Monday, September 24, 2012

Apple is... without Jobs...

Think back to the last time Apple was without Steve Jobs. After leaving Apple, Jobs founded NeXT Computer in 1985, and its flagship product, NeXTStep, is now OS X and iOS. In 1996, Apple announced that it would buy NeXT for $427 million -- bringing Jobs back to the company he co-founded, who was formally named interim chief executive in September 1997. But in the dark interregnum when SJ was absent, Apple almost expired. I find myself agreeing with Paulo Santo,
For now this is just a harbinger of possible change. I believe the iPhone 5 will be a huge commercial success nonetheless. But as it stands, a red flag was waved. A feature decidedly lacking in quality was let through because of corporate considerations, which clearly overrode the customer's interest. This is not a good sign.
Other parallels are out there -- without Steve Jobs, some say Apple will slide into mediocrity just as Sony did after the death of founder Akio Morita Of course, there are many naysayers for Apple -- always have bee. Some companies surpassed the expectations of the founder, even in the tech arena. IBM is a fantastic company, long after Thomas Watson expired. We shouldn't forget he was a leading self-made industrialist and one of the richest of his time when he died in 1956. But without the sometimes draconian secrecy around products, will Apple lose its edge? Microsoft has coasted a long time without Bill Gates. But the basis of its business is still the operating system, and MS's internet plays have famously not worked well. Microsoft said it cut advertising and marketing positions as it "works to align the business to key priorities." And it announced a $6.2 billion accounting charge in its Internet division; an admission that Microsoft's online businesses aren't living up to the company's expectations. But Tim Cook is no slacker; he is 180 degrees off of the domineering, artistic Jobs. But Cook is no less a perfectionist, having built the Apple version of the Toyota method into the company's supply chain. One thing Cook does very well, others have said, is that when he presents a number he wants listeners to care about, he puts it into a meaningful context. For example, when Cook wanted to convince the audience at a 2010 event that the Mac business is still very important to Apple, even though iPhones make a lot more money, he didn't just say that it makes $22 billion a year. He characterized the numbers in terms of the Mac business as a standalone company, which would make it number 110 on the Fortune 500 list. So there's still hope for Apple. For now.

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