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  • So Is Tim Cook a Failure?

    July 10th, 2014

    If you can believe recent stories, and the general flavor of the criticism about Apple, Tim Cook was the wrong man at the wrong time to take over Apple when Steve Jobs gave up the throne. Of course, it’s also true that even The New York Times mistakenly believe that Cook took control after Jobs died, which most of you know just isn’t true. They also tend to ignore the long periods in which Cook was acting CEO when Jobs took his various sick leaves.

    So it’s not that Cook walked into the CEO’s office unprepared. No doubt he had extensive conversations with Jobs about what would be expected of him, and the obstacles he would face.

    Certainly Cook doesn’t consider the “what would Steve do?” question, and he was urged by Jobs not to. Instead, he has moved Apple in a somewhat different direction, with a more collaborative executive team, and a greater openness in dealing with developers, investors and, to some degree, the public. When Apple was attacked by The New York Times about poor working conditions at contract factories in China — a piece that ignored the fact that other large tech companies build their gear in the same plants — it was clear that Apple was taking steps to improve the situation. What has Dell and HP done, or does anyone even ask?

    And what about the plight of the workers who build gear for Samsung?

    Although Wall Street was clearly pleased, Apple’s plan to buy back billions of dollars of stock, give dividends to investors, and split the stock was regarded by some as an excuse to obscure the fact that the company has yet to enter into any new markets. It was as if Jobs would click his boots three times, and a new product would come to be. This mistaken belief ignores the fact that he reportedly had to be sold on, for example, building the iPod, a product that paved the way for all of Apple’s excursions into consumer electronics territory.

    What is troublesome to the critics, of course, is that Apple has a long standing policy of not telling you what is being developed, other than the first version of something or a new OS. It’s about the “wow” factor, not to mention potentially killing sales of an existing product when the new model arrives. But all those promises about entering new product categories (plural) sure indicates that there’s something more than an iWatch afoot. The next Apple TV? That’s still an existing product, even if you add some gaming features and perhaps an Apple-built gaming console.

    One of the ongoing arguments is that “Steve Jobs would not have done this,” in response to anything Cook does, which is absolutely silly. For one thing, the vast majority of those critics never knew Steve Jobs. Even if they met him at an Apple event — as I did several times over the years — they really didn’t know him. They could not possibly know how he’d react to any particular product decision made by Cook. They do not even know how many of the current products and strategies were actually approved by Jobs in his final days, though I’d think that number is dwindling rapidly.

    Some suggest that Jobs was better at building a startup, whereas Cook is better at building a mature company. Remember that Apple was established more than 38 years ago. It has had ups and downs and long periods of struggling to find a direction. It hasn’t been a smooth ride by any means. Few would believe that Apple would grow into the largest company on the planet by market cap, let alone by building fancy mobile telephone handsets and digital music players. I suppose you could see the possibility of tablets with the Newton eMate.

    Today’s Apple gets far more right than wrong, but to assume Apple’s foul-ups occurred after Jobs left is foolish. Apple’s history under Jobs demonstrates otherwise.

    From a financial standpoint, Apple is in solid shape. But it’s still about products and services, and it remains to be seen what new products will arrive in the next few months that will take Apple to the next generation of product greatness.

    I can see where there’s skepticism, though. But the new products and services that have been rumored appear to be highly consumer oriented, which means that the best time to release them is in the fall, ahead of the start of the holiday shopping season. A newly-released product will sell in the highest numbers. It makes less sense to bring a refreshed iPhone to market in, say, April, which is what Samsung did with the Galaxy S5. By fall, it’ll be old news in the fast-moving tech industry.

    But no matter what Apple does, it’s a sure thing that the skeptics will complain that Cook is doing most or everything wrong. That will never change, and even if he is succeeded by someone in the near future, no matter how qualified, how will that change anything?

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