Apple Watch

News from the Apple world

Mac Planet: How to work without Jobs

34 comments

I'm still trying to work out where and how Apple will go on without Jobs. I suspect people at Apple are, too, even though the story was that a 5-year roadmap was put in place before the mercurial Apple co-founder passed away last year.

I think my biggest fear is that Jobs' singularity of vision will dissipate. Apple is, like other manufacturers, after all an assembler, albeit with a bit more over view than other tech vendors, and with a product unification that's one of the few truly distinctive features of Apple.

That, and excellent aesthetic design and engineering.

Jobs and Steve Wozniak set up Apple way back in 1976, and almost immediately created waves which, for all intents and purposes, culminated in the launch of the Macintosh in 1984.

But just the following year, Steve was ousted from Apple and sure enough, the company went through a period of increasing diffusion. Products proliferated to a ridiculous point, and grew indistinct and vague in specification. Apple declined inexorably. Apple's c12 per cent market share height of the mid-Eighties dropped until it hit between 2-3 per cent in markets where Macs were available, in the mid 1990s.

After 11 years, though, Jobs returned (1996) and changed pretty much everything at Apple, as most people probably realise.

But what did he do in those 11 interim years? A lot, it seems. And you might imagine Jobs was dealing with a lot of angst in this period. Apparently he was burning with a lot of anger and frustrated ideas of revenge, understandably enough, but Jobs' main new venture largely emerged as a failure.

So you'd think this was hard times, right?

New information emerging shows this may have been far from the truth. The NeXT computer and OS was the main thing Jobs did, of course, but he also started transforming Pixar into what is is today. Jobs bought Pixar from director George Lucas for US$5 million.

Brent Schlender of Fast Company has written an article on these so-called 'wilderness years', with Schlender convincingly arguing that during this time Jobs grew into the sort of businessman who not only brought Apple back from imminent bankruptcy, but went on to transform it into the world's most valuable - and iconic - tech company.

Schlender recently discovered three dozen tapes of recordings of extended interviews, some as long as three hours, that he had conducted with Steve Jobs over a 25-year period.

A couple of the tapes hadn't even been transcribed, and many had never been listened to beyond their initial transcriptions.

On reevaluating the material, Schlender believes Jobs matured as a manager and boss during that NeXT/Pixar hiatus, learning how to make the most from partnerships.

Jobs "found a way to turn his native stubbornness into a productive perseverance. He became a corporate architect, coming to appreciate the scaffolding of a business just as much as the skeletons of real buildings, which always fascinated him. He mastered the art of negotiation by immersing himself in Hollywood, and learned how to successfully manage creative talent, namely the artists at Pixar. Perhaps most important, he developed an astonishing adaptability that was critical to the hit-after-hit-after-hit climb of Apple's last decade. All this, during a time many remember as his most disappointing."

It reminds me of the Scottish King Robert the Bruce, over 700 years ago, and the spider web. You know, he was on the run from the English, his kingdom in ruins, and he saw a spider persevering to build its web despite the elements continuously damaging it. Eventually, of course, the spider triumphed - and so, eventually, did a revitalised Robert.

This is what that great Chinese military strategist Sun Tsu, in The Art of War, would characterise (long, long before even Robert the Bruce) as 'every defeat is a lesson'.
Anyway, I digress. There's a lot more of this Jobs information in the long article at Fast Company, of real interest to Jobs' fans.

NeXt taught Jobs many lessons, but it was ultimately an overpriced failure as a self-standing computing platform. Meanwhile, Jobs was convinced Pixar's technology could revolutionise the business model for movie animation. It also went on to change a lot of movie making in general, and Pixar ended up being bought by Disney.

So don't just look at Apple as a testament to Jobs.

But back to NeXT. What NeXt really did, that we can all be thankful for (well, us Mac users, anyway) was to create the foundation for OS X, the current Apple Mac operating system, which is the bedrock of iOS, the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch operating system.
OS X has proved itself both incredibly robust (the current spate of rapidly evaporating Mac trojans notwithstanding) and able to be extended by a huge degree, constantly adding new features and adapting itself to modern requirements.

All this may sound like a business fable, but if it was a fable, I'd like a few details changed. I honestly don't understand why Apple has to be arrogant, to anyone, ever. It should be way beyond things like that.

Environmentally, once called to task, Apple started improving all kinds of policies and products to better suit the planet. Tick.

But I don't understand why it has to be so hard on its lower echelons of staff - those who work in Apple Stores, for example.

And I don't understand why Apple hasn't sorted out the Foxconn mess or perhaps more tellingly, why Apple ever allowed the situation to gain hold in the first place. And I know it's not just Apple using assemblers like Foxconn - virtually every computer and device manufacturer in the world is using cheap Asian labour, and Apple seems to be doing way more than Foxconn's other clients to improve things for the workers.
But it's hardly before time.

With Apple's heft in the market place, aesthetic muscle power, its status as a must-have brand and, perhaps above all, its incredible hoard of cash, Apple could lead in every field if it wanted to.

And it should be.


Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 24 Oct 2014 09:52:57 Processing Time: 399ms