Jim Dalrymple is the Editor-in-chief at self-founded LoopInsight. Before that, he was Editor-at-Large at MacWorld magazine where he worked for 10 years after the company he helped start was purchased in 1999. He was part of one of the first ever online publications covering Apple and has been writing about the company ever since.
I first met Jim last year, when he arrived in to Dublin before Úll 2012. He had ordered and devoured a Beef & Guinness pie: A perfect introduction to Ireland. Throughout that weekend, Jim and I chatted a lot. I learned that apart from his love of simple, delicious, preferably beef-based food, and his undying dedication to Dutch beer, Jim is a man of depth, character, intrigue and surprise. What’s entirely clear is how dedicated he is to what he does, and how he wears his passions on his sleeve.
More than anything for Jim, two passions stand out most: Apple and guitars. I caught up with him on Skype and we talked about both. Since Jim lived through, covered and got excited about what was probably the most exciting times in the evolution of Apple, if not any company, ever: Steve Jobs‘s return and the launch of products that would reshape the future of the company, and of the computer industry.
Jim got his start working at a newspaper in the circulation department. He never anticipated becoming a writer, but his calling appeared after he realised that publishing in the mid 90s was on the edge of something that was going to take off. It also helped that this was a period in which one of his greatest passions was going through ground-breaking changes.
“When I started, it was 1994. It was still the time of Gil Amelio, before Steve came back. Apple was beleaguered and the rumours then were that Sony was going to buy Apple. Because Sony was huge at that point. So, there was a lot of interesting things going on at that time. Apple hadn't made the transition to Intel. They hadn't thought of the iPod or anything like that, or iTunes. We were on Mac OS 7 at that point. It was a crazy time to write.“
Not only was it an exciting time for Apple, it was an exciting time for the publishing industry as a whole. While Amazon was launching its first site, online magazines were trying to figure things out.
”When we decided to go daily, that was a big thing. A lot of the magazines then had these little magazines that you would bundle up and people would download and read. My partner at the time made the call to go daily and I thought he was crazy. But he did it and that's really how we began.”
But the moment that changed everything for Jim came a few years later, in 1998.
”When Steve came back. That day. Things started to get really interesting. When Steve came back at the MacWorld Expo and he had Bill Gates behind him and it looked like the 1984 commercial. That's when things started to really start flying.”
“I remember I was sitting here in the same place that I am now. I was getting calls and emails from people that they just heard on NPR in the States that Apple had bought NeXT and was bringing Steve Jobs back. I was running around trying to find out if that was true or not, because at that point, Apple was rumoured to buy Be, the BeOS. We were wondering if Steve was back. As it turns out, yes he was. I think that was just so incredibly important for what has happened since. It's easy to look back and say that, but I remember feeling that at the time: This is the one man who can pull them out. Steve has said that they were a few months away from bankruptcy.”
The landscape has changed dramatically. Since those transition days, we‘ve seen the iPod, followed a few years later by the iPhone, and then the iPad. Throughout that progression, Apple have gone on to become the biggest tech company in the world. With that size comes a certain predictability, perhaps. Is Apple just not as exciting to cover these days?
“It's kinda hard to say that Apple is getting boring when nobody knows what they‘re working on. An analyst report today downgraded Apple stock. He [The author of the report] did some supply checks and and he believes that Apple's having supply problems and won't launch an iPhone until September. Then he said that he estimates that the low cost iPhone could cost $350 or more, and he also predicts that the iTV launch has been pushed to 2014. Apple has never said anything about any of these products, but yet this analyst feels that he can downgrade the stock because he feels these things. He has no idea.”
The article that Jim referred to is a WSJ article that he wrote about on Loop Insight.
“It‘s difficult to say that Apple is getting boring, because their products are still selling in record amounts. Look at their last quarter. They had record revenue. A record $13.1b profit. Record iPhone sales. Record iPad sales. So where is it exactly that Apple is failing? Everybody likes to say that Apple is failing, but this is just the last quarter. Clearly their products are still exciting. If somebody doesn't feel that Apple is already and has been planning for the future, then they don‘t know the company.”
It‘s clear that Jim considers Apple a benchmark company, both in the products they ship and the ecosystem for themselves that they have created. Are there any other companies out there that are taking the lessons that Apple is teaching and applying it for themselves?
”There are a lot of companies that come along and say ’Steve Jobs was my inspiration’ and he’s then one I do my management style after. But it seems that all they want to do is build something and sell it. It almost reminds me of the dot com boom when everybody was starting a company so that they could sell it. I don’t really see a whole lot of companies out there that are building something that you could say that these guys have an outlook for the future. You get a lot of these services companies where you can track things and you can check in and they’re worth billions of dollars. But is that really the next Apple? Maybe I’m wrong but I see the next Apple as being more special than that.”
If Apple is a benchmark, what is it that’s holding other companies back? It seems that nobody can match Apple on pure product. Is it because of an over-focus on money?
”That’s exactly what it is. Let’s just pick the tablet category for the sake of argument here. When Apple goes in and creates this category—they didn’t create the product, the tablet (Microsoft has had that for a decade. They’ve screwed it up ever since they’ve started it)—Apple came out with this product called the iPad and all of a sudden they had this new category, and what is everybody else doing? They’re just copying Apple.”
”Every tablet out there looks like an iPad in one way or the other. There’s nobody that’s saying ’I don’t think Apple did it right. I think this is the right way to do it’. That’s what it’s gonna take. It’s gonna take somebody to try and leapfrog Apple in innovation. All of the other companies are so satisfied with second place. Every turn that Apple makes, they will follow them. That’s why nobody’s jumping out in the lead. That’s what Steve Jobs did. That’s what Woz did. You have to be willing to step out. I don’t think that most companies are willing to take that risk.”
Jim considers Apple way ahead of their competition, and there’s something of a lamenting tone in his voice as he discusses those other second place companies. It occurs to me that during the time that Apple has been growing, there has been a large shift in the music industry as a whole. I’m interested to hear Jim’s thoughts on his other great passion: guitar-based rock. The benchmark for this kind of music was laid out throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, from rock and roll, through metal, heavier metal and indie, through the grunge scene in the 90s. It seems like the last 15 years, whilst incredibly significant for Apple, have been a low period for rock music.
Jim’s benchmarks in guitar music are Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhoads, and Jimmy Page. For him, these are the people who changed music.
”They had a way of transforming the genre of rock music into something more meaningful for that crowd at the time. I was hooked on that.”
We talk a bit about the history of guitar based music throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and it’s clear that Jim has a lot of nostalgia, but also respect for the artists he loved during those times.
”I look at musicians now kinda the same way I look at Apple. Is there anyone like Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen? Zakk Wilde? Slash? Those are some of my favourite guitarists. It’s not the fact that they can go fast. It’s the fact that they have so much feel in how they play. It’s not about shredding. Get Slash playing the solo on Knocking On Heaven’s Door. Now that’s a tasty solo. You can feel every note. That’s what I judge guitarists on these days. What can they do to change how I think about music?”
Like with Apple, Jim doesn’t see much evidence these days of any musicians who compare with the benchmark greats.
”Who is this generation’s Led Zeppelin? Is it Kanye West? I don’t think there is one.”
Has anybody come close?
”I liked a lot of the grunge stuff. Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Pearl Jam. Those bands did change things. Maybe Guns’n’Roses were one of the last bands to change music like that. When they did it, they did it with a bang. I don’t know of anybody else that has really done it.”
Guns’n’Roses changed the face of rock music in the late 80s, paving the way for Pearl Jam, and then Nirvana. During the same period, Steve Jobs was laying the seeds at NeXT for what he would eventually bring back to Apple.
It all comes back to 1994. Kurt Cobain’s death marked the end of what appears to be a Golden Age of rock music. How ironic that it also marked the beginning of Jim’s writing career, the beginning of a new generation of media distribution.
”It seems to me that we’re so used to getting everything instantly now. Justin Bieber: found on YouTube and now he’s a gazillionaire. According to all reports, everybody hates his music, but he’s still making a gazillion dollars. There’s not the work that has to go in to making a Led Zeppelin. Now you put a video on YouTube, it goes viral, and you’re famous in a day.”
There’s definitely a certain melancholy to those words. And I must say, it’s really quite moving. There’s a sense of regret, and of a yearning for those days when Kurt Cobain was still alive, and where music felt like it was building on the shoulders of giants, and not just remixing the past. When Steve Jobs was at his creative and most eccentric.
What makes a Led Zeppelin, anyway?
”Heartache. And lots of work. They weren’t afraid. They put it out there.”
Heartache. Lots of work. Fearlessness. The strands that tie Jim’s musical loves together are also present in the what he loves about Apple. Jim has covered a lot of great work throughout his career. As I wrap up, I can’t help but wish that there’s something great around the corner that will excite Jim again, that will bring the world forward like Zeppelin, GnR, Nirvana did. Like Apple do.
—Paul Campbell, March 2013