Contemplating the Future of Apple Without Steve Jobs as CEO
Today’s news that Steve Jobs would step down as CEO came as a surprise to many. But I believe Jobs had been preparing for this day for at least 5 years. Apple watchers over that time began to see signs of Job’s putting more and more responsibility into the hands of his executive staff as he often had to step away for health reasons. And during that time Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Peter Oppenheimer, and the rest of Steve’s executive team understood that they needed to be more in tune with understanding Steve’s vision, directions and ultimate thinking on the long term future of Apple.
While we may tend to be concerned about Steve Jobs the person, I am not concerned about Apple the company. Steve Jobs has in place a very deep bench of executives who really do know Steve’s long-term vision and Jobs’ 10-year roadmap for this very important company. And they are more committed then ever to carry it forward and to extend his legacy well into the future.
What people don’t realize is that Apple does not work like most companies that operate on a quarter-to-quarter basis or planning cycle. Instead, the products they have in the works now are designed through 2013 and the current roadmap extends well through 2015. In this time period, nothing will change for Apple. In fact, I expect Apple to continue to grow even more during this period.
Let’s also remember that while Jobs will not be CEO, he still is Chairman and as long as he can, he will be influencing their current and future product designs and roadmaps. My sources say that while his health wavers at times, he plans to be an active Chairman and to be deeply involved with major decisions and future directions.
But there are two other key reasons that I believe Apple can carry on even with Jobs in a more diminished day-to-day role. It is because Apple is no longer a device company alone. They are now driven by a vision that includes hardware, software and services. And more importantly, the devices they create are just elegant screens that give people access to their software and services. Although their main screens today are the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, they have a lot of room to innovate around the TV, in-car navigation systems and who knows what other screens they may want to design that front ends their software and services. And more importantly, their software, apps and services are a solid foundation that they can continue to build on.
The other thing that makes me certain that Apple will continue to be a force is something Jobs said to me in one our discussions many years ago. I asked him what drove him. He told me that technology could be complicated to use. He felt his mission was to make technology easy to use so that everyone could reap the benefits of technology. He then said that making technology simple to use was hard work, but that this was at the heart of his vision for Apple.
If Apple’s current executive team has caught this vision, especially the one about making technology easy to use so that everyone can benefit from it, then Apple will be just fine. And given their rich integration of hardware, software and services, they still have a lot of room to create great product that people will want to use.
But Job’s Legacy will always be that of a pioneer who sits at the intersection of liberal arts and design and forever changed the way people think about technology. Most executives would be thrilled if they have one hit in their careers. Jobs has had the Apple II, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, iTunes and Pixar. These technologies and more to come from his vision delivered through his team will keep Apple in the forefront of our connected world and a major player for a long time.