infinite loop (what an appropriate address) not so much, I guess the last person Jobs would consider working for was Jobs.

I'd be careful with confirmation bias. Steve Jobs made mistakes too, but they were somewhat less enthusiastically advertised :).

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Anonymous Coward

That hockey puck mouse

I confess that I found the hockey puck mouse to be very 'hand-friendly'. Indeed, it's been one of my favourite mice over the years.

There's nothing unusual about my right hand so I have no idea what I was doing wrong.

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Coat

Re: That hockey puck mouse

You're holding it right.

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Devil

Re: That hockey puck mouse

I've never known any mouse from Apple after the turnaround (puck, mighty, magic) to be actually usable. Is it so difficult to bundle something that works and lasts like a cheapy Logitech?

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: That hockey puck mouse

*Did you use your machine once a month?

They are the worst designed mouse I have ever used, combined with MacOS9 working in a computer shop when nothing we sold was Apple. I have also just realised I could have replaced it with a free Special Reserve Mouse (Only 8 reddies), didn't realise they were USB and never thought to check. I still want to beat any of those stupid machines with a baseball bat (Blasted bomb icon appearing when attempting to save stock take details at 2AM in the morning!).

*Warning I am a biased person when it comes to Apple devices, don't take it personally.

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Same here.

My other mac - an aging (but still very robust) Power Macintosh G3, is chuntering away behind me scanning Trannies from the 80s with its SCSI connected slide scanner. My interface with it is via a much maligned hockey-puck.

Like AC above, I find it so easy and natural to use and can honestly say it has never given me any hand problems at all - it it had done I wouldn't still be using it everyday.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Same here.

Which website are you putting the scans up on!!!!!

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Re: Same here.

Big fan of the Ford Transit eh?

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Anonymous Coward

Newton fishing

There was something fishy about the departure of the Newton. Didn't Microsoft give Apple a pile of money about that time? Was the demise of the newton anything to do with that?

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Re: Newton fishing

The Newton was conceived "when Steve was away". Ergo a bad idea per definitionem.

Bit of a PHB moment there for Steve, actually.

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Re: Newton fishing

Didn't Jobs kill the Newton because of the stylus? That's what the Isaacson biography says, I think.

And that story was part of the Apple Pencil launch snark.

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Re: Newton fishing

Newton was first spun out into a standalone subsidiary of Apple, called Newton, Inc (Claris was similarly split out); later, it was "spun-in" to Apple again, mainly so that Jobs could shut it down.

Newton's last product line was "eMate" a small laptop form-factor aimed at the US school market (and a forerunner of the design language that would appear with PowerBookG3/iMac/iBook). It did okay, and looked like opening a new market, but maybe someone in Apple saw it as a threat to Apple's own, higher margin, computer sales into that market.

But the big benefit of Newton was the investment in ARM Holdings. There were only two things that kept the company running through 1997: income from the ARM shares and the $400M settlement/investment from Microsoft.

I briefly worked on the "Tanzania" 4400-series PowerMacs - I wouldn't class it as a failure, though. By the standards of the time, it actually sold well. More importantly, it provided a lot of experience about reducing Apple's dependence on expensive components, particularly its reliance on SCSI for mass-storage; a year later, iMac arrived, with many of the same PC-parts-bin bits inside, just in a fancier case.

The hardware "failures" had all occurred before the likes of the 4400 came out. The real damage to Apple was done by the bewildering "Performa" range, where some were decent, and others were complete dogs, and even people inside Apple had trouble remembering which was which.

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Apple peripherals....

Why is it when apple manage to make one good peripheral they bugger up the other one?

The iMac keyboard was alright and the inbuilt USB hub was clever, but that bloody mouse.... Then they fixed the mouse by the g5's power macs and instead made a keyboard without a rest that had almost an inch if lift before a quite steep curve. They bugger your wrists up something rotten.

Now they've moved onto having a wireless uber short stroke keyboard that feels numb to use its very odd.

Say what you will about ms they know how to make peripherals (I've got a 12+ optical mouse that still works just fine and the comfort keyboard I used to have lived upto it's name)

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Re: Apple peripherals....

I still use my old 5 button MS optical mouse that's around 3yrs old now, still working perfectly and currently attached to my mediaserver.

In the drawer next to me I still have my 13yr old MS keyboard that still works perfectly despite being repeatedly stripped down and the top half put through the shower to clean it out every few months... In fact I'm wondering why it's in the drawer and not attached to the media server instead of the dreadful £4 Tesco POS........

BRB

OK... that's sorted that out.

Microsoft USED to make fantastic durable peripherals... from what I hear today. They're not as good as they used to be... But then neither is the software they try to force upon you.

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Re: Apple peripherals....

I use the wired Apple flat keyboard and rather like it. It did take me a while to get used to it, of course, but typing on a long-stroke keyboard irks me now.

Logitech also make some similar keyboards (the term for the things is 'scissor action' because of the frame that holds the keycap).

I won't get near an Apple mouse, though. I use a Kensington ExpertMouse. Which isn't a mouse at all, it's a trackball.

The big problem with the flat Apple keyboards is that they just can't be taken apart to clean them. So if you spill a Coke on it, that's the end of that.

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Bah!

The problem that killed off the Newton prematurely was the fast spreading stories concerning the handwriting recognition's legendary ability to take anything you tried to write and morph it into something almost but not entirely unlike anything you intended.

I was told by a Palm insider some years ago that had Mr Jobs not insisted on the handwriting recognition the Newton would have shipped with Graffiti, the bedrock on which Palm later built a monster. Imagine the consequences of that.

And though almost everyone who saw Graffiti in use thought it difficult to use, just about everyone who actually tried it found to their surprise that it was intuitive and easy. I owned a Handspring Visor and loved the way I could hold a conversation with someone and take minutes without looking at the screen or my hands and end up with a readable and accurate record of whatever was being discussed.

Had the Newton been fitted with Graffiti instead of handwriting recognition as its primary screen-to-text mechanism it not only would have lived longer it might well have prospered. I might even have owned one.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bah!

Mr Jobs was not there when the Newton was launched!

So can't be blamed for the hand writing, he actually hated the Newton calling it "that scribbley thing"

One of the first things he did on his return was kill off the Newton

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Re: Bah!

If the Newton had lived, Apple would have been handicapped by "Newton compatibility" when they came out with the iPhone. Can you imagine compromising its design to include a pen and support for writing those stupid chicken scratches?

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Re: Bah!

Nope. I think you are confusing the Newton and the Palm PC.

Palm used a pen and Grafitti handwriting (a modified alphabet you needed to learn) to input data. "Stupid chicken scratches" is a very good description of that. The Newton would learn to recognize its users handwriting. Like I posted above, one of the things that worked in the last series (but not in the first*, second,...). The pen was needed because the touchscreens we have today were not around yet. There is no reason to assume the handwriting recognition couldn't have been ported to a finger-sensitive screen.

*It really was a lot like this. Drove you mad when you wanted to get stuff done, good fun at parties.

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Re: Bah!

The problem that killed off the Newton prematurely was the fast spreading stories concerning the handwriting recognition's legendary ability to take anything you tried to write and morph it into something almost but not entirely unlike anything you intended.

I wondered about that. Was it that Newtons were so bad, or was it bad press on the back of the atrocious Amstrad device that was released a few months before it?

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Re: Bah!

The problem that killed off the Newton prematurely was the fast spreading stories concerning the handwriting recognition's legendary ability to take anything you tried to write and morph it into something almost but not entirely unlike anything you intended.

The Newton was supposed to adapt its handwriting recognition software to match the writing of the user and -- I'm told by who had a Newton -- it did that rather well.

The stories came about because most people who tried the Newton's handwriting recognition did so in shops by playing with the Newton on display. That Newton had just spent the last week adapting its recognition software to a different user every five minutes, and was consequently barely able to recognize a straight line. It would have worked better after a factory reset!

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Re: Graffiittii

Grafiti was fine once you got used to it for the basic alphabet, but the strokes needed for _any_ of the punctuation characters, or say a £ sign, were impossible to remember, and generally quite difficult to execute even when looking at the crib sheet.

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Re: Graffiittii

Of course, everyone who has pointed out that SJ was not at Apple during the Newton era is right. My memory is obviously at fault on that detail, but I do remember being told that the Graffiti product was a Newton-born affair that was discarded.

Discarded Ideas drove a bunch of portable device innovations - the Handspring Visor was made by people who left Palm when 3COM took over and had a differing vision of the Future of the Handheld Device.

Mea Culpa on the erroneous SJ blaming.

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Re: Bah!

The stories came about because most people who tried the Newton's handwriting recognition did so in shops

Well, much damage must have been done by the Doonesbury plot line that had Mike buying one and then failing to get it to record anything accurately. I don't imagine Trudeau did that from anything but personal experience.

I bought something in a New York musicians store years ago and all the sales were conducted using Newtons. They seemed to have no problem, but they were using what would be now called an App.

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FAIL

So many gaffes

Decisions, decisions... What about refusing to let developers build apps for the iPhone for the first year or two? Or that crap "music phone" from Motorola that ran "iTunes" in some f'ed up Java mobile environment? Or blatantly violating labor law in the US by masterminding an illegal conspiracy among tech companies not to poach each others' employees (it still amazes me that so many CEO's went along with this... they deserve to be in prison and the behavior needs to be discouraged)? There are many more than are listed in this article.

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Re: So many gaffes

> What about refusing to let developers build apps for the iPhone for the first year or two?

What about it? It didn't hurt the adoption of the iPhone by the people Apple wanted to buy it. Remember that the 1st gen iPhone was not great compared to the second version with 3G - the first iPhone had too many compromises, but it acted as a good statement of intent.

>Or that crap "music phone" from Motorola that ran "iTunes" in some f'ed up Java mobile environment?

Again, what damage did it do Apple? Not many people bought them, and if anything it might have been useful to Apple in muddying the waters around the 'Apple phone' rumours. This was at a time when most phones from Sony Ericcson, Samsung and Nokia didn't even provide a 3.5mm headphone socket, cos you were supposed to use whatever headset the phone shipped with. Urgh. Samsung were competing on the 'worlds thinnest' slider and candy bar, Motorola were competing on fancy materials, SE were using their Walkman and Cybershot branding, Nokia seemed a bit confused...

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Re: So many gaffes

Hmm, well put - I guess that's why I didn't buy a first generation iPhone.

I actually wanted a phone. not a statement of intent.

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Re: So many gaffes

It's just a MK I thing.

- First Ipod: FireWire only, Mac only. 'Only' 5GB. Three times the price of a MD player.

- First iPhone - no 3G

- First iPad - didn't receive nearly as many OS updates as the MK II product.

It isn't just an Apple thing. Sony, internally, saw product range lifespans as being like a day, from sunrise to sunset. Mk I was 'build it any way you can'. MK II was the 'iconic' version being more refined, and bought by more people than just the first adopters. Sony would then produce themes and variations. And yes, Steve Jobs had a friendly relationship with the tops executives at Sony. In turn, the father of the Playstation and VAIO was a fan of Essingler's Mac design languag, and Sony's design team would use Macs. (Source: Digital Dreams. The Work of the Sony Design Centre - ISBN: Google it yourself)

What we forget in the UK is that Apple only sold the iPhone through one network, and insisted that they didn't take the piss on data charges.

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Re: So many gaffes

Refusing to let developers build iPhone apps for the first year or two cost them a year or two of app store revenue. Not that they needed it, but being a corporate they would still have wanted that money.

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Facepalm

Clones and eWorld

So you were not going to mention the Daystar Genesis then I guess in the Apple Clones section? One of the true success stories of Apple's 'wilderness years' and certainly the best 'Mac' of the period. Very pricey indeed, but then again it introduced multi-processing to Macs .. in 1995 and by God it was fast. Able to have its processors very easily upgraded and coupled (in 1997) with 7.61, which was Apple's final version of Copeland and the only OS to record less than 17 known bugs, it was an absolutely amazing computer.

As unmitigated, complete disasters go you should have mentioned eWorld: Gil Amelio's 1994 'answer' to AOL and CompuServe. It was supposed to be a 'village' for Mac users as a replacement for AppleLink, took forever to load up (if at all) and, get this, it cost a (then) staggering $8.95 a month in order to REDUCE demand. Well, that worked so well that it never got any demand at all: something that should have been warning bells to all at Apple about Amelio.

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Re: Clones and eWorld

the only OS to record less than 17 known bugs

Maybe that was because so few people used it that so few bugs were uncovered...

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Re: Clones and eWorld

I've always been baffled by Amelio's time at Apple. He's a very smart guy with a solid track record, and unlike a lot of America's Finest Idiot CEOs[tm] he's done just fine with most of his projects.

But not at Apple. At Apple he did really stupid things.

I don't entirely understand how or why.

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Re: Clones and eWorld

But not at Apple. At Apple he did really stupid things.

I don't entirely understand how or why.

You seem to be forgetting the Reality Distortion Field(tm)

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Clones

Jobs killed off the Mac clone program, but he was willing to make an exception for Sony VAIOs. Sony, however, had already invested too much time Windows VAIOs to switch to OSX.

http://nobi.com/en/Steve%20Jobs%20and%20Japan/entry-1212.html

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"So, the next time you want to have a laugh at Newton's expense, be sure to also thank it for the chip powering your smartphone."

I'd much rather thank Acorn for that since - as you mention in the article - it was their baby.

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>I'd much rather thank Acorn for that since - as you mention in the article - it was their baby.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_Holdings#Founding

The company was founded in November 1990 as Advanced RISC Machines Ltd and structured as a joint venture between Acorn Computers, Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) and VLSI Technology. The new company intended to further the development of the Acorn RISC Machine processor, which was originally used in the Acorn Archimedes and had been selected by Apple for their Newton project. Its first profitable year was 1993.

And as the article notes, Acorn weren't the only RISC designers in town at the time, but were cheaper than the competition.

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