going deeper than a force click with musings ON the world of apple
There’s no doubt Tim Cook is a different kind of boss than Steve Jobs. But Apple’s fortunes may now depend on what is outside of it, not inside.
It’s five years since Steve Jobs, the most legendary figure in the history of mass-market electronics, left his globally dominant company in the hands of Tim Cook, who, after a decade patiently refining its manufacturing supply chain, was known to almost everyone as ‘Tim who?’
Back in 2011, nobody was sure if the man described by Fortune as an “operations whiz” and by Jobs as “not a product person” could establish himself as a true leader. Today, it’s clear that he has; less by being an operations whiz – although Apple’s manufacturing capability remains the envy of its rivals, not least Samsung ‘Whoops Your Battery Exploded’ Electronics Co Ltd – and more by not being a product person.
Jobs was all about shipping. His genius was to inspire the making and marketing of superior things. Corporate social responsibility – doing good works, upholding values, paying tax – never interested him; why should a company ‘give back’, when it was already giving people faster Macs, slimmer phones, and cleverer software? Cook has revealed a different outlook. Perhaps dramatic new products haven’t materialised under his stewardship (the Apple Watch never looked like it would be a game changer of iPhone or iPad proportions), but greater commitment to the environment and overseas workers’ rights did. Apple became an avowed defender of LGBT rights, and it stood up against the surveillance state.
And then the EU ordered Ireland to reclaim €13bn in tax, and suddenly Cook sounded more like a Silicon Valley libertarian castigating the misguided forces of socialism. Was Nice Tim just a veneer after all?
To an extent, of course, yes. Apple may look too rich to worry about money, but that’s not how capitalism works. Just as Jobs learned the harsh necessity of keeping the lights on during his scrabble to establish NeXT, Cook has been sufficiently bruised by activist shareholders to be in no doubt where his duty lies. But there’s one crucial factor in the tax ruling that epitomises the shift between eras: it was entirely outside Apple’s control.
When Jobs returned in 1996, we wondered what he would do. Today, with that decade’s seemingly endless boom a bitter memory, as big a question about Apple is what will be done to it. A weak global recovery is struggling to take hold. America, split by the most chaotic electoral cycle in its recent history, is in turmoil. The smartphone market is near its peak; demand for computers has declined. Wearables, VR, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things are the new areas of exponential growth… but not quite yet.
The first thing Cook told his colleagues on accepting the CEO role, six weeks before Jobs’ death, was that “Apple is not going to change”. He was wrong: everything changed. In the next five years, Apple needs to look outwards, to a world where nothing is the same.
ABOUT ADAM BANKS
Nobody was sure if Tim Cook could establish himself as a true leader
Adam is Apple to the core, having reported on the world of Macs since the 1990s. As a writer, designer, art director and print production contractor, he divides his time between the Northern Powerhouse and the Creative Cloud.