One Infinite Loop, Apple’s street address, is a programming in-joke — it refers to a routine that never ends. But it is also an apt description of the travails of parking at the Cupertino, California, campus. Like most things in Silicon Valley, Apple’s lots are egalitarian; there are no reserved spots for managers or higher-ups. Even if you’re a Porsche-driving senior executive, if you arrive after 10 am, you should be prepared to circle the lot endlessly, hunting for a space.
But there is one Mercedes that doesn’t need to search for very long, and it belongs to Steve Jobs. If there’s no easy-to-find spot and he’s in a hurry, Jobs has been known to pull up to Apple’s front entrance and park in a handicapped space. (Sometimes he takes up two spaces.) It’s become a piece of Apple lore — and a running gag at the company. Employees have stuck notes under his windshield wiper: “Park Different.” They have also converted the minimalist wheelchair symbol on the pavement into a Mercedes logo.
Jobs’ fabled attitude toward parking reflects his approach to business: For him, the regular rules do not apply. Everybody is familiar with Google’s famous catchphrase, “Don’t be evil.” It has become a shorthand mission statement for Silicon Valley, encompassing a variety of ideals that — proponents say — are good for business and good for the world: Embrace open platforms. Trust decisions to the wisdom of crowds. Treat your employees like gods.
It’s ironic, then, that one of the Valley’s most successful companies ignored all of these tenets. Google and Apple may have a friendly relationship — Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple’s board, after all — but by Google’s definition, Apple is irredeemably evil, behaving more like an old-fashioned industrial titan than a different-thinking business of the future. Apple operates with a level of secrecy that makes Thomas Pynchon look like Paris Hilton. It locks consumers into a proprietary ecosystem. And as for treating employees like gods? Yeah, Apple doesn’t do that either.
But by deliberately flouting the Google mantra, Apple has thrived. When Jobs retook the helm in 1997, the company was struggling to survive. Today it has a market cap of $105 billion, placing it ahead of Dell and behind Intel. Its iPod commands 70 percent of the MP3 player market. Four billion songs have been purchased from iTunes. The iPhone is reshaping the entire wireless industry. Even the underdog Mac operating system has begun to nibble into Windows’ once-unassailable dominance; last year, its share of the US market topped 6 percent, more than double its portion in 2003.
It’s hard to see how any of this would have happened had Jobs hewed to the standard touchy-feely philosophies of Silicon Valley. Apple creates must-have products the old-fashioned way: by locking the doors and sweating and bleeding until something emerges perfectly formed. It’s hard to see the Mac OS and the iPhone coming out of the same design-by-committee process that produced Microsoft Vista or Dell’s Pocket DJ music player. Likewise, had Apple opened its iTunes-iPod juggernaut to outside developers, the company would have risked turning its uniquely integrated service into a hodgepodge of independent applications — kind of like the rest of the Internet, come to think of it.
And now observers, academics, and even some other companies are taking notes. Because while Apple’s tactics may seem like Industrial Revolution relics, they’ve helped the company position itself ahead of its competitors and at the forefront of the tech industry. Sometimes, evil works.