Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own

As I was reading this New York Times piece, I kept waiting for it to actually say something new or insightful. But it never got there. It started out with an interesting story about Tim Cook's childhood in Alabama that I hadn't heard before that seems to have shaped his values, but after those first few paragraphs it just devolves into all the stuff we've been hearing Apple critics say for years now. 

Of late, the company has hit a snag that was years in the making: Its sales now are so large that many investors worry that it can’t continue to match the growth that brought it from $65 billion in sales in the 2010 fiscal year to $171 billion in 2013. In fiscal 2013, sales grew a mere 9 percent, far below an average just shy of 40 percent a year from 2004 to 2013.

No shit. Does anyone really think that the biggest company in the world can really continue to grow at 40% per year? That's pretty weak. Apple, a company that is already the largest in the world, and 25% bigger than the next largest company has "hit a snag" because it can only grow at 9% year over year. I find that growth pretty impressive, especially considering it was purely organic growth. The Beats acquisition didn't happen until very recently. They didn't introduce any new product categories last year. It was strictly organic growth of existing products and services. 

Then it really starts to go south with a bunch of quotes from so-called experts. Some strategist from this company, and some professor from that university. Really just typical Apple bear clichés about lack of growth, lack of innovation after Jobs, and lack of "magic". 

Investors have clamored for Apple wizardry — a much-anticipated iWatch or iTV, perhaps. To these critics, Mr. Cook is uninspiring, his social views window dressing, when what they want is magic.

The rest of the article is basically spent trying to prove this single point: that Tim Cook is a good guy, and they give him some credit for being a great operations and supply chain guy, but that he isn't Steve Jobs and Apple still doesn't have someone to replace Jobs. No one can replace Steve Jobs.

Richtel and Chen spend all of half a sentence addressing Apple's recent acquisition of Beats:

He [Cook] has taken other steps to strengthen the company, like pushing Apple products into China, a potentially huge market, and acquiring talent, most recently spending $3 billion to buy Beats, a music company that brings Apple two major music-industry shakers and deal makers, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

Wow. After several paragraphs and useless quotes about concerns that Apple isn't growing, and can't innovate, they give the Beats buy 27 words. 

Next, the article moves into hardware, and after some recounting of how involved Steve Jobs was in the design process, they seem to confirm that there really is an iWatch in the works and that it will be released in the fourth quarter—although they don't say whether that's the fourth quarter of the calendar year or Apple's fiscal year. Richtel and Chen then suggest that Cook really isn't too involved in the design of the iWatch, as if that is somehow a knock on him compared to Jobs. 

Mr. Cook is less involved in the minutiae of product engineering for the watch, and has instead delegated those duties to members of his executive cabinet, including Mr. Ive, according to people involved in the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to press. Apple declined to comment on the watch project.

I'm way more comfortable with the idea of Jony Ive heading up the design of an iWatch anyway. Why does everyone continue to need to compare Tim Cook to Steve Jobs in this area? Cook is not a design guy. That's fine. Apple has tons of talented design people, and maybe the best in the world, in Ive. Let's just get over that one.

There's some kudos given to Cook for amassing a significant pool of talent in the senior management ranks in Angela Ahrendts, Paul Deneve, Kevin Lynch and Michael O'Reilly. He's even given a small one-up on Jobs for releasing the iPad mini even though Jobs didn't think it had a market. 

At this point, I'm really waiting for them to get to the good stuff. They have seemed to try to appear to be balanced and objective to this point. I mean, this article certainly isn't even close to the same ballpark as Yukari Iwatani Kane's Haunted Empire. But still, I'm getting the impression that they aren't really being objective, instead trying to appear that way. Pro-Apple articles don't seem to garner as many clicks and page views as ones that foretell Apple's inevitable decline—and they will fall eventually, they all do—or at least, that Apple has already peaked, which is where I think Richtel and Chen are going with this one. However, at this point I was still optimistic that the article wouldn't totally miss the mark. Surely, they had to be getting to the good stuff. They were going to have to spend some more ink on the significance of the Beats acquisition and the huge news at WWDC two weeks ago. Right?

Nope. Back to this stuff again:

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor in the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., said he thought Apple no longer had the juice to create the world-beating product it needs. Professor Cusumano, who is working on a book about innovation, visited Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., last fall and has talked to a half-dozen current and former employees about the company culture. He concluded that Apple without Mr. Jobs lacks a visionary to synthesize disparate ideas into a magical whole.

Oh boy. 

Then, onto some more details about how Cook is a good guy. Now that I think of it, this whole article reads like a "he's a really good guy, but..." piece. It's like Richtel and Chen are trying to balance all the negatives with other positives. Almost like an employee review where for every piece of negative feedback, a manager might feel inclined to pair it with a positive to soften the blow. The negatives feel like the real meat of the article, and the positives just fluff as an attempt to balance things out. There's some coverage about Apple's green and sustainability initiatives, their improvements in factory work conditions and even charitable programs that have improved under Cook. That is immediately followed by criticism that Apple doesn't do enough for charity compared to Microsoft, and that their sustainability initiatives might not be best for profitability and shareholders. Surprise, surprise.

Okay, here we go. Now we're getting to WWDC, so they had to be getting to what Apple is doing right under Tim Cook. Again, I was disappointed with where they went. They didn't talk about any of the amazing things that Apple announced. They mentioned Health and got some reactions from one group of random people hanging around the convention centre after the WWDC keynote.

Chad Zeluff, 27, who saw Mr. Jobs deliver the keynote in 2007, put it this way: “Jobs is to Lennon what Cook is to Ringo.”
[...] The Utah developers generally expressed support for Mr. Cook. It would be enough, they said, if he put the pieces together. And they said Apple was doing a good job in software innovation, which can add new features to existing devices even if Apple doesn’t produce a new gadget.

That's it? That's the big coverage of WWDC? Apple is doing a good job in software innovation. That's the understatement of the year. But then they even took it one step further:

They found one thing particularly jarring in the keynote: Apple did not hew to its tradition of pairing hardware and software. Specifically, Apple introduced a program called Health — which helps consumers and doctors monitor health status, like heart rate or glucose levels — but did not also introduce a piece of hardware to measure those results. That is something the new smartwatch is rumored to do.
“They just released the software,” said Mr. Zeluff, sounding surprised.
“It’s something Steve wouldn’t have done,” Mr. Brown said. It’s an impossible comparison. But it’s the one that Mr. Cook is being held to, at least until he makes enough magic of his own.

And that's how it ends. After a few thousand words about how Cook is a nice guy, but he's no Steve Jobs, Richtel and Chen's entire coverage of WWDC consists of talking to four guys from Utah, who all work together. They didn't talk to four different developers to get varying opinions. They seem to have walked up the the first group of guys they saw and asked them what they thought. They got a good Beatles quote out of them and some sentiments of disappointment to finish things off. These developers don't even seem to understand Apple. Since when is it Apple's tradition to announce new categories at WWDC? Did they really think they would get a new iWatch at WWDC? Sure, Apple often announces hardware at WWDC, but usually only new generations of existing product lines. For a few years we got the next version of the iPhone at WWDC, and last year we got the new Mac Pro, but it is certainly not Apple's tradition to announce something like the iWatch at WWDC. If the iWatch is coming, it will be announced at a major hardware-dedicated event, maybe even later this year. 

Richtel and Chen seemed to have entirely missed the significance of WWDC. Either that, or they were too far along in the development of their article that they didn't want to acknowledge that what happened at WWDC totally rebuts their earlier conclusions of Cook. WWDC was Tim Cook's coming out party as CEO. It was the event that should have removed any doubt that Apple is in great hands in the post-Jobs era. After reading John Gruber's great piece on Apple and Cook just two days ago, I'm even more disappointed by how much these guys just don't get it. What disappoints me the most is that it's the big publications like the NYT that get it the least. They're the publications that most of the general public read and they're missing the point. They seem to think that new products and innovation refer only to hardware, when WWDC was huge for Apple even if it was only software. But, I'm confident that consumers will vote with their feet (in line) and they're wallets. What was announced at WWDC will translate to a much improved iOS and OS X experience. Developers will be able to do even greater things with Continuity, Extensibility, Swift and Metal.

Apple's new openness came along under Tim Cook and I'm excited by it. It's a huge step in the right direction and something that probably wouldn't have happened under Steve Jobs. Rest assured, when iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite are released to the public they will be paired with new devices announced over the coming months. Even if these guys don't know something great when they see it, the public will.