Once a portion of the media seizes on a narrative, however wrongheaded, it’s often difficult or impossible to change things. Take the perception that Tim Cook is little more than a supply chain geek with a shaky grasp of the public narrative about Apple.
For many, the late Steve Jobs was strictly the product person who shepherded — or browbeat — his designers and engineers to create insanely great products. I suppose some might have believed that Jobs must have been a whiz at CAD software and managing complicated printed circuitry.
Actually, Apple’s mercurial cofounder was best when in sales mode, demonstrating to one and all the joys of something new and different from Apple. But he was the face of Apple, not the person who actually designed those things. Instead, he relied on a staff of brilliant people to turn his ideas — and the ideas of others — into reality. But not all of his decisions were necessarily correct, and people sometimes had to change his mind to reach a momentous decision.
Take the iPhone. Before the iPhone arrived, other smartphones had paid apps. But they were often overpriced and didn’t work so well. But with the iPhone, Jobs touted web apps instead. He had to be persuaded to give developers the tools they needed to build native apps.
The arrival of the App Store in 2008 may have been the most important factor in the device’s success. A huge community of developers continues to work to build millions of apps covering a wide range of categories. Many are free, many are cheap, and some are not-so-cheap. But everything the iPhone does, aside from Apple’s built-in software, is meant to serve those apps.
Sure, you could restrict yourself to Apple’s bundled apps, but you will be limiting your iPhone and iPad experience big time. As a corollary, in the dark days of the Mac, many developers moved to Windows, or maintained inferior Mac versions. As a result, lots of people switched to Microsoft’s platform.
Nowadays, one key factor that keeps people on the Mac, aside from macOS and the thousands upon thousands of native apps, is the fact that you can run Windows with decent performance in a virtual machine, or at full speed in Boot Camp.
Now about Tim Cook. A surprisingly positive Business Insider piece about him mentions the fact that he recently received 560,000 shares of Apple stock, valued at $89.2 million, for doing a good job.
So if Cook is just a numbers guy, how does one explain the disconnect?
Now don’t forget that Cook was chosen by Jobs to succeed him. When Jobs took several sick leaves to receive treatment for his ultimately fatal condition. he believed in Cook to keep the company humming along.
Sure, Cook isn’t perfect — nor was Jobs. But he has also delivered big time. Under his leadership, Apple has become the number one company on the planet based on market cap. This didn’t happen because he happens to be brilliant with finances. It’s because Apple has continued to build compelling upgrades for its product portfolio. And don’t forget the new stuff that arrived under his leadership.
All right, maybe the Mac didn’t get the attention it deserved for a time, but Apple has clearly learned from its mistakes.
While the new products under Cook’s leadership haven’t been the smashing success of the iPhone, they appear to have done pretty well. According to the Business Insider piece, the AirPods, which were introduced last fall, dominates its category by earning 85% of the money spent on such gear. It’s not as if tens of millions are being sold, but it’s Apple’s market to lose.
And remember that Apple is just catching up on AirPods orders. Somebody out there likes them.
Another example of a so-called failed product from Cook is the Apple Watch. Yet products that sell in much lower quantities are regarded as successes, but I’ll get to that shortly.
According to recent estimates, Apple sold 3.4 million of them in the June quarter, which is hardly a peak period for sales of such a gadget. IDC credits the Apple Watch with a 49.6% share of the market. Samsung? It’s 11%. Even the Fitbit, once the market leader among wearables, has continued to suffer from falling sales, while the Apple Watch continues to do better and better.
This doesn’t mean that the Apple Watch is a must-have, but people like them, sales are continuing to climb, so its potential has yet to be realized. If the next version comes with an LTE option as rumored, I wonder how it will improve sales. It will certainly help to untether the device from the iPhone, although I hardly think Android users will be rushing to buy them. It is, after all, an accessory that serves Apple’s ecosystem.
There’s also a lot of anticipation for the HomePod. Right now, Amazon’s Echo is thought of as a success, even though sales didn’t surpass the 10 million level until it was on the market for nearly three years. Sure, the numbers are estimates, but if we take sales of 3.4 million Apple Watches as real, estimates for the Echo ought to be taken seriously too.
In my not-so-humble opinion, the Amazon Echo may be doing all right and all, but it’s hardly a smashing success. That said, it doesn’t mean that Apple will really move 10-12 million in the first year, a figure forecast by industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, of KGI Securities. But among Apple watchers, he does far better than most.
When Cook suggested recently that the combination of Apple Watch, AirPods, and Beats headphones sales over the past year attained the level of a Fortune 500 company, something real is happening.
Now let’s return to the regular demands that Cook be fired for incompetence. Or maybe that ought to be said about those alleged media pundits and industry analysts who just can’t get anything right.
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