This week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE was not the show I planned, nor the show that I expected to have to schedule for a number of years yet. But we are constantly reminded just how fragile life really is, and that it’s seldom possible to know when the end is near.
This week’s episode was supposed to focus mainly on Apple’s media event last Tuesday. However, on Wednesday, as the news of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs spread around the world, I had to change my plans, sadly.
So, instead, we devoted a hefty portion of the show to honor the life and times of Steven P. Jobs, first with Peter Cohen, of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, and later with Adam Engst from TidBITS and Take Control Books. Peter also discussed Apple’s media event that featured the launch of the iPhone 4s.
You also heard more about the latest and greatest iPhone, along with the shortcomings of Google’s Android OS and Microsoft’s efforts to deploy Windows everywhere, from Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return visit from UFO historian Jerome Clark, author of such works as “The UFO Encyclopedia” and “Hidden Realms, Lost Civilizations, and Beings from Other Worlds,” delivers a fascinating overview of UFO research and some of the related mysteries. He’ll also answer the questions you posted in our community forums.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
Over 14 years, Steve Jobs had the opportunity to remake Apple’s history. His youthful exuberance, and many say his excesses, resulted in his forced departure from Apple in 1985. I doubt anyone at the time would have predicted how the company would fare in the years to come, or that Jobs would return to find Apple on the ropes.
The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple and took over, first as interim CEO, or iCEO, had become a seasoned executive with a vision. He stripped the company of non-performing or underperforming products, focusing strictly on reclaiming the Mac’s glory. The iMac was the first proof that things weren’t going to be the same.
Beginning with the arrival of the iPod in 2001, Jobs remade Apple as a consumer electronics company that, with the introduction of the iPhone and the iPad, resulted in incredible sales and profits. Apple is clearly the envy of every tech company on the planet.
At the same time, it’s also true that many corporations have suffered seriously after their founders departed. Sometimes it happens almost immediately, sometimes it takes years for the decay to set in.
Consider, for example, the Walt Disney Company. After Walt Disney died in 1966, his company began to flounder from corporate indecision and lack of vision. It took years to right the ship and get things on track once again. Certainly HP has suffered greatly, with a procession of mediocre executives coming and going and moving in different directions. The legendary HP “way” became a relic of the past.
These days, HP, while selling more personal computers than any other company on Earth, cannot seem to figure out how to increase profits beyond the single digits. Indeed, if new CEO Meg Whitman doesn’t change course, the PC division might be spun off or sold. Unfortunately, it appears that Whitman, once CEO of eBay, is not, so far at least, able to express a compelling vision for HP.
Let’s not forget that the HP of the 1970s served as an inspiration for the young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in creating Apple. Today’s HP would serve as the inspiration to nobody other than as an example of the unfortunate decline of a great corporation.
Now there’s no guarantee how Apple will fare in the years to come, but from published reports, it’s clear that Steve Jobs, understanding how other companies have fared when their guiding lights left, worked hard towards instilling his vision into Apple, embedding his DNA, so that everything he built would continue in his “image” when the time came for him to go.
With his original diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, no doubt he understood his time was short. One example of preserving the culture he established at Apple was to create something called Apple University in order to pass on his ideals and vision to new employees. Some liken the approach to a parent guiding their children in their formative years, hoping they’ll be successful in traveling life’s treacherous path.
At the same time, imagine attempting to guess how Steve Jobs might have reacted when making a specific product or marketing decision. On the short term, that might be productive, but on the long term, it could result in tunnel vision, the failure to recognize critical changes in the industry and react appropriately.
Perhaps the best thing Jobs could have done would be to create the climate where creativity and risk-taking were encouraged, something that doesn’t often happen in the corporate world, where they try so hard to rely on past successes. Indeed, when Tim Cook worked as acting CEO when Jobs took longer and longer sick leaves, it’s clear the company never missed a beat, and achieved greater and greater successes. Clearly Jobs’ efforts to guide Apple towards a future without him at the helm have proven successful.
It is said that the products Steve Jobs envisioned can fill Apple’s product catalogs for several years yet, after which it’ll be up to the new leadership to move on. By having a wide and deep bench in the executive suites, it’s clear to me that Apple has the ingredients to attain even greater heights in the years to come.
Of course, success is guaranteed to no one. It’s always possible that some tiny startup somewhere will develop products and services that will be far superior to anything Apple can deliver. That’s something you can’t predict, but so long as Apple doesn’t simply try to depend on past glories, their survival seems assured for quite a number of years yet.
Compare that to Microsoft, which still wants you to believe that Windows is the be all and end all of the personal computing experience, and that they can somehow, if they throw enough darts at the wall, devise a strategy to make a difference in the mobile computing universe. Sure, Microsoft is struggling to become relevant again, and it’s a sure thing they will continue to register high sales and profits at least in the near term, but a gradual, constant erosion is assured if they don’t change their ways, and soon.
According to published reports over the years, the heirs to rock legend Elvis Presley have taken in far more money than the “King” earned during his entire lifetime. That’s because his vast recording catalog and Elvis merchandise was regularly exploited in order to garner as many sales as possible. From LP to cassette to CD, you were assured of newer, better-sounding versions of his greatest hits, not to mention so-called undiscovered treasures.
And I haven’t begun to consider the income earned from admitting fans into the Graceland complex for tours.
But there is nothing new when it comes to famous people who are no longer around. Certainly sales of music from The Beatles and the solo works from John Lennon soared after his assassination in 1980. Clever merchandising by Lennon and Harrison’s heirs, not to mention the surviving members of the Fab Four, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, have resulted in significant ongoing sales of Beatles music. Releasing alternate takes and demos has only enhanced interest in their music.
When the music was remixed for CD in the 1980s, you can bet millions of fans bought everything all over again, as I did; the same is true for the more recent digital remastering. And, frankly, having heard the two versions, it is amazing how much high quality was captured by the team of smart engineers who got access to the master tapes. Indeed, it happened all over again when The Beatles’ catalog was released on iTunes, although I have opted not to acquire the digital versions, at least not yet.
But this is just recorded music and, other than complete collections, the cost is relatively modest for those of you who simply want to get better versions of the music you already own.
Now when it comes to the death of Steve Jobs, some tech pundits are wondering whether it’s at all possible that Apple will sell more product because fans of the company’s gadgets will want to capture more of the magic before it’s too late. I suppose the fact that people have shown up at Apple Stores in greater numbers, particularly the flagship outlet in New York City, does present the possibility that they also made purchases they might have otherwise not considered, at least in some cases.
On the other hand, other than the iPod shuffle at $49, or perhaps an iPod Nano, buying an Apple product is not a casual purchase. I suppose some people who might have been planning an upgrade, or want to try something from Apple for the first time, might use the passing of the company’s co-founder as an incentive to take the plunge. But it’s not as if many people are apt to spend $499 for a basic iPad 2, or $999 for an 11-inch MacBook Air on a whim, or out of a sense of grief. Flowers yes, messages of sympathy yes. I may be wrong, but I do not think most Apple customers have enough disposable income to make a larger investment before they’re ready.
I suppose some skeptics might want you to believe that Apple is already on the way down. Certainly the mixed media reaction to the iPhone 4s indicates there’s skepticism. On the other hand, the new iPhone has substantial internal changes, and how would it work any different if the casings were changed? That’s the question they cannot answer when they continue to present the fake premise that Apple somehow shortchanged customers by concentrating on the substance rather than the form, although they did that before with the iPhone 3S and iPhone 3GS.
In short, Apple’s iPhone upgrade is following a tradition already established with previous versions. There is a major redesign, followed by product refreshes with new parts and new features, followed by another case redesign. You should also consider the feelings of the companies who build iPhone cases, who may be able to build the same or almost the same products for the iPhone 4s. Besides, if yours is covered by a case, would you even notice much of a difference anyway, so long as the Home button and other controls work efficiently, performance is good, and the display is sharp and crisp?
Now as I’ve said many times before, I always reserve the right to be wrong. I had expressed my hopes that Steve Jobs, after resigning as CEO, would be around as Chairman of the Board to continue to plot Apple’s strategy for quite some time. Clearly he made the decision to step down when he knew the end was near, and maybe it still gave Apple fans more time to digest the leadership change, not to mention Wall Street. Do not forget that Apple’s stock price was minimally impacted after Jobs’ death was announced.
In short, do I think Apple sales will suddenly soar simply because Steve Jobs is no longer with us? Maybe by a small amount, but not to any significant degree. I do not believe all those iPhone 4s preorders, over one million on the very first day according to Apple, were the result of anything more than the fact that loads of customers were waiting to get one for quite awhile. Period.
THE FINAL WORD
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