SXSW: Has Apple's CEO Tim Cook Let Steve Jobs' Dream Die?
Yukari Iwatani Kane — author of Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs — just held a SXSW Interactive discussion in which she discussed whether Apple's vision died with Steve Jobs.
Kane covered Apple from fall of 2008 (right around the time that Jobs’ dramatic weight loss fueled public speculation about his demise) all the way to the end of Jobs' life, during the iPad launch and the controversy over iPhone 4’s antenna problems. Apple did not help Kane with her book (apart from letting her attend one meeting). However, she interviewed nearly 200 company insiders, experts and business partners to reach her conclusions and also owns an Apple computer, iPhone and iPad.
In short, her talk suggested that Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook lacks Jobs’ celebrity marketing savvy and inflexible managerial style. As a result, while Cook has maintained that Apple has not changed, his statement rings hollow considering some of company’s cultural changes and product stumbles after Jobs' passing.
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Here's three big stand-out changes since Jobs' death that, according to Kane, reveal how Cook differs significantly from his predecessor:
1) APPLE RELEASED AN INCOMPLETE PRODUCT - In 2011, Apple unveiled Siri as the centerpiece of their new iPhone 4S. In commercials, Apple showed the voice-commanded digital personal assistant aiding celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and Samuel L. Jackson with things like setting reminders, locating nearby food vendors and playing music. The problem: the actual product couldn’t answer some of these same questions.
Never before had Apple released a beta product still in development. It’s true that a voice-recognition software as sophisticated as Siri needs lots of user input to improve, Apple had set up expectations very high with its commercials and previous projects and failed to meet them with Siri. Siri’s designers and marketers did not confirm that the ad’s questions would actually work in real-life, “the kind of mistake" Kane says, "that Steve Jobs would not have made."
She also admits though that Siri was a project in development before Jobs died, so its execution did not occur entirely under Cook’s reign.
2) APPLE FIRED SOMEONE FOR A FAILED PRODUCT - Apple’s iPhone 5 included a notoriously defective version of Apple Maps which encouraged drivers to drive over airport runways and off of famous world bridges.
After he refused to apologize for the failure, Apple more or less forced Scott Forstall — the company’s senior vice president of software who oversaw Apple Maps development — to resign. Forstall reportedly had a big ego and was disliked by other company executives, but many think that Jobs would never have let such an experienced executive go and would have kept Forstall’s ego in check while forestalling Maps’ failed launch until it performed optimally.
3) THE END OF SKEUOMORPHISM - Shortly after Forstall’s departure, Apple’s new iOS began to openly reject skeuomorphism, the design philosophy that all of the company’s application icons should closely resemble their real-world counterparts (such as a green felt poker table for their Game Center icon or a wooden bookshelf for their eReading and text subscription software). The open rejection of the company’s long held design aesthetic struck Kane as possibly insecure or a way to pile on top of Forstall who had helped keep the aesthetic in place for so long.
Something Kane also mentioned in passing is that the mobile computing marketplace has changed dramatically since the transfer from Jobs to Cook. When Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, “the idea was the phone was your digital hub on the go,” says Kane. Now that idea has found itself expressed in many mobile devices, leaving Apple in a much more competitive world.
Also Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix are all competing for market dominance when it comes to offering movies, music and user connectivity. According to Kane, the founders and visionaries behind those companies can take huge risks that a hired manager like Cook just can’t.
When Jobs used to unveil new products, Kane says, Apple employees and users alike felt like they had taken part in a world-changing event — a world that Jobs had manifested into being (though he obviously didn't do it alone). In contrast, she says that Tim has yet to convey a new vision forward with the company — something she thinks it will need to do in order to continue its impressive record of successful innovation.
She also adds that Cook’s delegation style of management makes other executives (rather than himself) wholly responsible for product successes or failures, and that this approach has fostered more recent stumbles and a growing sense that Apple is directionlessness.