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Without Steve Jobs, Uncertainty at Apple

By Hana N. Rouse, Crimson Staff Writer

When Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods decides to shed her party-girl demeanor to become a serious Harvard Law School student, her first purchase is a tangerine Apple iBook.

While the make and model of the products have changed since the movie was released in 2001, the Apple brand has grown more and more popular in higher education. But with Steve Jobs announcing his departure as CEO of Apple last week, many question whether the company will continue to flourish.

In recent years, Apple products have become ubiquitous on college campuses. A 2008 study by the research firm Student Monitor found that of the college students that owned laptop computers, 27 percent owned Macs and 24 percent owned Dells. A survey of 125 colleges by Group Logic, Inc. found that Mac usage on campuses increased by 18 percent between 2009 and 2010 and is expected to rise by about 20 percent over the next five years.

A quick glance around a typical Harvard lecture hall, where the rows are often dotted with a mosaic of one-bite apples, shows that the College is not exempt from the trend. While Harvard Technology Services sells both Apple and Dell products, only Apple products are sold on-location. Dell products are ordered directly from the manufacturer.

Salespeople at Harvard’s computer store in the basement of the Science Center declined to comment on the number of Apple and Dell computers sold to students.

According to Hal B. Gregersen, a professor of leadership at INSEAD—an international graduate business school—Apple products appeal to college students largely because of “a combination of both functionality and fashion.”

“The devices that Apple builds are much more than simply functional devices. They have a strong aesthetic component,” said Paul L. Saffo ’76, a technology forecaster and an associate professor at Stanford. “Apple has always resonated with the younger demographic.”

For many, the Apple brand and Steve Jobs have become synonymous. Under the guidance of its turtleneck-wearing and blue jeans-clad chieftain, Apple transformed industry after industry with products that few expected to succeed.

It remains to be seen if Apple can maintain the momentum it acquired under Jobs and continue to attract to a younger demographic. “I think very little is going to change,” said Harvard Business School Senior Associate Dean David B. Yoffie. “The fundamental aspects of products are going to continue to be very popular on college campuses. The products are still going to have that cool factor because of their features and user interface. Steve Jobs’ departure is not going to have that big of an immediate impact.”

Experts interviewed for this article said that because Apple has long anticipated Jobs’ departure, the company has built a strong network of senior executives who are ready carry on his vision.

“Executives at Apple ... are going to have to step up and fill some of the roles that Jobs was filling,” said tech analyst and columnist Jeff Kagan. “Frankly, I don’t know if they will.”

“But I hope they will,” he added.

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

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