Steve Jobs resignation as CEO of Apple has provoked questions - will Apple maintain their trajectory of success? What is their unique advantage?
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The first is Peter Bright’s quest ‘to find a 13" MacBook Air that isn't made by Apple.’ Sobering insight into a normal person's experience of buying a laptop from Dell, HP, or Lenovo.
Next John Gruber thinks Steve Jobs and Tim Cook are responsible for Apple’s success: “We’ll give Jobs the credit for the adjectives beautiful, elegant, innovative, and fun. We’ll give Cook the credit for the adjectives affordable, reliable, available, and profitable. Jobs designs them, Cook makes them and sells them.” Gruber feels that it is possible for Dell, HP, etc. to copy Steve, but they’ll never match the economies of scale that Cook achieved.
Finally, Elias Samuel delivers a detailed and apparently thorough assessment of the shortcomings of a phone that no-one has seen vs. a phone that few will use. It includes the Korean version of their teaser ad, here’s the English version. If you want to nerd out some more - here’s a comparison of three random Android phones - does a typical consumer really think this way?
From these articles, I concluded that Apple made it easier for us to buy; consolidated their product line and parts requirements to lower operating costs; and conceded the phone-nerd audience vs. normal consumers.
But this isn't really Apple's magic...
Have you seen Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement speech? He said one of the best things that happened to him was getting fired from Apple in 1985. It gave him the freedom to create NeXT (which Apple eventually bought), and Pixar, the most successful and creative animated film studio ever.
Two “behind the camera” roles in film-making are Producer and Director. Simplistically, the producer’s job is money, logistics, and marketing; the director’s is the story, the artists, and the ultimate experience.
I think John Lasseter (director, Chief Creative Officer, Pixar) is/was a HUGE influence on Jobs’ thinking about the essence of product development.
Great directors must:
- Interpret an intricate, complex and wide-ranging story and turn it into something that can be conveyed in ~90 minutes;
- Marshal talented, creative, and ego-filled actors to work together for one cause;
- Create a complete sensory (emotional, visual, auditory) experience;
- Make all the difficult editing choices that turn hours and hours of footage into a tight story that will not only entertain at the theater, but also in DVD.
The story is preeminent. Difficult tradeoffs will be made, forsaking interesting story lines, scenes, and special effects. The audience will be treated to a unique and powerful and memorable experience because these tough choices and decisions were made. The audience's job is also made easier because *they* don't have to do this hard work - they just have to enjoy its fruits.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 as CEO, but he was really the Director.
He took over a company that lacked focus and was bleeding money. Jobs eliminated most of the product portfolio (Newton, Cyberdog, OpenDoc, etc.), keeping only what he believed was part of the "story," and he aligned every employee to a singular vision.
He defined the experience customers would enjoy. I can imagine him saying, “Forget computing or productivity or any of that crap! Apple will entertain. We are not a company that builds multi-purpose devices that offer flexibility and choice at a low price. Apple's job, our job is to elevate spirits, to amaze, to create pleasure in use and pride in ownership."
This is Apple’s magic - this obsessive and uncompromising desire to create pride, to elevate.
Will it survive Steve Jobs’ departure as CEO? Is there another Director in the wings who will have as strong a spine and be as unwavering?
I hope so.
Stay hungry, stay foolish, Apple.