Apple And The Prospect Of No Steve Jobs
There. I said it. I’ve been fearful of contemplating this subject since I feel Steve Jobs’ passing would be a tragic, tragic situation for Apple and its future.
Apple is an unusual company. Steve Jobs is in an abnormally prominent position in several capacities – he’s Apple’s public face via keynotes and media interviews, has a large hand in product development and design, and personally saved the company from the precipice of death. With that last feat, Apple was fused with Jobsian DNA – he arguably saved the company by sculpting in his image.
Here’s a list of changes that I’d credit specifically to his Steve-ness:
- Eliminated product lines that distracted the company from its core computer business.
- Fixed confusing product lines of Performas and four digit numbers with a dead simple product matrix: consumer, pro, desktop, and portable, and populated each square with the iMac, PowerPC, iBook, and PowerBook.
- Killed the clones, arguing Apple needed to save itself first.
- Starting with the iMac, introduced tasteful industrial design to consumer electronics, showing consumers would be interested in a colorful, well-designed computer despite average specs: the iMac.
- Saw opportunities where the competition was confused and came out with a better product: iPod.
- To fend off less than ideal promotion at big-box computer stores, created their own Apple Stores.
- Raised the quality of Apple advertising starting with “Think Different.”
- Turned the keynote and the secrecy surrounding it from a debacle (Gil Amelio’s rambling MacWorld 1997 embarrassment) into a celebrated event. Somehow, Steve Jobs’ penchant for secrecy and distrust of the press has become a PR strategy.
- Guided the company through extremely tricky transitions – the introduction of OS X, and the shift of OS X from PowerPC to Intel – the latter of which, is an audacious example of Jobsian secrecy. The Intel version of OS X had been hiding in a back lab for several years.
All of the above display evidence of Jobsian decision-making, in particular the secrecy, aggressiveness, and focus on design.
So what can Apple do to prepare for the inevitable retirement of Jobs?
Consider Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. To find a replacement, the brilliant owner Willy Wonka hid golden tickets inside wrappers of chocolate bars to find a worthy successor.
At Pixar, John Lasseter is the founder and most prominent director, but a small handful of star directors are receiving their own vehicles (Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter).
Apple doesn’t need to go to the extreme of handing out golden tickets with every new iPhone and vetting children in Cupertino, but a little transparency wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps disclosing a contingency plan of possible successors and introducing them through keynotes and media interviews.
Anyhow, what’s your take? Do I give Steve Jobs too much credit? Would Apple be okay without Steve Jobs?
Additional Reading: Chuqui 3.0, Seeking Alpha, Mathew Ingram, New York Times