What Tim Cook is doing better than Steve Jobs
Posted on August 7, 2014
We now have a date: September 9, the day that iPhone6 is expected to be launched. While there is a still a month to go , the iPhone launch circus and its usual cast of characters are all already in town. The tech media is leaping on every bit of information that can be inferred from the Apple supply chain about the potential specs of the phone (for the record we are expecting Apple to introduce a big screen brother to the current phone and produce it in record numbers).
But the business press is decidedly less excited: a bigger iPhone is hardly the category busting game changer they have been calling for. Some have even gone as far as speculating that Apple under Tim Cook has lost its creative mojo.
Is Tim Cook’s Apple really that different from Steve Job’s? A careful analysis of the facts suggests not:
- Apple is rarely the first entrant. If we look at the last fifteen years, Apple was by no means an early entrant in digital music players, nor in smartphones (see Blackberry). In fact, each of these markets had achieved a much higher level of customer interest (and frustration with the existing offerings) before Apple came in with better designed products. Neither smart-watches, smart TVs nor payments are at the stage that music players or smartphones were before Apple entered these new categories. And with the unimpressive offerings from some of the early movers in these categories (for example Samsung’s smart watch), Apple has plenty of time. Nor are its current businesses doing too badly.
- Apple does it right rather than fast. It has always defied the popular Silicon Valley adage of failing often and failing fast. While this is great advice for a cash-constrained startup with little reputation, brand image, or a large group of premium-paying loyal customers to loose, this is not a smart strategy for Apple. Apple has defined itself as a brand that delivers beautiful, integrated almost magical experiences on day 1, and not on version 3.1. This is perhaps its greatest asset and preserving it requires Apple to make sure the ecosystems, technology, product design all meet a much higher standard than any of its competitors. Apple will release these products only when they meet its rightfully high standards.
While in these two ways Apple under Tim Cook is no different than Apple under Steve Jobs, there is one aspect in which Tim Cook has differentiated himself: he has laid out the groundwork for creating multiple options for categories to disrupt.
Behind the fanfare, Apple has positioned itself very well for entering many new categories. TheiHealth platform in iOS8 will give it a lot of user insight before any smart-watch is launched. Its new content distribution network sets Apple for delivering superior connected TV experiences, for cloud storage, etc. The iBeacon technology sets them for some big stuff in revolutionizing the retail experience (as does the hiring of Musa Tariq from Burberry). And finally,Touch ID has set them up for online payments.
While no one knows the intended purpose of all these foundational initiatives, each of them provides Apple options, options to watch what happens, pick the most promising opportunities, and create category-busting products. Likely, Apple won’t enter all of the markets mentioned above, but it will perhaps wait to see which of these opportunities develops best in terms of Apple’s ability to offer a disruptively superior experience to the status quo.
In this, we see a new approach to innovation at Apple, a risk driven approach where Apple sows many seeds, hedges its bets and will reap the most promising opportunity. This is decidedly different and likely superior to Apple’s know-it-all approach under Steve Jobs.