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Decade-Defining Brands: Apple

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Success boils down to the letter "i".

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More than any other decade, the 2000s have been kind to Apple (AAPL).

It isn't easy to revolutionize computers, the music industry, cell phones, film editing and the overall look of technology. But over the past decade, Apple's done it all. When you consider the enormity of its cultural reach, it's hard to remember just how screwed the company was 10 years ago. In 1997, Apple's market share had dropped from 7.9% to 5.2%. It posted $936 million in losses over 5 quarters, according to Business Week.

At the time, Gil Amelio, then CEO of Apple, was rightfully irate. With Steve Jobs inching his way back into Apple's executive fold, Amelio needed to let shareholders know he was prepared to tackle the company's fiscal crisis head-on.

"I'm going to use the 2-by-4 approach," he said. "I'm going to put this place through the most gut-wrenching change it's ever had.''

Little did Amelio know that the change would start with him. Apple's board of directors fired Amelio and reinstated Jobs as the company's chief executive.

It turned out to be a smart move. Today, Apple's market cap hovers around $105 billion.

So, how did Apple go from bust to boom so quickly? It all boils down to a little letter - the ninth in the alphabet to be exact: "I."

In 1998, the company unveiled the first of its many i-products: the iMac. Unique in its design, the iMac became fiercely popular in tech circles. It was the first personal computer to abandon the floppy disk drive - a move that highlighted Apple's foresight. After only 139 days on the market, Apple had sold 800,000 units. The computer sold so well that the Little Shop That Could was unable to keep up with consumer demand. During this period, the company returned to profitability for the first time since 1993.

Of the many reasons why consumers responded so well to the iMac (killer design, ease of use, lots of fun colors including "Blue Dalmation"), one seemed to trump them all: Internet usability.

In case you were wondering, the "i" in iMac stood for "Internet."

iMac's success certainly deserves credit for bringing the company back to life. But something happened on October 23, 2001 that would change the company and media landscape forever: The unveiling of the first iPod.

Commanding over 70% of the MP3 player market, the iPod quickly became Apple's secret weapon. In 2007, Apple reported quarterly revenue of $7.1 billion - almost half coming from iPod sales.

Suddenly, iPods were everywhere. In cafes, bars and restaurants. On jogger's sleeves and inside cars. With the advent of the iTunes Store, Apple found a way to marry its device to an online hub that easily organized musical libraries. In short, Apple forever changed the face of how media was organized, distributed and sold. And it did it in the 2000s.

Throw into the mix the enormously successful iLife applications and another little contraption called the iPhone and soon it's easy to see just how powerful the Apple brand has become. In 2008, Fortune named Apple the most admired company in the United States. What a difference a decade makes.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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