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  • Waiting for Tim Cook to Fail

    January 8th, 2013

    You’d think that Apple CEO Tim Cook is the enemy based on some of the comments spewed forth in recent weeks from so-called tech and financial journalists. I suppose part of it is that he’s a numbers and inventory person. He even has an M.B.A., which means he’s just a professional manager, right? Isn’t that what’s wrong with all those other companies?

    Against this skeptical backdrop, Cook clearly has to work that much harder to prove his mettle. Every single product introduction so far has been viewed with disbelief. It wasn’t changed enough, it’s too expensive, Apple has lost its flair for innovation. Might as well give up on them now before it’s too late.

    Certainly Wall Street is concerned. Apple’s stock price has been on a downward slope for weeks for the most part. This despite the fact that Apple’s mobile gadgets remain amazingly popular. The iPad mini, introduced to skeptical commentators in October, remains backordered amid analyst estimates that Apple might have sold between 10 and 12 million of them during the last quarter. The full-sized iPad continues to gain in the enterprise, and Mac sales seem to have held their own. A recent NPD survey showed somewhat lower sales of Mac note-books in the U.S., which might possibly be compensated for by overseas sales, where Apple continues to have stellar growth. Certainly the slow roll-out of the new sleeker iMac desktops didn’t help. You still have to wait up to four weeks for the one you want.

    But PC sales appear to have fared far worse, and the ongoing skepticism about Windows 8 appears to have been borne out. People just aren’t buying, so maybe Microsoft will make those loud TV ads even louder to get your attention before you hit the Fast Forward button.

    Just before writing this commentary, I read an article from a financial writer that will go unnamed suggesting that “The magic is gone, replaced by a focus on margins and old products in new colors.”

    So, then, the iPhone 5 was just an iPhone 4s with a different color? Well, I suppose that 4-inch display and the difficult-to-build cutting-edge design weren’t real. I suppose the iPad mini didn’t sport sophisticated construction techniques either, though I agree you could complain about the fact that it didn’t have a Retina display. But Apple doesn’t blow its wad with the first version of any new product; it’ll come, maybe by spring.

    But Apple has to first catch up with demand.

    In any case, it’s quite likely that all the new Apple products you saw in 2012, and perhaps for the next year or two, received the approval of Steve Jobs in his final days. Apple continues to execute on those products, though it’s up to Cook and his team to do the fine-tuning, and develop the marketing plans. You can argue that Maps was released prematurely, but you can’t dispute the fact that the app’s early development occurred under the watch of Steve Jobs. And don’t forget .Mac, MobileMe, and even iCloud, all of which have been troublesome.

    But perhaps the largest degree of damn-foolishness in that article is the comment that, “Until Cook can prove Apple’s prior success was a function of the team and not just Jobs, the stock won’t get credit for being the Apple of old Old Apple.”

    Doesn’t that sound incoherent to you? Remember that Jobs may have been a great product editor-in-chief for Apple, but I can’t imagine that anyone believes that he did all or most of the product development by himself, and just pretended Jonathan Ive and tens of thousands of other Apple workers did the heavy lifting. The commentator in question wonders whether Apple “lost its genius.” Well, maybe one genius, but there are lots more, and there’s no way Apple would have survived without all those brilliant OS and hardware designers, not to mention Ive, Schiller and loads of other executives, including one Tim Cook.

    Sure, Apple could fail big time over the next few years, just as it was very possible when Steve Jobs was in control. Remember that the iPod, iPhone and iPad were all huge risks that paid off despite lots of skepticism from some portions of the media. The iPad mini might have done badly as well, because it was perceived as expensive compared to the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7. But Apple didn’t scrimp on great design, and a careful attention to detail, and it’s very possible the iPad mini will become the mainstream iPad before long.

    I suppose Tim Cook is inclined to pay closer attention to the bottom line, but there’s no evidence he’s somehow hurting the company. The financial community ought to be looking not just at Apple’s quarterly sales figures, which will be released later this month, but at the product intros as they happen throughout 2013. Will it all just be iterative, as some suggest, or is there some more revolutionary gear in Apple’s test labs that will see the light of day in the months to come? Apple has confounded the critics before, and they are fully capable of doing again. Unfortunately, stories of that sort don’t play to the doom and gloom mentality of some commentators.



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