How Ap­ple has thrown out its old rule book

Ja­son Snell re­veals a few ways that to­day’s Ap­ple has tossed out, or at least amended, the clas­sic Ap­ple rule book

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When Steve Jobs came back to Ap­ple in 1997, he didn’t like what he saw, so he set about chang­ing the cor­po­rate cul­ture. A decade later, one proof of his suc­cess was the fact that the com­pany seemed to fol­low a rule book, largely be­hav­ing with a con­sis­tency that al­lowed those of us who cov­ered the com­pany to re­act to wild ru­mours

with phrases like ‘Ap­ple wouldn’t do that’ or ‘that’s not how Ap­ple does things’.

But in the years fol­low­ing his death (and the de­par­ture of some other Jobs-era ex­ec­u­tives), Ap­ple has con­tin­ued to evolve – and in many cases, it’s torn up the old rule book. A lot of the changes strike me as be­ing for the bet­ter. I feel like af­ter Steve laid down the law in the late 1990s, some poli­cies and de­ci­sions were never re­ally re­con­sid­ered un­til the Tim Cook era got into full swing. Here are just a few ways that to­day’s Ap­ple has tossed out, or at least amended, the clas­sic rule book.

Buy­ing apps and keep­ing them vis­i­ble

When Ap­ple bought the iOS au­to­ma­tion app Work­flow, most peo­ple as­sumed that Ap­ple would fol­low its usual ac­qui­si­tion rule book: swal­low the com­pany whole, make the ex­ist­ing prod­uct dis­ap­pear, and leave us guess­ing about what new op­er­at­ing-sys­tem fea­tures were based on pieces of the tech­nol­ogy that the tech gi­ant had de­voured or were cre­ated by the peo­ple hired as a part of the ac­qui­si­tion.

That’s a com­mon story, but the Work­flow story has proven to be the ex­act op­po­site. The Work­flow app has con­tin­ued to be avail­able in the App Store, long af­ter the ac­qui­si­tion. And when iOS 12 was an­nounced, there was Siri Short­cuts be­ing re­ported by some fa­mil­iar names and faces, fea­tur­ing an app that’s just an up­dated ver­sion of Work­flow.

The only other ex­am­ple I can re­call of Ap­ple ac­quir­ing some­thing and ba­si­cally keep­ing it in­tact (but im­prov­ing it thanks to the ad­van­tages of be­ing on

the Ap­ple in­side) is TestF­light, the beta-test­ing app, but that’s much less of a con­sumer-fac­ing tech­nol­ogy than Siri Short­cuts.

So the next time Ap­ple buys an app or web ser­vice you like, it’s all right to be wor­ried – but also keep the counter-ex­am­ple of Work­flow in mind.

Calling events and launch­ing prod­ucts

Ap­ple’s ap­proach to prod­uct launches has changed quite a bit in the Cook era. The com­pany can, and does, launch prod­ucts at big events such as the WWDC key­note and the an­nual iPhone launch event at the Steve Jobs The­ater in Cu­per­tino. But this year Ap­ple launched a new iPad in a school in Chicago, and rolled

out new MacBook Pros by invit­ing a small num­ber of jour­nal­ists to New York.

When the com­pany failed to roll out those new lap­tops at WWDC, a lot of peo­ple as­sumed that we wouldn’t see them un­til Ap­ple’s next big me­dia event in the au­tumn. But the firm has shown that it can roll out new prod­ucts any­where and at any­time. I still imag­ine that the com­pany would pre­fer to roll out ma­jor up­dates on a big stage, but there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that it can get cov­er­age when­ever it wants, from whomever it wants.

Ac­cess to jour­nal­ists

In the old days, some­times Ap­ple would give prod­uct ac­cess to a very se­lect num­ber of jour­nal­ists. But I can’t re­mem­ber the com­pany tar­get­ing sin­gle jour­nal­ists for spe­cific sto­ries about on­go­ing Ap­ple de­vel­op­ments like it did when it let Matthew Pan­zarino ride around in an Ap­ple Maps van in June. To­day’s Ap­ple PR, led by Steve Dowl­ing, is much more cre­ative in how it re­leases in­for­ma­tion into the world, go­ing far be­yond prod­uct re­leases.

An­other part of this change, and prob­a­bly one that was re­ally nec­es­sary post-Jobs, is mak­ing many Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives avail­able to jour­nal­ists and other me­dia fig­ures, and widen­ing the pop­u­la­tion of Ap­ple em­ploy­ees who ap­pear on stage at its events.

Jobs was the star when he was at Ap­ple, though oc­ca­sion­ally a few other ex­ec­u­tives – Phil Schiller and Greg Joswiak be­ing the two best ex­am­ples – would also ap­pear on stage. Tim Cook is happy to be the MC at ma­jor Ap­ple events, but he spreads the

stage at­ten­tion around, and not just to a cou­ple of lieu­tenants. I think Jobs was con­cerned that if any Ap­ple em­ployee got rec­og­nized by name on stage, they’d be the tar­get for re­cruiters to steal them away to a com­peti­tor, and that led to a re­luc­tance to al­low other faces to show them­selves as part of Ap­ple. The com­pany has changed on that front, and it’s also been an op­por­tu­nity to add some gen­der and ra­cial di­ver­sity to the pub­lic face of the com­pany.

Be­yond the stage, these Ap­ple em­ploy­ees are also fur­nished to the press as nec­es­sary. And hav­ing a cou­ple of Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives show up on TheTalk

Show with John Gru­ber is cer­tainly a new part of the play­book, and a wel­come one.

The struc­ture of the com­pany

Ap­ple has been uniquely struc­tured as a func­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion, where there’s no VP of iPad and an­other VP of Mac and an­other VP of iPhone, all jostling for re­sources and com­pet­ing with other parts of the com­pany. Ap­ple is... well, Ap­ple, and all the prod­ucts cross over and feed in to one an­other.

But look at this: Ap­ple named John Gian­nan­drea as its head of Siri and ma­chine learn­ing, a change that sug­gests the com­pany is chang­ing how it or­ga­nizes its ser­vices in or­der to pull key func­tion­al­ity into a sin­gle group with a sin­gle leader. It’s an en­cour­ag­ing sign for Ap­ple’s fu­ture in the ser­vices busi­ness.

A smaller, but still im­por­tant change, was mov­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the App Store from the iCloud group led by Eddy Cue to the mar­ket­ing group led by Phil Schiller. Over the past cou­ple of years, Schiller has made the App Store more un­der­stand­able and re­spon­sive for de­vel­op­ers, and has led a dra­matic im­prove­ment in how apps are mar­keted via the new ed­i­to­rial con­tent that de­buted with iOS 11 (and which will ex­tend to macOS this au­tumn with Mo­jave).

Growth, change, and adapt­abil­ity are im­por­tant to the on­go­ing suc­cess of any or­gan­ism, whether it’s a per­son or a gi­ant com­pany. In a few ar­eas, Ap­ple stuck with what worked in the late 1990s and early 2000s maybe a lit­tle longer than it should have. But in the past few years, the changes have been com­ing fast, and they’re gen­er­ally for the bet­ter. When some­one tells you with author­ity that Ap­ple sim­ply doesn’t be­have in a cer­tain way, it’s worth think­ing twice: these days, a lot of the old rules no longer ap­ply.

Work­flow app

Tim Cook is happy to ap­pear at Ap­ple events

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