It does not take a genius to make the prediction that after the incredible high Steve Jobs has given Apple a slow glide downwards in the company’s future performance is expected. Nothing against Tim Cook, I don’t know him – so I can only judge by what I see. And I see a few dark clouds brewing.
The challenge in building successful innovation is to marry macro-economic behavior with support from modern information technology to create tangible socioeconomic value. Apple like no other company has succeeded beautifully, yet not perfectly in that objective.
The danger to Apple is that it can be beat only where it just beat other technology companies; macro-economically. And content will topple distribution. Apple is very vulnerable with the staunch implementation of media sales – it does not own – through iTunes, and unchanged it will only take a smarter technology company to support the labels with the freedom they previously enjoyed. Winner-takes-all marketplaces, by economic principle, cannot be achieved through marketplaces that are not economically free. And iTunes violates free-market principles. Proprietary marketplaces such as iTunes can become free (not the other way around), but the timing has to be just right. So far few technology companies have the smarts to challenge Apple macro-economically and thus it continues to gain momentum successfully.
The first sign of trouble for me is to find the mention of a restart option (depicted above) if the computer freezes in the energy panel of Apple’s new operating system (Lion). That small detail, an admission of guilt if you will, is something Steve Jobs with his presence of mind would have never allowed to enter. For Steve Jobs would rather have delayed the OS to figure out why their computers freeze than let this pass by quality control. And since Macs already rarely freeze, providing an option for restart in that extreme scenario communicates how people without the rigor and tenacity of Steve Jobs are now suddenly allowed to think and act for themselves.
It is a small but important signal of how Tim Cook’s management style (to defer) and Steve Jobs’ (trust but verify) are already deviating. Steve Jobs is a product guy, realizing that product capability, perfection and ultimate-user-experience beat operational excellence – Tim’s forte – on any day. For me that single option in the energy panel demonstrates that the slide of Apple has begun, even though in the land of the blind its future will remain brighter than many other technology companies for quite some time.
In full disclosure: I have been a staunch Apple user for more than 20 years and have been “forced” to use a PC on occasion but always bought Apple, way before the fair-weather supporters of Apple entered the fray. I believe in Apple because it feeds a more pressing and more profitable computing need that serves the world, rather than the technocrats. And I have converted many a neighbor PC user to Mac.