Saturday, August 10, 2013

Apple innovation not stalled, just reconfiguring

It must be pretty hard to step in behind Steve Jobs and try to pick up where he left off. Try as he did to get his management team to focus on each other instead of on him, and despite his decision to step down from the position of CEO several months before his death, he remained the charismatic leader right up to his last breath, and his death left a large vacuum, an ‘implosion zone’ if you like, because those nearest him had to relearn how to get things done at Apple in his absence.

Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs, doesn't claim to be nor try to be (except maybe for the first year, when on stage), but he's a strong leader in his own right, with a deep understanding of how Apple came to be what it is today, having been there in charge of operations for very nearly the entire time since Jobs returned to the company and through most of the events that resulted in its turn-around. Moreover, he is well suited to the sort of team-building the company desperately needed in the wake of Jobs's death, and continues to need as older managers retire and new ones are promoted, hired, or brought in through acquisition.

The current pause in the stream of new products follows Jobs's last few months by two years, approximately one development cycle, so it shouldn't be a surprise, nor particularly disturbing given that all observers were then aware that the company was going through a very hard time.

If you take the date of Scott Forstall's removal from the equation as an indication of how long it took to get a new groove going, it's been about a year, and, again invoking the very rough two-year development cycle, we should begin to see the fruit of that in about another year. Projects that reach market before then will, most likely, have already been in the pipeline at the time that Tim Cook took over as CEO.

Phil Schiller's "can't innovate anymore, my ass!" comment right after showing off the new Mac Pro design at WWDC, should be taken not only as pride in that product but also as an expression of confidence that Apple's management team has found a new groove and that the new Mac Pro is just a hint of things to come.

Apple doesn't need a new charismatic leader to try (and inevitably fail) to take Steve Jobs's place; the memory of him is still too fresh and vivid for that. It needs a steady hand at the helm as it continues to reinvent itself and weather the various distractions and disruptions that have been strewn in its path. Tim Cook is the right man for the job. If you think you could do better, you're fooling yourself.

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