Can Apple survive without Steve Jobs?

Published on August 25, 2011 under Technology, Business, Apple / Mac / iPhone

Steve Jobs

It was the day many Apple fanboys dreaded and many anti-Apple folk dreamed of. The day Apple's beloved CEO Steve Jobs decided to step down permanently as CEO and hand off the torch to COO Tim Cook. Already speculation and fear are abound. Many lovers of Apple and their products worry if Apple will see a repeat of the mid-80s to the late-90s where the company nearly destroyed itself. Anti-Apple folk more or less are hoping and banking on that.

Now we get to find out. Will Apple survive without Steve Jobs? Can Tim Cook fill those shoes?

Steve is prepared this time

Back in 1985 when Steve was pushed out of Apple, the company was still a mixture of those who believed in what Jobs believed, and those seen as "IBM folk in casual wear". Those who really follow Apple history know what happened. The company went from trying to be Apple into trying to be IBM. IBM had the market cornered on that thinking and thus did well for itself. This same business-money-maximize-profits-suit-and-tie thinking is much of what brought Apple down in my book.

This time, Jobs spent much time molding and crafting others to think like him and run the company as he would. I don't know how much Cook could be Steve Jobs, but I do know we won't see him walk into a WWDC wearing a "power suit" and talk about "business machines" or "cheaper production to lower price". I said in a comment on a blog that part of what made Apple different is that Jobs in many ways reminded me of a Creative Director as opposed to a financial money guy. I'm not saying he never thought about the dollars and cents, but he approached things more from the viewpoint of a Creative Director and wanted things built well, not cheap and efficient. That's part of why Apple products cost more, but you don't see too many complain about performance.

There is also the product development cycle. Tim Cook isn't facing a clean slate and he has to start new. Many have speculated on how Apple probably already has products lined up for the next five years. Newer versions of iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Macbooks at the least; with maybe a couple of other new things lined up. This is a great thing not only because it keeps Jobs' influence around for a while, but it gives Cook and the new management time to really think about what will happen after those five years.

Where things could go wrong

Now we get into the sentiment shared by both sides of the Apple love/hate line. What if Tim Cook decides to get less "hipster" and more "suit"? What if suddenly the price of a song on iTunes goes from $0.99 to $3? What if Cook pops up and proclaims Apple can't make expensive stuff anymore, and should focus on an iPhone that you can give out for free with a contract, a $100 iPad, and a $500 Macbook. What if he decided to open up Mac OS and allow anyone to install it on any machine they want, even for competing manufacturers to make their own Macs?

These are somewhat shades of the past when Jobs was pushed out. Despite that Steve did mentor and mold Cook into who he is, things can change. Even moreso, Cook could suddenly get offered more money and leave. Now Apple would have to find someone else who might not be Steve. The biggest problem with the success of Apple is that it came a lot from Steve's vision, and unless you find someone with those same visions, you won't recreate that "magic". If you put out a job ad for a new Steve Jobs and instead end up with a pool of Lloyd Blankfeins (CEO of Goldman Sachs), then it will only spell trouble for Apple.

Where things could go better

Steve Jobs' leaving could also spell new things for Apple. Perhaps Tim Cook and the board will not share every ideology that Jobs did. Maybe it will mean they'll come up with lower-end Apple products in an attempt to capture more of the market or even use as "gateway drugs" for others to then later buy the high-end items. Maybe it will mean iPads will get USB ports, or restrictions will be removed so users can jailbreak their devices "at their own risk".

Remember that debacle with Esquire Magazine I wrote about last year? Imagine if Cook decided that Steve's "moral high ground" isn't realistic and thus now people can freely buy porn or create adult-oriented apps with plenty of safeguards in place to keep them away from kids? Even less just to see the content restrictions on magazines and publications loosened, or the percentages Apple takes from in-app sales lowered. It might then open up a plethora of possibilities and thus make Apple devices grow beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Now of course there will be cultists who will then proclaim that Cook or whoever is running Apple is then "destroying Steve's work". There will be people who think Steve Jobs is the only person who can make Apple work, and even demand research into cloning him or drawing out of his kids the possibilities of recreating him. Others might sit and secretly want to see Apple fall, but I honestly don't believe any

"downfall" will happen for a very long time. Apple created markets for things that didn't exist in the past. Smartphones and tablets did not become the powerhouses they are until Apple changed the landscape.

I might not be a total fan of all things Apple, but I think the company will be just fine. We can only wait and see what Tim Cook has in store.

What do you think? Is Apple doomed? Or will it even get better with new thinking in place?

Tags: Apple, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, management, future

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