Apple After Steve Jobs

Sadly, Mr. Jobs is with us no more.  Not too long ago I did a commentary on the state of Microsoft after the departure of Bill Gates so it seems only fair that I do one on Apple after Steve Jobs… Except we don’t know yet.  We don’t know what the future holds for Apple.  So instead I’ll present some challenges Apple will face as they move forward without the guidance of Steve Jobs.

But first a brief history –

I was fortunate to see Bill Gates in person twice.  Once he bought me a beer (well, actually, he bought about 30 of us beer).  I never met Steve Jobs but I ALMOST worked for him.  I was leaving my job at Disney just as Walt Disney was acquiring Pixar – making Steve Jobs the largest shareholder of The Walt Disney Company.

While I always thought Bill Gates was a genius, I was not always a fan of Steve Jobs.  In the early days the Apple ][ was a wonderful toy.  You could plug in cards to add functionality and it seemed you could do ANYTHING with it.  Then came the IBM PC that copied the open architecture idea… and then… came the Macintosh.  Huh?  They ruined it!  You couldn’t plug in cards!  What good was a closed computer?  I wasn’t the only one who thought this and Apple lost market share.

Jobs left Apple and started NeXT – but the personal computer market was too crowded and NeXT struggled.  At this point I thought Steve Jobs was “just the marketing guy” and the technical wizard, Steve Wozniak, made him rich.

Years go by and Jobs made Pixar a success.  He came back to Apple and created the iPod and iTunes.  I changed my mind.  Steve Jobs apparently knew what he was doing and was on the verge of proving himself a bona fide genius and a true visionary.  His dream had finally become a reality.  Microelectronics and volume sales enabled the practicality of the closed computer.  If your computer already does EVERYTHING why would you ever have to plug in a card?

While Steve Jobs was changing the world, I was working at a large number of companies on a really large number of projects.  I flatter myself that my diverse background gives me a rare perspective on engineering innovation and what it takes to be successful.  More specifically, I firmly believe I understand the critical components of failure.  You see, most of the companies for which I worked no longer exist.  There are several traits common to this pile of failures – and these are exactly the challenges Apple will face without the leadership of Steve Jobs.

  1. Lack of honesty – especially internally.  Lying to yourself about schedules (to “motivate” the engineers), about potential sales volumes (being “optimistic”), and about needed functionality (“that feature will be in the next release”) are all poisonous to corporate morale and product success.
  2. Chasing the market instead of anticipating where the market will be by the time the product is ready.  This usually occurs when the person in charge is afraid of being wrong about where the market is headed.  Risk aversion leads to a defensive posture in the market (i.e. the loser).
  3. Playing market catch-up.  Usually because of number 2, a competitor has a “must have” feature your product doesn’t have.  To many managers this means – “rush something with this feature quickly to market”.
  4. Cost.  Yes, money can be saved by leaving off a couple of buttons – but perhaps, though not required, they are desirable.  Yes, wrapping the product in black velvet costs more than brown shipping paper – but it looks really good.  Far too many executives are just not very good at knowing when a few extra pennies buys a lot – so they go as cheap as possible.
  5. Quality.  I’ve seen so, so many companies ship junk.  Important people say it is time to ship, so the junk gets shipped.  So very few executives have the patience to get it right

Rest in peace Steve.

The secrets of your success are hidden in plain sight; but few will ever find them.