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What follows a boom?

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Apple's computer business is still growing while almost all its PC rivals struggle to make sales. And in the smart phone and tablet arenas, ceaseless imitation proves that everyone wants a bit of what Apple created.

And the same is true for computers.

When Jobs came back to Apple and saved the company over a decade ago, one of his major initiatives was to simplify the product lines.

Some people do like to be bewildered by choice, but many others just get bewildered. Having clear lines, and differentiating key products makes consumer choices easy. Flexibility then comes from the software available. If you think about it, the iPad and iPhone are relatively simple, albeit very well-engineered platforms. It's the apps that make them into so many different types of devices for different, and personalised, technical requirements.

Meanwhile, many rivals seem to bring out new models of smartphone every five minutes, with more and more features. Apple also keeps a tight rein on iOS versions and development - how many versions of Android are there already out there in the wild?

Of course, this richness suits some people - those with techy brains and money to burn on the latest - people who don't seem to regret the time it takes to assimilate the changes.

Personally, I only change machines every two-three years, including phones, but even that's a little extreme - many Apple users I know last five or more.

Could other manufacturers simplify their lines and reap the benefits? Apple nearly doubled its share of the US smartphone market during the third quarter of 2011, jumping from 26 per cent share to 43 per cent. By the same token, Samsung Electronics managed to widen market share against rival vendors by focusing on a single, or some flagship models, each year.

But the reality may be that Apple's rivals are just looking for ways to save money. Not only would the strategy reduce marketing and development expenses, but also cut costs for parts and shipping, claims Cult of Mac.

Meanwhile, on the back of Apple's carefully managed policy across all its ranges, the Inc continues to grow like topsy, planning a huge new circular campus in Cupertino to cope with expansion.

Meanwhile, Apple is renting thousands of extra square metres. According to Colliers International, Apple is ready to move staff into the 65,532-square-metre Sunnyvale Research Center. The four-building complex in Sunnyvale isn't the only nearby location Apple is renovating to cater to its growing workforce: two other buildings in Sunnyvale will temporarily house up to 1300 corporate employees.

Room for 1300 extra employees had to be found next to the main campus on 1 Infinite Loop just last summer.

"Apple seems to be gobbling up everything they can," said Chad Leiker, a vice president with Kidder Mathews, a realty firm.

According to the report, Apple wants to lease between 213,360 and 243,840 square metres in Sunnyvale - space for 2800 to 3200 employees.

But where is it all leading? Once entities reach a certain size, "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"(as per Yeats).

Although Apple has already had its second coming. Can it manage a third? Or is Apple simply getting too big for itself?

My father-in-law worked at Phillips, then IBM for over 25 years, then lectured at AUT on computer issues. He reckons that, historically, the worst thing that can happen to any innovative tech company is to allow control to pass into the hands of accountants.

Steve Ballmer now runs Microsoft. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in mathematics and economics. I'm not sure if this makes Ballmer an accountant, but Microsoft has been wobbly for years since Gates went. Microsoft may still be in the throes of an effective restructuring - we'll see. It was in 2000 that Ballmer was officially named Chief Executive Officer, handling company finances; he later became Chairman.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, was far from an accountant. In fact, in his pursuit of his goals, accountancy often seemed to be the least of his concerns, although once a product passed his standards, careful accounting practices were always the hallmark of Apple product manufacturing and the supply chain.

Steve Jobs was very good at selecting key hires for every facet of the company. Including the money people. But Jobs is not there any more, except in spirit. Now Apple's CEO is Tim Cook, accountant.

Apple's own bio for Cook says "... Tim was Apple's Chief Operating Officer and was responsible for all of the company's worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple's supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries."

Cook was extremely successful at managing Apple's supply chains to keep huge profits for the firm on every sale, despite the premium prices charged for most Apple products while the world cried out for ever cheaper consumer items and the recession bit deep.

Tim Cook is extremely well compensated for his role. Personally, though, he seems quite modest, and has instigated some pro-employee and pro-charity initiatives that were, frankly, well beneath Jobs' ken.

Apart from that, Cook lives in a four-bedroom 731-square-metre home in Palo Alto, California. Houses where I live, close to the centre of Auckland, tend to be 200-300 square metres; most Silicon Valley notaries live in vast palaces several times bigger than Cook's 'little' condo. Indeed, Jobs was developing one for himself, and Bill Gates' massive pad in Seattle is legendary.

Cook is on record saying money isn't a motivator for him. I don't think it would be for me, either, if I received even a fraction of Cook's salary, but anyway, personal greed doesn't seem to form a big part of his makeup.

I'm not saying Cook is going to blow Apple's status. Or profits. But Apple may be at a turning point. It's reached a huge size, and has a totally different type of person at the top.

Internally, things must be changing, too. Inside Apple, the development teams always fought for resources as the focus switched from product to product. This also calls for careful marshalling.

It's going to be an interesting year.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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