With the death of Apple Inc.’s visionary founder Steve Jobs, the focus for some is already shifting to whether the vision Mr. Jobs sculpted over the years remains in place at the world’s most profitable technology company.
Even as customers, admirers and the tech world’s luminaries mourn his passing, there already are semblances of a renewed concern about the state of future innovation at Apple without Mr. Jobs.
After all, the company that brought us the iPod, the iPad and the ubiquitous iTunes store had underwhelmed investors and consumers as recently as this Tuesday, when its new and much more managerial CEO Tim Cook unveiled not a revolutionary new product, but a newer version of the iPhone.
At the same time, however, analysts believe that Mr. Jobs has left Apple with a lot of product in the pipeline – which can be unveiled over the next year or two – as well as an unstoppable line up of consumer technology with the iPad (which essentially invented a new category of product) and the iPhone (which rewrote the explosive smart phone industry and remains a gold standard of sorts).
And though some may bemoan that Mr. Cook appears to lack the same sort of charisma and passion that elevated Mr. Jobs from an innovator to a master, mass-market salesperson, few doubt the leadership team that Mr. Jobs put in place – and which remains after his death.
“While Mr. Jobs’ passion, creativity, and keen eye for consumer preference will be missed, we believe Jobs and Apple’s executive team have built an unparalleled talent base and corporate culture that sets the table for future success and innovation,” wrote Mike Walkley, who follows the world’s major mobile device makers at Canaccord Genuity.
“We believe Tim Cook is well qualified for his new role as CEO and has at his disposal a deep and talented executive team in the areas of supply chain management, hardware/software design and product marketing.”
Apple remains, obviously, at the top of the food chain in the mobile world of tablets and smart phones that are defining the current wireless era. The company’s early domination with the iPad has left it with astronomical market share, as well as a host of – sometimes laughably – pale imitations.
Its iPhone, moreover, even with this week’s comparatively weak showing, remains the smart phone that people truly seem to love. The iPhone challenged every other device maker in the world to improve their product, and has profit margins so large that they have padded the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s coffers to the point where it could probably buy any innovation it feels it lacks.
Few, of course, think that the company will need it, given the product set that Apple has laid out before it on the market.
“I do think he raised the bar for all and I think we’re all kind of better of,” says Bell Mobility president Wade Oosterman, who oversees all matters wireless at Canada’s second largest wireless carrier. “Another important legacy by all accounts, and my own interactions would reflect this, is that he’s left a really terrific team. They have a really tremendously diversified asset base and product portfolio – and that continues obviously.”
But even though key figures remain at Apple – from Mr. Cook, who created the supply chain that has made the company so profitable, to Jonathan Ive, the British design genius behind most of Apple’s key products – it is an unavoidable conclusion that the company has lost, quite tragically and in an extremely public way, its most valuable executive. And any way one looks at it, either as a consumer or as technology analyst watching the stock market, it’s still a huge loss not just for the industry, but for the company very specifically – at a time when Apple’s rivalry with Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system is intensifying, competing tablets are proliferating globally and companies like Samsung are coming out with mobile devices that many feel are on-par with Apple’s.
“It’s a real loss for the industry,” said John Roese, formerly the chief technical officer at Canada’s Nortel Networks Corp. and who now heads North American research and development for the enormous Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei. “He clearly was ahead of his time in recognizing that true disruptive innovation included not just technology but ideas about what was possible in the human-technology experience.”