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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sans Steve Jobs, Apple Is Becoming Just Another Company

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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After Steve Jobs died, there was a lot of talk about whether the company could ever really be the same. Some said Jobs' DNA would stay in the company. Others said his absence meant that the company couldn't possibly be the same.

Both things can be true at once. Recent events reveal that his absence is already being felt. The iOS maps and Siri fiascos, which led to this week's management bloodletting. Most notably, Scott Forstall, head of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS, is out.

Forstall "seemed to most closely embody the technology vision of Steven P. Jobs, the former chief executive of Apple who died a year ago," declared the New York Times.

He was also widely disliked at the company and was reported to have spent a lot of time since Jobs' death maneuvering for power. As head of the division responsible for foisting the buggy Maps on Apple customers, he was the most likely fall guy.

But it would not be surprising if such problems crop up more and more often as Apple slowly becomes just another tech company. It seems likely to continue as a very good tech company for some time to come, but without Jobs, it likely won't stay at its current level of greatness.

That's because it will be run by businessmen, and not a visionary. Already CEO Tim Cook is bringing a businessman's approach to management. "Unlike the Jobs era, when the company would ship features when they were ready for prime time, a culture of schedule-driven releases has become commonplace," writes Om Malik.

This, Malik declares, "is troubling from a long-term point of view."

For all his many faults, Jobs thought about quality first, profits second. He operated from the idea that if the quality was there, the profits would naturally follow. His tenure proves that he was 100 percent correct.

Malik:

The time-based schedule is one of the reasons why Siri and Maps arrived as half-baked products and were met with a sense of derision. Many engineers inside Apple could foresee problems ahead with Maps ... because Maps were driven by a time schedule.

Jobs insisted on perfection before a product was released, schedules be damned. He was often a real dick about it, but it resulted in people flocking to Apple products, and paying a huge premium for them. Apple-haters think Apple's customers are mere "fan boys" who have been hoodwinked into overpaying for technology they could have gotten for much less from other producers. And there actually is a kernel of truth in that -- Android phones generally work just fine for most purposes, for example. But there's no disputing that Apple's products are just better than others, in all kinds of ways, both obvious and hidden. Whether the difference is worth the extra cost is up to each consumer, and clearly many customers think it is -- and they aren't idiots for it.

Jobs knew those people were out there, and that's who he chose to serve. But thinking that way involves risk. Unlike visionaries, businessmen (at least these days) by nature worry at least as much about costs and efficiencies as they do about the quality of what they produce. Tim Cook is a great businessman -- much better than most -- and Apple is likely to thrive for some time to come. But he's not a visionary.


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Dan Mitchell

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