Apple After Steve: One year later

Tim Bajarin / October 1st, 2012

This Friday marks the first anniversary of Steve’s Jobs death. I was going through security at the San Diego Airport when I heard the news and although we all knew the end was coming soon, the finality of it struck me hard. Jobs was a bigger than life figure who was a true tech titan who impacted our world in so many ways.

While he did not invent the personal computer, he was the first to commercialize and consumerize it. He did not invent the graphical user interface. But he was the first to bring it to the masses. He did not invent the MP3 player, yet he made the iPod a household name and to this day, the iPod dominates the market for portable music players. He did not invent the smartphone. But he revolutionized its design and changed the way we think about, use and buy smartphones. He did not invent the tablet, but he was the one to finally make it a mainstream portable computing device. His ability to create one hit after another was amazing and to call him a just a visionary would be an understatement.

Over the last two weeks, I have done many media interviews about Apple after Jobs. Just about every publication in every medium will soon reflect on Jobs’ life and life at Apple after Jobs. And the first question I seem to get is “what kind of job has Tim Cook done since he became CEO?” I usually jokingly ask the reporter if they have seen Apple’s stock lately. When the trading of Apple’s stock was halted at the news of Jobs’ death, it hovered around $378. Today it is close to $700. By that measure alone I would say Tim Cook has been extremely successful at his role as Steve Jobs’ successor.

But the reason that Cook and Apple is so successful after the loss of someone like Steve Jobs, is because Steve Jobs himself spent years mentoring and preparing Tim and team for the day he would no longer be able to lead the company himself. Many people don’t know that while Jobs hoped his liver transplant and medicinal treatments would keep him around for many years, his doctors early on told him that his days could be numbered. Starting in 2005, Jobs began to step up his role as mentor and move a lot of the day-to-day decisions to his top execs.
Thanks to Steve’s long term planning, and the internal education and vision casting that he imparted to this executive team, Apple has not skipped a beat, and in fact, it has grown exponentially since Oct 5, 2011.

Another question I get is “when will Apple be Tim Cook’s company?” since the buck now stops at his doorstop. The truth is it will never be Tim Cook’s company. Apple is cast in Steve Jobs’ likeness and given his proven formula for success, his imprint will always be on Apple. But I do expect a day to come when Apple has more of Tim’s personality and it will reflect his take on how he executes Steve’s vision and Apple’s goals in the future. But Jobs’ influence on Apple will never fade as long as their executive team, who were all trained personally by Jobs, is committed to carrying out Steve’s vision for the company.

I am also asked often about Apple’s future given the fact that the competition is starting to catch up with them. First, keep in mind that Apple’s design cycles are not like their competitors. For example, the iPhone started on the drawing boards in 2004. And believe it or not, that is the same time the iPad was hatched. It turns out that when the tablet concept was first shown to Jobs back then, he asked if they could make it much smaller. The result was the iPhone. Amazingly, the timing was perfect as Jobs’ sixth sense told him that a smartphone would be important at that time and he put what became the iPad on hold until the technology needed for it was ready for primetime.

This suggests that both the iPhone and iPad roadmaps were shown to Steve well before his death and his imprint could be on these devices for at least the next 2-3 years. Apple could also have some other things up their sleeve’s as technologies like flexible displays and augmented reality are still not ready for the market. And don’t count out their ability to innovate around their eco system of hardware, software and services. Then there is Apple TV. While still a “hobby,” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he and the team had a greater vision for what Apple TV could be and that it would become a very important product for Apple. His actual words were “I have finally cracked it.” Given Apple’s track record of winning products, who would bet against the possibility that Apple could revolutionize the TV someday and change television forever?

This is not to say that I don’t have concerns about Apple’s future and that they could stumble along the way. Competition is heating up and innovation is now coming from all over the world. But history shows that even when they make a mistake, once they correct it they get back on track. Remember antenna-gate? Two years later it is a non-issue. And map-gate will most likely follow a similar path. It will ultimately get better 6-12 months from now, it too will be forgotten. Also, Apple has one of the best tech design teams on the planet, lead by Jony Ive, as well as an executive team that has gelled well since Steve’s death.

But remember, competitive challenges will always be there. Market forces may force Apple to make key decisions that some people might not like. But given Tim Cook’s leadership and an executive team determined to carry out Steve Jobs’ vision for Apple, we can assume that it is in good hands and that will be able to navigate all of the challenging roads ahead.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Rich

    As far as Apple TV goes, the problem is the strong control that the content producers and distributors have over what happens to the content. Apple will need to be at its cleverest and most creative to have much influence on that, although I do think if anyone can be clever and creative it’s them.

    • I completely agree. I just posted about this on iPhoneHacks in fact.

      I truly believe much of Apple’s chance to TRULY revolutionize television as a service died with Jobs. I just don’t think anyone left at Apple has his force of will or his intimidation factor to get the content providers to change the way they bring their content to the viewer. Just like Jobs DEMANDED AT&T completely change the way they do things for the iPhone, his prowess and persuasion would be all but necessary to change the way Time Warner (for example) sells their programming.

      I am hopeful that maybe Apple and DirecTV (as the largest subscriber base in the US) will maybe come to some kind of agreement and deliver a change in the way we receive programming in our homes.

      • steve_wildstrom

        When Steve Jobs was the largest shareholder in Disney, he still couldn’t get the company to play nice with iTunes. And even though AT&T gave in to Apple’s initials demands, it forced a major retreat within a year. Steve was good, but not magical.

        Apple can’t just do a deal with DirecTV, at least not a very meaningful, disruptive one; they need the content owners to go along. This stuff is really, really hard. After three years after they struct a deal, TiVo Comcast boxes are only available in seven markets, just two of them Tier 1.

        • I completely agree with you on a DirecTV relationship not being all that “disruptive”. I simply offered that as a “next-best option” since the content providers themselves don’t seem to be very interested in shaking things up.

          Obviously, I can only speculate. I could see an iDevice/DirecTV DVR integration changing the way we do things in our homes, but as you said, it would hardly be the “game changer” I think Jobs envisioned.

  • benbajarin

    Comments seem to be fixed now. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • mhikl

    I remember two interesting observations from the Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. One was the first house he bought and Steve’s reluctance to purchase furniture for it as he could find none that met his approval. One might think a number of things. A not so perfect table is better than no table at all. Or, the man was a multimillionaire! Upgrade when the perfect one comes along.
    The other observation made was his displeasure when looking at bicycles. All, to his eye, were failures in design.
    It takes a special man not to succumb to poor design that is the best of its time. It takes genius to have the eye that sees how things could be better and then make them so. I suspect his choice in work mates met the same criteria and we are in good hands all round with Tim, Jon and others on the team chosen, organised and inducted by Steve. Illness and death certainly concentrate the mind of those bent to further the influence of their dreams; Steve understood and prepared along that path much earlier than most ever do.
    Good article, Mr B.

    • Ahhhhh, so eloquently worded. I too was going to reference his furniture-buying reluctance as an amazing characterization of his search, or maybe NEED, for perfection.

      He LITERALLY hand-picked his successors AS his successors. He didn’t pick them as co-workers to work WITH him, he chose a group to carry on AFTER he was gone.

      Apple is in EXCELLENT hands and will be for many years to come.

Protected by Gerben Law