Carryover: iPhone 5 retains Steve Jobs DNA. iPad 3 too. But then what?
August 29, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
The upcoming iPhone 5 release date will represent the first major Apple product launch under new CEO Tim Cook with longtime CEO Steve Jobs having permanently resigned the position. But whether Jobs shows up to introduce the iPhone 5 personally or not, it’ll have his fingerprints all over it. The same will go for the upcoming iPad 3, whether it shows up this fall as has been whispered or next spring as history would otherwise suggest. Even with Jobs having been technically on medical leave for the better part of 2011, he’s been spotted on Apple’s campus so frequently that it’s clear he’s still been there, still calling the shots, still ensuring that the products being developed hold true to his vision even if he’s not as hands-on as he once was. The same goes for the iOS 5 operating system which will power both the iPhone 5 and the iPad 3. But once those devices are out the door, what then? It’s the iPhone 6 and iPad 4 and beyond which may have less Jobs DNA on them, and so it’ll be another year or more before users find out what Apple product truly consist of amid fading Jobs influence…
Tim Cook was the ideal yin to Steve Jobs’ yang. Cook is efficient, runs operations well. Jobs (still) wants to change the world. Put those two mindsets together, and if they don’t kill each other (which they didn’t), it’s a potent combination for innovation within a framework of stability. But with Jobs shifting gears, who’s going to play counter-punch to Cook? Actually, that’ll still be Jobs, for now. His decision to remain on as Apple’s Chairman of the Board suggests that he’s not imminently dying, and he’s really just looking to duck the continual questions regarding his health; it’s one of the topics upon which Jobs has preferred to remain super-private. That means Jobs, in his new role as “big boss” instead of “day to day boss” will still be there pushing the innovation angle even as Cook makes the trains run on time. Jonathan Ive, who leads the hardware design, is still there. The iOS and MacOS X software teams still consist of the same people. But let’s say Jobs does at some point begin to pull back further, leaving his hand-picked people to make not just the day to day decisions but the big-picture ones, the ones which decide what products like the iPhone 6 in 2012 or the iPad 4 after that will comprise of…
…and that’s where another Apple player may enter the picture. If you’ve been following the news this week in which the quiet, stage-shy Tim Cook was promoted to CEO permanently and given a seat on Apple’s board, and wondered to yourself “Hey, where the hell is Phil Schiller in all this?”, then you may have uncovered the missing piece. Schiller is best known publicly for being Jobs’ comic relief sidekick during new product introductions, and has occasionally handled press events himself (which early on were awkward snooze fests but he’s since improved at the task). But behind the scenes, Schiller is in change of Apple’s marketing. That means that in contrast to Cook, who was head of operations under Jobs and was tasked with making the trains run on time, Schiller has always played more of a Jobsian role: figure out how to present these ostensibly consumer-leaning products to the mainstream public in such a way that they’ll immediately identify with them. That places Schiller in the Jobs role after Jobs eventually pulls back, and Cook still in the operations role. Even though the new Apple will see the operations guy outranking the marketing guy instead of it having always been the other way around, the yin-yang dynamic still has the potential to be there. In fact, if Jobs isn’t the first person to walk out on stage during the upcoming iPhone 5 release date event, Schiller will be.
That still leaves the issue of what products like the iPad 4 and iPhone 6 will look like in a post-Jobs era. After all, these will be the first generation of products to not only be introduced post-Jobs, but also to have been put together from the ground up without him as CEO. “Innovation” insofar as adding new features and making it thinner are easy, if the company continues to invest in research and development in the manner it has over the past decade and a half. But what’s made Apple’s products like the iPhone and iMac and iPod and iPad connect with the public in a big way is that they’re easily graspable right out of the box, regardless of the user’s technical skill level or lack thereof. The real question, then, is whether anyone remaining in Apple’s top ranks has enough of a backbone to continually stand up to Apple’s in-house geeks and force them to keep the products aimed at the mainstream. Geeks, when left to themselves, will invariably come up with products which are suitable only for fellow geeks, and that’s never what Apple has been about. But if Steve Jobs has imparted any one part of his own DNA on his successor(s) on his official way out the door, it’s likely precisely that. After all, the minute Apple’s products become as geeky as the competition, Apple gives up on the main reason the mainstream embraces its products. Jobs must be confident that the team he’s leaving behind understands that, or else he wouldn’t have left them in charge of his ongoing legacy. Here’s more on the iPhone 5.