Steve Jobs is gone. Apple today is CEO Tim Cook’s Apple. Jobs legacy is Apple itself, and a string of industry disruptions; a wildly successful product line, led by the iPhone, that helped move Apple to the top of the technology industry.
The list is long. Apple II, Mac, iTunes, Apple Stores, iPod, iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad, App Stores. All those products were laughed at or scorned by critics and competitors but all disrupted their respective industries and helped to shape the technology landscape in the 21st century. What is Apple’s next great thing?
Incremental, My Dear Watson
While the idea or first rough drafts of Apple Watch may have been viewed by Jobs before he died, Apple today is more a Tim Cook Apple than a Steve Jobs Apple. Apple Inc has a conscience. Apple cares publicly about the environment and social justice, and shareholders have been rewarded handsomely in the Cook era through a robust price, stock buybacks, and dividends.
Cook the engineer has worked diligently to convert Apple into a well oiled machine capable of designing, building, and shipping tens of millions of products through a complex web of manufacturing and distribution channels that help the company reap profits which have never before been seen among technology companies.
If Jobs’ legacy is a reborn Apple Inc with hundreds of millions of adoring customers and a long string of product hits, what will be Cook’s legacy? What is the next great thing that Cook’s Apple will launch upon the world?
Apple’s success under Cook’s reign has been incremental, highly profitable, yes, but incremental; whereas Jobs’ influence upon the company was a list of innovative disruptions that spanned decades.
I can tell you what the next great thing is not.
It’s not Watch, little more than a clever and expensive accessory for fashion conscious iPhone users who would rather not fish for the phone in their pocket, bag, or purse to view an incoming notification.
It’s not Apple TV, little more than a very long overdue, quite expensive, and incremental generation of Apple TV models developed in the Jobs era.
Apple spends tens of billions of dollars every year to improve the current product line and the result is a string of products which get better– albeit incrementally– each year, work well together, have more power and capability, and seem to grow the customer base beyond what the company’s many critics would have deemed possible. On incremental improvements, Apple has become relentless and the results speak for themselves. Hundreds of millions of satisfied customers, hundreds of billions in sales, and tens of billions in profits.
Where’s the next great thing?
Apple Car? Can Cook’s Apple do for car owners and do to the automobile industry what Jobs’ Apple did for personal computers and smartphones and music? If so, what would an Apple Car do that is not already being done by Tesla and dozens of other manufacturers?
HomeKit and HealthKit and other ventures look promising but so far do not appear to be revolutionary in nature; almost incremental branches which grow on Apple’s brand and current product line rather than do what the iPhone did– capture the heart and soul of hundreds of millions of customers.
My fear is this. Without Jobs’ vision and desire to create the next great thing the iPhone has become like the Mac before it. A legendary product much beloved by many, but whose future rests upon the variations of a theme; a product from a company with a storied history and a valuable, profitable present, but one without a future that leads to the next great thing.
My conclusion is this. Cook’s Apple is in the process of becoming the family and personal home for modern technology devices and services. Think Disneyland, but instead of selling entertainment, Apple sells comfortable, easy to use computing devices and services that integrate with one another; faithfully curated for security and dependability; a safe haven for 21st century residents to navigate through and use modern technology.
That’s where Apple is going and Tim Cook seems to be the guy who can pull all the pieces together to make it work, whether it’s Mac, iPhone, or Car. If so, that’s probably all well and good, but it just doesn’t seem to have the romance that emanated from products with roots in the Jobs era.