Why Apple without Steve Jobs is no fun
Editor’s note: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talks to Piers Morgan about his time with Steve Jobs and more on “Piers Morgan Tonight” at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on CNN.
(CNN) — Now that Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple, many people in the tech and business worlds are wondering what will become of the world’s largest tech company, which brought us the first personal computer and the first for-real smartphone and ushered in the era of digital music.
Most of that talk centers on buttoned-up topics like market potential and future product lines. What does Jobs’ departure mean for the future of Apple’s business? For the next iPhone?
Blah to all that. Perhaps the bigger deal for a tech lover’s psyche is this sad little fact: Without Steve Jobs, Apple is far less fun.
The reasons for this are wide-ranging.
Part of it has to do with Apple’s origin story, which, as an excellent episode of “This American Life” explains, is a really big deal to Americans, who love to know where people came from — especially if they came from relatively humble beginnings and made it big.
That’s true for Jobs, who got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard after he phoned William Hewlett asking for electronic parts he needed for a class project. He went on to found Apple in 1976 in his parents’ garage with the help of friend Steve Wozniak. The first product they sold, the Apple-1, was the first personal computer that didn’t come as a set of parts that had to be welded together by its owner — and is credited as the first truly “personal” computer.
This underdog theme followed Jobs for his entire career.
“In recent years, Jobs has battled with a rare form of pancreatic cancer — adding to an epic life story that mirrors the story of Apple itself: ever the underdog, ever the spectacular success,” said a post about Jobs on TED.com.
But Jobs’ failures are part of what make him a cult hero, too.
Apple’s future without Steve Jobs
Jobs famously dropped out of Oregon’s Reed College. But he later would say that a class he audited in calligraphy inspired Apple’s design aesthetic.
He was booted from Apple in 1985. But, while away from the company, he founded a company called NeXT that developed an early version of what would become the revolutionary Macintosh computer operating system.
Jobs chewed on these points during a speech in 2005.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” he said in a commencement address at Stanford University. “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
All this adds up to people seeing Jobs as an inspiration.
“It is truly the end of an era. Thank you for inspiring us all Steve,” Dave Morin, founder of an app called Path and a former Apple and Facebook employee, wrote on his Google Plus page on Thursday morning. “You’ve shown an entire generation what is possible with innovation, design, and focus.”
That kind of impact makes it difficult for anyone else to bring so much history and charisma to the company. In the short time since Jobs’ resignation, tech pundits have been writing that the first era of personal computing is over, since Bill Gates from Microsoft and Jobs are no longer in the business.
There’s much praise online for the new CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, who has been the company’s COO, essentially running it since Jobs went on medical leave in January. A lot of attention is paid, in particular, to his business sense.
At The Atlantic, Nicholas Jackson writes that picking Cook as the next CEO of Apple is “Steve Jobs’ greatest creation.”
“Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs,” he writes. “But he did learn from the best how to emulate him. And if he was going to fail, he already would have. Cook has been acting CEO of Apple since January, when Jobs went on his third medical leave from the company. Yes, it was that long ago. He presided over the latest Mac refresh, over the launch of the iPad 2, over the announcement of the iCloud, and even over that moment, about two weeks ago, when Apple’s market cap exceeded that of oil-services giant Exxon, making it number one.”
But no one is arguing that Cook will bring as much life to the tech world.
Fortune’s Miguel Heft writes:
“Like Jobs, Cook is a relentless executive and exacting boss, a perfectionist who obsesses over minute details. But the similarities between the two men end there. While Jobs is a charismatic leader known for outbursts of temper, Cook, who was raised in a small town in Alabama, is soft-spoken, reserved and intensely private. And as Jobs used his creative genius and vision to conceive and design blockbuster products like the iMac, iPhone and iPad, Cook’s considerable operational skills were focused on making sure that Apple could build millions of those products and deliver them to every corner of the world to meet customers’ seemingly insatiable demand.”
The Washington Post says it’s “unlikely (Cook will) match the innovative momentum of his predecessor.”
Finally, Apple’s product announcements — which are treated like rock concerts by the plaid-shirt-and-big-glasses-wearing tech bloggers who get to attend them — will be far less theatrical without Jobs’ presence.
“Critics often talk disparagingly of the ‘reality distortion field’ generated by the Apple boss: his ability to convince onlookers that technologies that would seem unformed in other hands have reached a peak of perfection at Apple,” the Financial Times wrote. “Generating this suspension of disbelief is essential to stirring up demand for gadgets most consumers had no idea they needed, and is an art form of which Mr. Jobs has long been the acknowledged master.”
Cook’s commencement address at Auburn University last year gives some hints about his presentation skills.
During the talk, a robe-wearing Cook discussed his decision to come to Apple at a time when the company was doing far worse than competitors.
“Not only was Compaq performing much better than Apple, it was headquartered in Texas, and therefore closer to Auburn football,” he said, trying to appeal to the presumably football-crazed audience.
The response to his joke? An un-Steve-Jobs-like silence.