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Can Apple survive Jobs?

Let's hope it doesn't come to thatToday's Apple annual meeting was dominated by questions about the charismatic founder's health - and the board's refusal to say much more. At bottom is the fear that Apple can't survive without Jobs driving the company.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that Today's Apple annual meeting was dominated by questions about the charismatic founder's health - and the board's refusal to say much more. At bottom is the fear that Apple can't survive without Jobs driving the company.

Hogwash. Apple and Jobs in 2009 are very different from the Apple that lost its way after his ouster in 1985. Here's what is new.

Then: intuition. The Apple // and the original Mac were cool technology in search of a market. Fortunately, they both found a market - the // thanks to Visicalc and the Mac with PageMaker and the laser printer.

Jobs knew these were cool systems. But the Mac almost sank Apple before desktop publishing took off.

Today: process. Since Jobs 1996 return to Apple he and the company have developed a methodical process for product success. This includes:

Design excellence.

  • User-centered design. Other companies, like Sony, can get lucky, but for Apple luck has nothing to do with it. They start and end with the user experience.
  • Fanatical attention to detail. Where other companies quit after 3 iterations, Apple's design team will do 10 searching for the best answer.
  • Design everywhere. From the web site to stores to product packaging, Apple works to make it elegant, functional and memorable.

Technology leverage.

  • Apple use of high-volume components - such as Intel processors and SATA drives - enables it to lower prices while maintaining margins.
  • Proprietary tech - such as AppleTalk and ADB - are long gone, replaced with industry standards that are easier to integrate.
  • Open-source and 3rd party software - such as the guts of OS X and the XSAN file system - help Apple keep ahead in the feature war with Windows at a much lower cost.

Business focus.

  • Apple addresses well-defined market segments - or invents them.
  • Consumer focus + selected verticals. They are NOT an enterprise company.
  • Strict supply chain management. Apple watches inventory closely with a build-to-order discipline that matches Dell's.
  • Strict margin management - no investment in low-margin business. If they can't convince consumers to pay more for Apple, then it isn't their kind of business.

But it isn't just the principles that Steve has built into Apple - it is the team that now implements them. They've been working with Steve for years and they know how he thinks.

The Storage Bits take Other companies, such as GE, DuPont, IBM, Boeing and HP, have prospered after strong leaders moved on. The key is whether the new management has the strength to maintain the focus and culture of the company.

In Apple's case it is clear that Steve has put together the world's finest consumer products team. They aren't perfect but today there is no one better.

Comments welcome, of course. My hope is for Steve's speedy recovery and years of "insanely great" products. The industry would be much poorer without him. My thoughts are with him and his family.