Apple After Steve Jobs

August 24, 2011

My business and technology hero, Steve Jobs, resigned his CEO post at Apple today. I can only assume his battle with pancreatic cancer has finally caught up with him. I say finally because the 5-year survival rate of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is a mere 4%. I’m fortunate enough to know another incredibly brilliant man who was diagnosed over ten years ago with pancreatic cancer and has beaten the odds–Denis, my former Father-In-Law and the Grandfather of my daughter. It takes a real man to beat those odds.

My first encounter with an Apple product was at a computer programming class during summer camp at my elementary school between 2nd and 3rd grade. We wrote BASIC applications (look at that rocket go across the screen!) on an Apple IIe and played awesome games like Spy Hunter, Oregon Trail, and Karateka.

I’ve closely followed Steve Jobs and Apple for the last 20 some-odd years. I fell in love with my first computer, a Macintosh Plus (with a 10 MB hard drive!), and since have owned quite a few Apple products–a Macintosh Centris, a Power Macintosh 6100, a PowerBook G3, a bondi blue iMac, a purple iMac, 2 MacBook Pros, 3 iPods, 3 iPhones, an iPad, 2 AppleTVs and an LED Cinema Display. Hell, I even own Apple’s rechargeable AA batteries–which, by the way, are awesome.

I religiously followed Apple during the dark days of the 1990s, ogling at the new products even though I was developing primarily on Windows machines. I never did get that Powerbook Duo 230.

Our history is full of innovators who disrupted the status quo in a big way and created new rules to play by. It’s an amazing feat to change the world like that, but usually the greatest only do it once in a lifetime. What makes Steve Jobs and Apple so amazing is that they’ve changed our world a few times over the last 34 years. Our computers, our phones, the way we consume music and movies–all changed because of Steve Jobs’ unparalleled vision and Apple’s near flawless execution.

The question on everyone’s mind now is what will a post-Jobs Apple act like? Will it continue to push out highly innovative and successful products? Will it be a softer, gentler, more “open” Apple? Or will it fade into another post-Jobs era like we saw in the late 80’s and 90’s?

The immediate answer is nothing will change. We know that the iPhone development process is about two years, so I think it’s a safe bet that Apple’s product road map is set for the next couple of years. We know we’ll get a new iPhone this fall, a new iPad early next year. We know we’ll get Mac OS improvements, hardware updates to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines (both lines will probably merge when manufacturing and processors will allow).

Perhaps the most interesting product question is what will Apple do with the AppleTV? Jobs has called it Apple’s “hobby.” Will they eventually make a proper TV? I don’t think so, and that would most definitely be a post-Jobs rookie mistake. The current AppleTV a great little box, but it needs a greater purpose. That purpose may come from apps. It’s plausible that the AppleTV could be the best gaming console since the 8-bit Nintendo. It’s also not impossible to imagine TV channels being applications that wrap a video feed, building on the concepts in MLB.TV, HBO Go and the ABC Player. One could argue that the last disruption in the entertainment business is cable television. At an All Things D conference a few years ago, Jobs had a few wise remarks for Google who was entering the cable box fray with Google TV, which has been a miserable failure.

If we look at Apple’s new management team (which is the same team, but one guy has a new title), it is the team that’s been responsible for executing Apple over the last decade. There’s no reason to believe anything will dramatically change over the next couple of years.

If anything, Apple doesn’t have a rock star leader who can walk into any boardroom on the planet and demand that things go his way because he is the smartest man in the room with a visionary track record to prove it. “What have you ever done?”

The deals that Jobs negotiated to perfection over the last decade are why Apple is so outlandishly successful today. He influenced the music industry and movie studios to be a part of iTunes and, in turn, saved them from Napster-like demolition. He demanded that Apple have full control of the iPhone design while persuading AT&T to make changes to their networks and systems to adapt to the iPhone. Those were major milestones that undoubtedly gave rise to the biggest corporate turn around in history.

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