In recent stories about the early days of Tim Cook’s management of Apple, the ways in which he’s changed Apple have been mentioned over and over again. Many of the stories are largely positive, such as a more open approach in dealing with the investment community and Washington. That Cook seems more even-handed than his mercurial predecessor seems a plus. He’s even said to sit down with employees over lunch, which may be a blessing or a curse depending on whether they really want their boss watching over them.
A key question is how Cook is handling new product introductions. There, some give him a mixed rating, because the iPhone 4s didn’t look any different from its predecessor. More recently, one critic says that Siri, which is still considered in the beta stage, would never have been green lit by Steve Jobs, implying that Jobs never, ever allowed Apple to release products that were less than perfect.
Such a claim reveals not just a case of selective memory, but a lack of common sense. Let me start with the former.
I think few would disagree with me that Apple’s attempts at establishing cloud-based services have been works in progress. Starting with the original iTools in 2000, through .Mac, MobileMe, and now iCloud, these services have had shaky rollouts and ongoing troubles. It’s fair to say that even iCloud can be regarded as only partly complete, and many of you have encountered outages and flaky behavior since it arrived last fall.
While Siri seems to work beautifully if you happen to be a professional actor, and it seems all right if you’re a professional radio broadcaster too based on my experiences, it is by no means a feature complete and reliable solution. It can be flaky, it can be inaccurate, and sometimes it will fail miserably in recognizing someone’s voice. That’s why it continues to possess the beta classification in Apple’s official description of the service on their site.
Beta means, of course, it’s unfinished, and may not function reliably. On the other hand, Siri has gotten enough buzz to form the basis of much of Apple’s iPhone 4s ad campaign. Where the first TV ads featured actors portraying regular people taking Siri through its paces, more recent ads have featured well known personalities from the world of show business, such as Zooey Deschanel, Samuel L. Jackson (riding high as one of the stars of the box office sensation, “The Avengers”), and, more recently, quirky character actor John Malkovich. While some of criticized Apple for taking that route, it’s also true that these ads have gotten lots of attention, particularly from younger people. Compare them to the foolish and noisy promotional efforts of the competition, and you’ll see what I mean. “Droid” does? Well, it announces itself in spots that give you a headache.
At the same time, there have been lawsuits targeting Apple that claim Siri is imperfect, that it doesn’t behave like a finished product. Of course, the ambulance chasing attorneys who accepted those cases may not have seen the word “Beta” on Apple’s site next to Siri.
So let’s look at the history: Apple bought Siri, a company who had developed a mobile assistant app, in the spring of 2010. Siri made its debut on the iPhone 4s in October of 2011. Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs, while in serious condition, was still alive and working for Apple. Anyone who has read Walter Isaacson’s official biography of Jobs would agree that he remained active until the very end. Both the iPhone 4s and Siri represent products and services that Steve Jobs approved. Tim Cook didn’t just throw out the baby with the bathwater in announcing them at the Apple media event. As you recall, Jobs succumbed to his illness the day after that media event.
So as you see, Cook may have been the master of ceremonies at the introductory party where the iPhone 4s was first rolled out, but it would be foolish to believe that Jobs didn’t agree to every single detail, even though he couldn’t be present. To think that any of this happened without his approval is just plain foolish. It may fit into the meme of Tim Cook being less of a perfectionist than Jobs, but as a practical matter, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Just read the text of his interview this week at the AllThingsDigital conference and you’ll see what I mean.
Besides, if you take that position, how do you explain the new iPad and the Retina Display? This product refresh has been a sensation from the standpoint of customer and critical response, not to mention sales. Sure, maybe some would have preferred that the third generation iPad be a tad lighter and thinner, although Apple’s compromises were relatively minor in the scheme of things. You’d have to place it side by side with its predecessor, lift both, back and forth, to be able to detect the minor weight difference. Before you criticize Apple, consider what they had to do to accommodate that marvelous Retina Display, an LTE radio, and a heftier battery to keep everything running for up to 10 hours or more.
More to the point, it’s fair to suggest that Jobs, knowing his time was short, worked hard to finalize a host of products that will debut over the next few years. If those products, and their introductions, fail in any way, Cook will receive the blame, as he should as CEO. But what will they say if Apple’s products and sales figures soar way past even the most optimistic projections?
I suppose they will then tell us that Steve Jobs was really a loser all along, and it was Tim Cook who, working in the background, saved the company — or similar nonsense.