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The Apple Report

How is Apple going after the unfortunate loss of Steve Jobs about 6 months ago now? Well by all indicators I have seen, it seems to be coping really well. I’m not trying to diminish the lasting legacy of Jobs in any way but it does seem that maybe this time Apple can transcend the loss of its inspirational leader and move on without losing its own special culture.

We should remember that a lot of what is happening now (the new iPad, improvements to laptops making them lighter and faster, better integration between iDevices and Macs) was planned by Jobs in the past. Apple do plan a long way ahead so it might be more reasonable to evaluate their progress without Jobs in another year or two.

Andrew Grove said that “only the paranoid survive”. I think he could be right but I don’t know whether paranoia is really the state of mind that describes the situation at Apple. Paranoia usually refers to persecution from the outside or to an exaggerated sense of your own importance. I don’t think Apple suffer from that. They are very aware that the greatest danger comes from within and I’m sure that after the disaster of the 90s they are very aware of the company’s potential for total failure.

This danger from within could take several forms…

First, Apple could become another Microsoft and settle into a state of protecting its existing assets without doing anything genuinely innovative. Sure, we all know Microsoft claim they are innovating but do they really? (there are exceptions: the new Windows Phone OS is quite good and their Kinect technology is impressive but they bought that from another company). Apple really do innovate and aren’t scared to threaten an existing product by introducing a new one (notice how the iPod is in decline after the introduction of the iPhone, for example).

Another problem could be Apple becoming another IBM. It could become excessively corporatised and lose the unique culture which has made it so successful. I’m not saying IBM hasn’t done great things, it clearly has, but I get the impression its bureaucracy prevents it from really using some of the brilliant things its research division produces.

And we also don’t want them to become like companies which rely too much on focus groups (I couldn’t find a specific example, probably because no one wanted to admit to it!) Apple have always “told people what they want” instead of reacting to what the user thinks they want. How could any company produce innovative products by listening to users? As I have said before, if Henry Ford had done that he would have made a faster horse!

Finally Apple could become more like Google and try to do too much. Of course Google does great things, but it has had a lot of failures too, maybe because it tries to do too much. Apple are heading that way too, although currently all of their product lines are successful. It might be difficult in future to be a technology leader in computers, phones, tablets, cloud services, media sales, app distribution, software, operating systems, and retail stores. When you consider what they are currently doing so well it really is quite amazing that they are at or near the front in all of these areas.

Tim Cook seems to be a good CEO. The best CEOs are either those with genuine vision who can really inspire talented people to make brilliant products, or good administrators who can provide an environment where those with real talent can excel. Jobs was probably the first type and Cook the second. Either way Apple should avoid the error of having a CEO who mistakenly believes he has any real talent in the areas the company is working in. That is a guaranteed disaster just waiting to happen.

So things look good for Apple at this point. I hope they do succeed, not just because I am an Apple consultant and programmer but because there aren’t a lot of other companies working in the computing field which are doing anything useful. Everyone needs Apple to succeed, even if they don’t even use their products.

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