An Apple without its core

An Apple without its core

Summary: Apple as an innovator without Steve Jobs is Apple unknown. Like any empire without its Caesar, what the next Apple will be depends on which of the factions within gains control

TOPICS: IT Employment

He may still be chairman of the board, but in the eyes of the world Steve Jobs has ceased to be the heart of Apple.

The succession plan, one of the most closely guarded secrets this side of D-Day, is running. As it has been running for at least two years; the date of Jobs's departure may not have been known, but that it was approaching most certainly was.

These past couple of years have been the strongest test yet of Jobs's famous reality distortion field, his ability to convince everyone he works with that what he says is either true or can — must — be made so. But some realities are not to be denied.

Apple without Jobs is now one of them. Like any empire without its Caesar, what the next Apple will be, what it does and how it does it, depends on which of the factions within gains control.

Many Apples

For there are many Apples. One is that of new chief executive Tim Cook, who is as much responsible for Apple's success as Jobs was. He turned the business of actually making the goods into an imperial machine, controlling suppliers and manufacturers with unmatched ruthlessness. Making close to 100-percent margins on consumer electronics in an austere, hyper-competitive market is as miraculous as anything ever demonstrated in a keynote.

Then there's the Apple normal people know and write about, a company capable of producing an endless stream of new products with pitch-perfect cadence. It is a marketing powerhouse — for how else do you account for Apple's coronation as king of all things technology, when all it makes is a mobile phone now on its fourth incarnation, a mutant mobile phone too big to put in a pocket, and a few laptops? Put that way — a valid analysis that seems heretical — Apple's success is even more miraculous, more reality defying, than if it had been more like Sony with its huge range of products. 

And there's the innovatory Apple, which lives well beneath the radar. With the exception of the ghostly presence of Jonathan Ive, this is an invisible and unknown force. The products and services appear, companies are swallowed up, and the star players leave. The big decisions are no longer what chip to use, what new hardware features are too cool not to have, but what deals can be done with media companies, what marketing advantage can be gained by rounding up which supplier.

Success through control

The signs are strong that Tim Cook's Viking armies will prevail, and without a struggle. It's where the money comes from, and where any attack is to be resisted by any means necessary. Apple of late has become self-righteously litigious, a terrible temptation for any company with fewer ideas and far more money than once it had, but nearly irresistible for one that's learned that success comes through control. If you can't out-think the competition, then it can be controlled through lawsuits — and if you lose a few, it doesn't matter. The damage has been done. And Apple of late has been run by Cook.

Apple of late has become self-righteously litigious, a terrible temptation for any company with fewer ideas and far more money than once it had.

Looking beyond the iPhone and the iPad, both of which can only be refreshed so far, there is only uncertainty. Apple in the cloud is Apple unproven. Apple as innovator without Jobs is Apple unknown. Apple in a market where everyone else can do what it does, but can do it cheaper, is unApple.

Apple will play to what strengths it has, and that looks like a marketing-led, litigiously-active, cash-rich giant determined to protect what it has over building out what comes next. 

For with Jobs, there was always a 'next', even if we didn't know what it was going to be. As one part of the company's history was maturing, Steve Jobs would always be there on stage, unveiling just one more thing: the Mac, the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.  

That won't happen again. Apple's future depends on the new next, and the longer we have to wait to see what happens, the less likely it will happen at all.

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Topic: IT Employment

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Sloppy journalism. Know your subject. 'Apple as innovator without Jobs is Apple unknown.' What about between 1985 and 1996 then Jobs founder and ran NeXT Inc.?
  • Different Apple. With Scully in charge, Apple didn't innovate in the same way at all, and bogged down by trying to 'be a PC company' or 'a consumer electronics company' in the ways others were.

    I'm talking about the Apple post-Jobs' comeback. What happened fifteen years ago was when the new Apple started. Think of it like Doctor Who; you can't talk about the recent series in the same way as the ones before Michael Grade shut it down.
  • I think Rupert has got this right, It's not really a matter of what apple has done in the past more a matter of whom can carry the innovation, commitment to quality, driving technology stance and of course brand value kicking and screaming to the people who actually buy the products. We know apple has been without Steve before, does that really mean it can't operate as a business without him, not really. History is littered with giants of industry who have left their companies in the hands of others and since have done great work.

    It could go either way but if Steve has done his job right, the ethos that currently drives this enterprise will keep going way into the future as a set of core values and who ever takes the reigns will be able to lead on that basis.

    Put it this way, many people in the UK respect the monarchy in it's current state, but one day she will die, I'm not worried about UK PLC because the behaviours, competencies and characteristics are all still there, in the people who have helped in prior years.

    Dan Maher
  • I would liken Steve Jobs to a world class orchestra conductor. Do they 'need' him to be able to play? In the short term, probably not. Everyone knows their part already.

    But over time without a visionary as a dominant focal point for the players (the creative talents) and the audience (the consumers), the whole thing fades into an exercise in soulless technical competence, and not the virtuosity that captures the imagination.
    There are plenty of companies already operating at this level.