When Apple was a favorite beleaguered company back in the 1990s, it almost seemed as if the tech media, other than those dedicated to covering Macs for a living, would have been delighted had the company bit the bullet and vanished. After all, Apple was yesterday’s news. Real PC users ran Microsoft Windows.
You have to wonder what might have happened to Apple had Steve Jobs not returned to the company as part of the deal to acquire NeXT. Yes, it brought sorely needed operating system technology onboard, but accepting Jobs as an adviser was the beginning of Apple’s second coming. Otherwise, there would have been no iMac, no Mac OS X, no iPod or any of the consumer electronic gadgets that followed. You’d be using a BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphone, and tablets would have been a failed dream from Microsoft.
Even when Steve Jobs was still at the helm, the critics said Apple must be ready to take the big fall. How did they have the temerity to become larger and larger, while other companies struggled to duplicate their success? Besides, aren’t more Android OS smartphones being sold? Surely customers are doing that because they think Android is superior. How could it be otherwise?
After all, Google’s OS is open, Apple is all about walled gardens and control. Don’t customers have the right to choose?
Of course, this is a silly argument. So far as I’m concerned, most customers don’t care about the niceties of open source, curated app stores, and so forth and so on. They do care about the user experience, and the ability to do what they want. And most people aren’t into hacking or jailbreaking their smartphones and tablets. When the media wants to tell us how important extreme abilities to customize one’s smartphone or tablet are to end users, they clearly are speaking to a narrow audience.
Now I suppose I’d be considered a power user, having written loads of articles and a number of books on how to use personal computers and other stuff. I do explore the power user possibilities, but in my own working environment, it’s all about getting work done, not spending endless hours fiddling with the OS. On my iPhone, I haven’t considered jailbreaking, even if that act lets me install Siri on an iPhone 4. When it comes to an iPad 2, my wife has never asked me about installing apps not available in the App Store. It doesn’t cross her mind. But a sampling of two is unimportant in the scheme of things, although I do not regard myself as unusual.
With the passing of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook taking over the top spot, management will, on the surface, be quite different. Even Cook himself admits he’s not a product person, but he is surrounded by the team of brilliant product people assembled by Steve Jobs. You put them all together, I suppose, to make one Steve. Besides, Jobs no doubt green lit new products before he died. Some suggest an Apple high definition TV is front and center, although we only have a quote in his authorized bio to go by to confirm that. Sure, there are some unconfirmed reports about parts being sampled for such a set. But testing a product’s potential isn’t the same as manufacturing.
I also suspect that Apple’s current executive team will very much follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs for a number of years. There will be points of divergence to be sure, but they all share his goals. When Apple really changes will be when the executives leave or simply retire. As new people are hired, they will bring their own talents, sensibilities, and vision to their jobs. Serious changes are inevitable.
Sure, it will be easy to ask “what would Steve do?” when important decisions are to be made. But that would be the wrong approach to take. It would be backwards looking. They wouldn’t be considering the situation before them, particularly if that situation isn’t something that Jobs would likely have anticipated a few years earlier. Following in one’s footsteps doesn’t mean that person must somehow be cloned.
Where Jobs’ ongoing influence will be felt is 10 or 20 years from now, as new executives and new products are being produced. But it’s clear that Jobs tried hard to build a long-lasting legacy. He very much admired HP and hoped that company would continue to represent the dreams of the founders, instead of flailing about, as they are now, in search of a strategy.
In the best of worlds, Jobs very likely took steps to prevent Apple from falling into HP’s trap. At the same time, there are members of the media who do not believe Apple could possibly succeed without Jobs at the helm. That may have been true while he was here, but if he made the proper preparations, Apple might well live long and prosper for many years to come without losing sight of its goals, of the hopes and dreams about melding art with engineering, of thinking different.