Technologizer

Apple Without Steve Jobs: The First Year Only Tells Us So Much

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Steve Jobs speaks at Macworld Expo on Jan. 9, 2001

This is — as you may have figured out by now — an article about how Apple has fared in the year since Steve Jobs passed away. I suspect that it’ll be one of scads of such stories to be published today, the first anniversary of his death. Some are already out there.

But would it be too confusing if I questioned the whole concept of judging the post-Jobs Apple after only a year?

This may be a minority opinion. There’s certainly plenty of evidence that Apple is doing just fine. Its stock is up 75% since Jobs’ death. It’s sprinted past ExxonMobil to become the world’s largest company based on market capitalization. The iPad still dominates the tablet market. The iPhone 5 is the fastest-selling iPhone ever.

None of which has prevented pundits from declaring — repeatedly! — that Apple has already lost its way. (Actually, people were saying that even before Jobs left us.) It’s not just the iOS 6 Maps meltdown, the company’s biggest post-Jobs misstep to date. Even TV commercials are read like tea leaves.

(MORE: Steve Jobs: Remembering the Dissatisfied Man)

This hair-trigger tendency to see everything as a sign that the post-Jobs Apple is doomed, doomed, doomed gives lots of potentially reasonable Apple criticism an absurdist quality. I mean, anybody who contends that Tim Cook is doing a catastrophically crummy job as Apple CEO — so bad that he should be fired or even has Jobs riled up in heaven — really ought to name at least one person who’d be better suited to the gig. Nobody ever does.

Objectively, the top-level assessment of Apple’s current state seems pretty straightforward to me:

  • Overall, it’s doing phenomenally well.
  • It isn’t perfect.
  • For any action it takes, we can never know for sure whether things would have been different if Steve Jobs were still with us. But we do know that he had his own lapses in judgment, failures and flip-flops. So the fact that Apple is making mistakes isn’t a sign that it’s falling apart without its co-founder.

All of this isn’t just straightforward; it was utterly predictable.

Jobs left behind a deeply competent team: Cook, design god Jonathan Ive, marketing honcho Phil Schiller, software kingpin Scott Forstall, manufacturing expert Bob Mansfield and others. They understand how to make great products, and they’re still working on ideas that originated in the Jobs era.

Even if these guys were going to muck up Apple, it would take several years and multiple generations of products to do it. For now, they’re making increasingly refined versions of what were already the most polished gadgets in the business.

Jobs, of course, wasn’t just the tech business’s grand master of getting nitpicky little details right. He also excelled at big-picture stuff: from the Mac to the iPod to iTunes to the iPhone to the iPad, he spearheaded far more industry-shifting new products than anyone else in the business. And that’s the biggest question mark about Apple’s future: Can Tim Cook, who doesn’t claim to be a product visionary, preserve Apple’s remarkable track record of coming up with the next big thing? We don’t know yet, and we don’t know when we will know. We don’t even know for sure whether Apple’s working on anything that might qualify — like, oh, say, a TV.

It’s worth considering the impact that the death of Walt Disney — the closest thing corporate America had to a Steve Jobs–like figure before Jobs came along — had on his namesake company, which had been the most innovative outfit in entertainment for decades.

Disney died on Dec. 15, 1966. The studio continued releasing movies very much like the ones it had been making in the years preceding his passing, including cartoons created by the Nine Old Men, the animators who had worked with Walt since the 1930s. The idea for Walt Disney World originated in the 1950s, but the park didn’t open until 1971; when it did, it was a tremendous success.

It took years for it to become clear to everyone involved that the company was faltering. And when it did, it wasn’t because it forgot how to create entertainment of the sort it had already been producing. It was because its understanding of Walt’s genius was backward-looking.

Apple isn’t going to repeat that mistake. In fact, when Jobs handed the company over to Cook, the two discussed the Disney company as a case study in what not to do. But a willingness to change will get Apple only so far.

Sooner or later, some tech company is going to introduce something that shakes up everything in the way that so many of Apple’s creations have done in the past. Until we know whether that company is Apple once again, we can’t truly measure the lasting impact of Jobs’ absence from the company he co-invented and kept on reinventing.

For now, to riff on what an anonymous wise person once said, it’s better to stay silent on Apple’s fate and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.

25 comments
Nikolai MP
Nikolai MP

At least from a product standpoint I have plenty of faith in Apple for a few more years.  Knowing what little I do about their development cycle Jobs's influence should be around for a while.

 

Nikolai Mayo-Pitts

amportfolio
amportfolio

I think Cook and company should redesign the iOS thing from the ground up.

Let iOS 6 and iPhone 5 be the last Steve Jobs devices. Now make the first Tim Cook devices.

I also don't buy into the "_________ is done" headlines tech bloggers love to write. They were saying Microsoft had Bern done for years now, but they're changing tunes and praising Windows 8.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Apple without Steve Jobs is like an onion!

Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP)India

E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

shimmanni
shimmanni

Oh? That's been a news to me. I'm learning. Thank you.

shimmanni
shimmanni

He must be the one-in-a-century man. Above all things, the late Steve Jobs hadn't his sights set on raising corporate revenues; He had put the highest quality and it's elevation above all else. The disastrous rumor of the Map Meltdown hadn't been imaginable if he had been here with us.

John Grabowski
John Grabowski

What?? Like glitches with Apple products (iPhone antenna, Snow Leopard upgrade fiasco, MacBook overheating, Sony disc drive failures, Apple TV, and that's off the top of my head.

JeanLuk
JeanLuk

Steve Jobs was an artist who made sense of technology and design. He was an artist like John Lennon. Well, after his death the Beatles were able to play his songs but not make many new ones.

Apple will be a major player in years to come but will never ever ever ever again come with a new category product such as smartphone, tablet that will shake the industry. Products will over time lose its appeal and consumer quality until it blends into the world of Wall-Street profits and quarterly expectations.

David Laird
David Laird

Actually, a year says a LOT. Jobs would never have allowed the disaster that is Apple Maps to tarnish the launch of the flagship iPhone 5.

Dan Andersen
Dan Andersen

Right, just like he would never have allowed a disaster like MobileMe, the Cube, or the round mouse.

Oh, wait...

(BTW, David: Don't be so gullible--Apple Maps is a significant advance over Google Maps and is quite accurate for most users.)

harrymccracken
harrymccracken

As I say in the story, I'm instinctively skeptical about the notion that we know what Steve Jobs would or would not do. But he did preside over the very, very rocky rollout of MobileMe.

AdamChew
AdamChew

iOS 5 map is a sub par product which was google way of screwing Apple users - a data guzzler, bit mapped based, no turn by turn, etc

sandwedge
sandwedge

Cooks and Co. have an 'easier' task at present - to remain focused and deliver Jobs' plan.  The issue perhaps most people are hinting at is, when this period passes, whether under Cooks' leadership the company will be able to drive innovation and expectation to the gold standard set by Jobs.

In the end, Cooks et.al. are transitory, and the next generation of Apple'ites needs to have established themselves before this decade is out.  I would be quite surprised if all of the present '5' are still around in 2020.

harrymccracken
harrymccracken

It is fascinating to wonder about what the top Apple honchos might do elsewhere. It's not so easy to recreate the magic elsewhere: Jon Rubinstein wasn't able to do it at Palm, and Ron Johnson seems to be having a tough time of it at JCPenney.

sandwedge
sandwedge

Just speculating of course - Consultancy is the well-trodden path for those with leading-edge experience and who (through no fault of theirs) find themselves overtaken by events.  The Apple board would be very loathed to let them go but that may not be their decision to make.

T.Cooks - is he a risk taker?  Probably a startup investor - not necessarily in the tech world only.

J.Ive - if he is indeed the dominant force behind product design, then the world of the wider consumer products has a great need for his talent.  The recent Leica teaser was but the thinnest of veil over a possible future.  When the aliens come and choose products to save before blasting the Earth, I'd want to make sure Jonny's magic has cast its spell over my product range! 

smooth edward
smooth edward

Apple was always judged more harshly even when Jobs was alive, because it was an iconoclastic brand, and wasn't Microsoft.  It was always a smaller player so the criticism was not as broad. Now, the financial community is so heavily invested in Apple stock at sky high prices, they fret over any little piece of news that might make the stock not triple in value. The financial community can sometimes be dreadfully boring.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

I think that *some* changes are pretty obvious.  For starters Apple used to be a nearly hermetically sealed environment and now pre-release product information is leaking out pretty steadily.  I think that there are elements of the IOS 6 roll out that I'm not sure would have been the same either.  Maps and Passbook in IOS 6 were disasters.  Maps, for all the reasons that have been discussed and Passbook because what they demoed was much more functional that what they shipped.  Without any instructions on how to use it or a preloaded pass to show you how it's supposed to be used Passbook was VERY frustrating for the first few days.  And that impending iPad Mini?  He was still down on the idea at the very end according to his own words in his biography.  I doubt very much that he would have approved despite the posthumous endorsement relayed by Cook or whoever.  We'll have to wait a few weeks to see if there's anything special about the iPad mini but how long has it been since Apple has been chasing other products to market?

Raphael Nora Rose
Raphael Nora Rose

I personally detested Mr. Jobs. And while Apple is still successful, it would be foolhardy to assume it always will be. 

Dan Andersen
Dan Andersen

You "detested" Mr Jobs? A former close personal friend turned enemy, perhaps? Or was it something even more fascinating?

justd80010
justd80010

Seems equally foolish to underestimate the leadership of Jobs.

AgeMingle. C 0 M
AgeMingle. C 0 M

I’m a 30-year-old model, classy, sexy, and sophisticated. I’m looking for someone who can spoil me and give me long term security,someone who is loving, caring, charming, and not controlling. So I got a profile on AgeMīngle. Cᴏᴹ  under the username“KristinElyse”... Maybe you can take a try.