Only Apple, Yes, But Only Tim as Well

on June 20, 2014

John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote a great piece called “Only Apple” where he laid out a solid case that, in many instances, only Apple could deliver the type of experiences and devices that make up a huge part of their success. I suggest you read it when you have time as it delivers a great perspective on what Apple can do vs the competition.

One particular passage stood out:

Here’s a tweet I wrote during the keynote, 20 minutes before Cook’s wrap-up:

Microsoft: one OS for all devices.
Apple: one continuous experience across all devices.

That tweet was massively popular, but I missed a word: across all Apple devices. Microsoft and Google are the ones who are more similarly focused. Microsoft wants you to run Windows on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs. Google wants you signed into Google services on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs.

Apple wants you to buy iPhones, iPads, and Macs. And if you don’t, you’re out in the cold.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft each offer all three things: devices, services, and platforms. But each has a different starting point. With Apple it’s the device. With Microsoft it’s the platform. With Google it’s the services.

And thus all three companies can brag about things that only they can achieve. What Cook is arguing, and which I would say last week’s WWDC exemplified more so than at any point since the original iPhone in 2007, is that there are more advantages to Apple’s approach.
Or, better put, there are potentially more advantages to Apple’s approach, and Tim Cook seems maniacally focused on tapping into that potential.

Apple’s vertical integration allows them to be able to deliver this “one experience across all devices” and in many ways this is what really attracts people to their products. Sure, they are well designed and look cool but it’s the consistent experience across all their products I think really captures the Zen of Steve Jobs and what Tim Cook has a laser focus on as CEO.

However, I would like to suggest Tim Cook’s influence inside the company has become critical to Apple’s future and, while still being guided by the spirit of Steve Jobs, he clearly has made key decisions that, if he were around today, I don’t think Jobs would have made.

A specific one that comes to mind is a larger iPhone. Jobs was focused on the iPhone being designed for one handed operation. That is why every iPhone since its launch in 2007 has had a smaller screen compared to the competition. While I suspect he was still alive when they were thinking about moving the iPhone screen to 4 inches, I believe he would have balked at an iPhone any larger than the 5s. If the rumors are correct and Apple will deliver a 4.7″ and perhaps even a 5.5″ iPhone, this would have come about due to Tim Cook and his less dogmatic approach to the market demand for larger smartphones.

Another area I see Tim Cook’s hand is in the softer media approach Cook and team have deployed since Jobs passed away. Apple is still pretty strict on who they invite to their events but I have talked to a lot of bloggers and analysts who in the past were shut out under Steve Jobs and are now being invited to events on a relatively regular basis. I believe Tim Cook’s approach to the media is much more pragmatic than Jobs’ ever was. To Steve Jobs, the media was more of an enemy than an ally. Tim Cook appears to see the media and analysts as an important vehicle to deliver Apple’s strategic messages. He has taken this new approach which I think has really paid off in terms of how the media sees Tim Cook and Apple these days.

I also think he has dramatically impacted the working conditions on Apple’s campus. I have heard many stories of how people at Apple loved Steve Jobs but his overpowering presence created a lot of tension among his top managers when he was around. In fact, I witnessed this in person during Jobs’ first stint at Apple. Not long after the Mac was introduced, Jobs and then Apple CEO John Sculley asked me to come over and review a specific product campaign they were working on. While in that meeting a junior executive popped in and told Jobs something he did not like. He went ballistic on the guy. He told him he was an “idiot” and did not have a clue what he was doing. I remember Sculley and I looking at each other and being very embarrassed for the guy Jobs was yelling at. But that was Steve Job’s management style back then and it was one reason he was fired in 1985.

The good news is, when he came back to Apple in 1997, he had mellowed and I hear he was not as confrontational as he had been in the past. But he was still a towering figure and when he was around there was a lot of tension among those who had to deal with him all of the time. Now I hear the campus environment is much less stressful and while there is still a lot of pressure to deliver, I suspect the overall tenor of the campus environment is much different under Tim Cook.

Tim Cook has been very good for Apple in many ways and I have no doubt he will take Apple to its next level of success. As Gruber points out, only Apple can deliver a great continuous experience across devices. I would add only Tim Cook could have kept Apple moving forward and make important decisions on creating new larger iPhones that should give Apple a monster end of the year. Only Cook could have softened Apple’s approach to the media as well as create a more balanced and easier work environment for Apple employees, something I think is really important for those who work the long hours at Apple to deliver what Jobs’ liked to call “insanely great” products.