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  • So is Apple Changing or Not?

    November 4th, 2011

    Only a short time after newly-minted CEO Tim Cook said Apple wouldn’t change, it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that, yes, there have been changes, at least from an organizational standpoint. Where Steve Jobs ran the operation by his gut, the story says, Cook, ever the engineer, has made moves towards making the company more efficient.

    So we have reports of a reorganization of the educational division, a key marketing promotion, and perhaps a more consistent, open method of communicating with his “team.” Obviously, you expect Cook to use his own management style, and having worked as interim CEO for a while, surely he was ready to make some changes as soon as the position became permanent. These aren’t things he’d be able to accomplish when Steve Jobs was watching over his shoulder. None of it is meant to put down Jobs’ management style. But different people have different methods.

    But certainly Apple’s development team remains in place, and that’s where the magic happens. From reading the best-selling Jobs biography from Walter Isaacson, it’s clear that design guru Jonathan Ive is going to have more visible authority since he appears to have been the one person with whom Jobs could regularly “mind meld” and devise new products. How Ive will fare without having that mercurial sounding board watching his every move is any guess, but he, too, must have been preparing for the transition.

    It’s also reported that Jobs, knowing his time was short, developed a product roadmap for what has been variously described as three or four years. This roadmap will evidently cover Apple’s core products, such as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, along with Mac OS  X, iOS, iCloud and so on. If he really “cracked” the secret of building a true Apple designed TV set, it’s very likely that device will become available some time in 2012, assuming Jobs’ solution proves practical.

    What that solution might be has been subject of lots of speculation. But it has to come down to content, Apple’s ability to sign up entertainment companies and, no doubt, TV broadcasters, so that you can get a full complement of channels, perhaps in the form of apps. It would clearly involve deals with broadband providers — many of whom offer their own TV content delivery services — to allow for the higher bandwidth consumption. Imagine if your new TV set was streaming high definition content from Apple six or eight hours every single day, and your ISP sets a serious bandwidth cap.

    Otherwise, it doesn’t seem as if Apple is acting any different from before. The iCloud and iOS 5 rollouts were predictably shaky, but you had to expect the servers to be saturated for the first few days. The iPhone 4s has been a smashing success. And yes, there is that irritating bug or series of bugs that severely shortens battery life on the new iPhone, and older models upgraded to the new OS. But it does seem that Apple did the right thing by having engineers contact customers to work with them to find the sources of the severe battery drain. Within a few weeks, there will be an iOS 5.0.1 with that and other bug fixes.

    You have to wonder how Google would handle such a problem, inasmuch as it often takes months to deliver Android updates to end users. And more often than not, they never get those updates. What if something in an Android release causes battery life to crash big time? How will customers be treated?

    Also remember that, when you buy an iPhone, Apple provides the support; the carrier will generally deal with network and billing issues. You are still Apple’s customer. When you buy a Samsung phone, how are you treated by Samsung? Do they just pawn you off to the carrier if something goes wrong?

    I suppose the real question is how Apple will fare when the innovations Steve Jobs left them have been launched or abandoned. What will happen five or ten years from now, and how well will Apple succeed moving forward? Will some other company, maybe only in the planning stages and seeking venture capital right now, find better ways to implement solutions than Apple?

    Surely, that’s always a possibility. It’s enough to keep Apple executives awake at night, but that’s the danger that would have existed had Steve Jobs survived. As much as he has succeeded in many key areas that fueled Apple’s incredible growth curve, don’t forget that Jobs had some notable failures over the years. We admire Mac OS X and the long migration path from the NeXT OS. But it’s also true that NeXT failed utterly as a hardware maker, that the OS itself wasn’t selling very well before Apple, in a desperate move, bought them out and returned Steve Jobs to the company he co-founded.

    What if Apple never bought NeXT? Steve Jobs might have prospered with the billions he earned from Pixar and Disney, but Apple’s second coming would probably have never happened. Indeed the company might no longer exist.

    Predicting Apple’s future, therefore, is an exercise in futility. It’s hard enough to know where they’ll be next year, let alone 2016.



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