Apple became more secretive, more focused, more disciplined, and more nimble than life under the company’s four previous leaders. And, more profitable. Is today’s Apple under CEO Tim Cook merely a reflection of the old Apple under Steve Jobs? Or, is something new and different being constructed?
What’s Old Is New Again (or not)
Since Steve Jobs died in 2011 Apple’s financials have skyrocketed to new heights of revenue and profits. Much of those gains can be attributed to products developed under Jobs’ reign, not Tim Cook.
Now that Tim Cook has had time to put his own thumbprint on Apple what do we see? How is Apple’s public persona different under Cook than it was under Jobs?
First of all, Cooke seems more eager to apologize for Apple’s problems, as opposed to Jobs who was more defensive and would explain away issues of public concern.
Good examples include the Antennagate issue of the iPhone 4, which was met head on, in public, and explained away by Jobs and his deputies.
On the Cook side of the ledger there’s Apple Mapsgate, a publicly embarrassing issue over their news maps app that cost Apple a valued executive and a black eye. Cook was eager to apologize to the Chinese after it was learned that Apple doesn’t exactly treat customer service issues and warranties the same the world over.
Compare And Contrast
Where Jobs was blunt, brash, and caustic, Cook comes across as having a willingness to concede and a desire to collaborate, but he isn’t afraid to confront and clean house (the exits of iOS chief Scot Forstall, and retail store head John Browett are good examples) to keep peace.
Advertising campaigns under Jobs were artful, pointed, award winning, effective, and state of the art (iPod, Mac vs. PC, Think Different). Advertising under Cook is anemic, defensive, or just plain awful (Apple Store Genius on a Plane).
Cook’s claim to fame has been his ability to make the trains run on time. He was the guy in charge of operations, and until recently Apple churned out new product after new product with few issues.
Under Cook’s reign sans Jobs, though, supply has taken much longer to get in sync with demand (though that’s better than the other way around). The notable examples are the new iMac model, the iPhone 5, and even the iPad mini, all of which suffered lengthy shortages.
Apple remains secretive with public pronouncements mostly limited to the executive inner circle. Cook seems to have a more public awareness than Jobs, and has moved quickly to placate noisy shareholders with dividends (it’s difficult to imagine Jobs would do that). Is Tim Cook the face of a kinder, gentler Apple? Apple under Cook has moved swiftly to enhance the company’s green initiatives; witness the solar power operations in Apple’s data centers.
What Would Steve Do?
It’s very easy to look at Apple today and say the company would never do this or that under Jobs, yet there’s little proof that Apple operates differently at all. When it comes to numbers, Apple’s revenue and profits remain huge when compared to industry competitors, yet the company has sinned by not exceeding the expectations of Wall Street, even while exceeding their own guidance.
Jobs shuffled the deck a few times during his tenure and Cook has done the same, putting Jonny Ive in charge of industrial design for both hardware and software. It’s likely that Jobs would have approved of that.
What’s notably different about Apple’s public posture is the tone set by Jobs vs. the tone set by Cook. Where Jobs was abrupt, brash, and full of hubris, Cook comes across more as a gentleman’s executive; firmly in charge, obviously, but not as willing to defend Apple with an offense.
Whatever products Apple ships after 2013 are likely to be Tim Cook’s full responsibility, sans the coattails from the Steve Jobs era. Some products are predictable: iPad mini with Retina display. iPhone 5S. iMac with Retina display. iOS 7. OS X 10.9 Lynx. What remains to be seen is whether Cook can corral the television and movie industries the way Steve Jobs commanded the music industry.