Apple After Steve: One year later

on October 1, 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.