What Apple Should Do Without Steve Jobs

February 10th, 2009

I find some of the tidbits presented by so-called media analysts simply fascinating from a particularly perverse point of view. Take a commentary by Scot Finnie, the editor-in-chief of Computerworld, a sister publication to Macworld. You can certainly forgive Finnie for having the temerity to believe he knows how Apple should be run, since I’m sure we’ve all put ourselves in that position.

It’s what he says that troubles me, because I don’t think he gets it, and that’s particularly disturbing since he’s editor of a magazine that caters to the enterprise. In other words, power users comprise the lion’s share of his readership.

As to the article itself: In suggesting why the fact that Steve Jobs isn’t around to manage Apple’s affairs right now — although he’s no doubt contacted about critical situations — Finnie imagines several scenarios where Apple ought to change its tune.

Now before getting to the specifics, I think it’s pretty clear that Apple’s executives were given a pretty specific set of marching orders before Jobs left on his partial sabbatical, either directly, or just implicitly, and they are not suddenly going to switch on a dime and move in new directions contrary to Steve’s wishes. Finnie is living in fantasyland if he truly believes otherwise.

But the ideas he raises are nonetheless worth a few paragraphs, if only for the amusement factor. In fact, some of his ideas even have merit.

Take his suggestion that Apple should “deliver a lower-cost, netbook-style Mac.” All right, that’s something they are actually considering, but did he forget that acting CEO Tim Cook also stated, during the last quarterly conference with financial analysts, that Apple isn’t going to build junk? Does he think that things are poised for a change because Jobs took a leave of absence, and now Apple is going to alter its strategy?

More to the point, just what form would a netbook take? Would it just be a low-cost MacBook with slower processor, smaller hard drive, and tinier form factor? Would it eschew the charms of its big brother in the goal to keep the price down?

Or would Apple take the opposite approach, which is to take the iPhone and go upscale? Would the e-book 300, a Newton derivative of the last decade, become the main influence for an iPhone or iPod touch Pro? Well, Finnie talks of a “streamlined Mac OS X,” evidently unaware that the iPhone already uses such an operating system.

Another request, perhaps self-serving, is that Apple should be “a lot more transparent with customers and the press.” Maybe so, but that’s something we’ve all asked at one time or another. At the same time I trust he respects the fact that Apple has its own vision of how its products ought to be marketed, and they have been extremely successful. You can’t argue with that.

Now this doesn’t mean Finnie’s grasp of logic is completely off the reservation. He does make suggestions that I can’t disagree with all that much. One is for Apple to play better with “independent software vendors,” in other words the third-party developers who have created all those marvelous apps for the iPhone, and the thousands more who labor at Mac software.

I suppose you could say Apple has had a love and hate relationship with its developer community. However, I think they are doing a better job of taking care of programmers these days. Yes, maybe some of the early limits in the iPhone SDK, such as not allowing communication across the community and the publication of instruction books, were a little overboard. But things are settling down nicely.

When it comes to Finnie’s suggestion that Apple make a better effort to market its wares to the enterprise, I suppose that argument is old, and it’s also true that the main focus remains on the consumer. However, Apple has also turned the iPhone into a serious business smartphone while losing none of its charm. The next version of Mac OS X will include enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange. These are good steps, and even if Apple doesn’t court businesses in the same fashion as Dell and HP, they appear to be moving in a positive direction.

And just one more subject before I leave you for today’s session:

If you’re a customer of Verizon Wireless, the cell phone carrier that became number one in the U.S. by virtue of its purchase of Alltel, a regional provider, you no doubt wish you could get an iPhone too that’ll work with your chosen service. Indeed, AT&T may not have been the best choice for a U.S. provider, except that this decision allows Apple to sell the same product worldwide, using the sam GSM standard.

I realize AT&T is not everyone’s favorite wireless provider, and they have gotten mediocre ratings for customer service and network quality. However, they do appear to be improving noticeably, particularly in my part of the world, so maybe it wasn’t so bad a decision. It could even be that Apple demanded AT&T get its act together to earn that lucrative contract.

Even if Apple does add Verizon Wireless to its list of carriers after its deal with AT&T expires, they’d have to develop a version with a different radio, supporting CDMA. That shouldn’t present an insurmountable obstacle, though, since that state of affairs would be no different than that faced by all other cell phone makers.

In any case, you can bet that Apple’s strategy is going to continue to follow the playbook written by Steve Jobs before he went on leave. How could it be otherwise?

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One Response to “What Apple Should Do Without Steve Jobs”

  1. Al says:

    Eventually, when Apple has wrung all the Mac growth out of the consumer sector, I expect they will train their sites on enterprises. But that will be a long time (by tech industry standards) from now and the computer landscape will be very different from today’s. Their entry point will probably be by partnering with SAP or Oracle or one of those types of companies and offering turnkey packages. I also expect Apple would leverage their media management expertise and so they’ll integrate video and audio communications management into the system (so while the CEO is reviewing current sales reports he can easily click on an icon and video chat with the regional sales manager half way around the world and they can visually refer to the same report while they confer).

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