When Apple revealed its new, giant iPad Pro with a special accessory called Apple Pencil on Thursday, the crowd in the San Francisco audibly tittered. The reason? The US$99 (NZ$160) accessory is not a revolutionary new invention - it's just a fancy stylus, an electronic pointer of the kind abhorred by Apple's former, much-loved chief executive Steve Jobs.

The joke dates back to 2007 at the iPhone 1 launch, when Jobs famously said: "Who wants a stylus? You have to get them, put them away. You lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus."

Fast forward eight years, and it turns out Apple does want a stylus after all. Of course, the new Apple Pencil appears to be an advanced, slick descendant of the one that was shipped with phones like the Palm Treo 700p back in 2006. But it's also the symbol of a new era. It shows Apple chief executive Tim Cook's willingness to break the hard rules set down by Apple's opinionated founder - and finally emerge from Jobs' shadow.

During Apple's product launch event, Cook announced a slew of new products, with a mix of marginal and radical improvements on their predecessors.


The iPhones 6S and 6 Plus come in large screen sizes of 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches respectively, and have a high-resolution 12-megapixel camera. The massive 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple's bid for the enterprise workplace - and the firm showed it meant business by bringing on stage Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer, vice president of MS Office, to demonstrate how Apple's rival is using the Pencil as a productivity tool.

And finally the new Apple TV allows developers to create entertainment and gaming apps, and will allegedly launch a television streaming subscription service next year.

Jobs famously objected to all three: large phones, Microsoft and subscription media services. Yet Cook has shown the confidence to disregard, and overrule these historic oppositions, making him a leader in his own right. He is no longer just the custodian of a legacy, but is actively building his own. And if it pays off, he will take over your workplace and your living room, while making the most profitable products on the planet.

The new products announced this week aren't the first time Cook has strayed from the party line. In March, he unveiled the Apple Watch, the first completely new device created under his leadership - and designed without the input of Jobs. Similarly, he released the 7.9-inch iPad mini in 2012, despite Jobs' derision for small tablets, and paid $3bn to acquire headphone maker Beats - an affront to Jobs' view that building innovation was far better than buying it.

We can't say yet how these new bets will play out - whether people will start buying (and wearing) Apple Watches, subscribing to Apple Music or paying with Apple Pay. But it signifies that Apple has moved forward and continues to experiment, rather than simply cultivating its existing, highly profitable range of products.

In a mirror scenario, Microsoft's new boss Satya Nadella faced similar challenges when Steve Ballmer ended his decade-long tenure as chief executive, and Gates stepped down from his position as chairman in 2014. People had moved on from primarily using computers to conducting business on their mobiles, powered mostly by Apple's iOS and Google's Android software. So Nadella repositioned Microsoft as a cloud business. He has made Office software available on Apple and Google-powered phones. He brokered new partnerships with former rivals. And, like Cook, he's coming into his own.

In fact, it's clear that Cook's Apple is financially healthy. Its stock has risen from a split-adjusted $54 to $110 since Jobs died, resulting in a market capitalisation north of $600bn. Apple has continued to grow its dominance in the high-end smartphone space, especially in China - its second largest market - where it reportedly sold $38bn of merchandise in 2014. Cook announced during the event yesterday that Apple's iPhone market grew 75pc in China year-on-year, allaying fears about negative effects of the severe downturn in the Chinese economy.

So the big difference between the larger-than-life Jobs and the more human Cook then is that Cook isn't wedded to a higher vision - he seems able to hear what customers are asking for, and make those products available. In fact, screen sizes of the 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus last year were driven by public demand, and their runaway success proved Jobs and Apple purists wrong.


So maybe the Apple Pencil isn't anathema after all - Jobs couldn't have envisioned the giant sheet of responsive glass that could be used for everything from a 3D surgical aid to a graphic designer's dynamic sketchpad. The "stylus" acts almost like a real pencil - it can draw thicker lines with greater applied pressure and responds to gestures, like shading when you tilt or drawing lines when you drag it. These aren't features that your finger could replicate.

Of course, the stylus wasn't invented by Apple and the Microsoft business-friendly Surface Pro tablet looks awfully familiar. But the truth is, Apple does somehow get people to eagerly adopt its new products and inspires fierce loyalty.

At a memorial tribute for Jobs in 2011, Cook said Jobs advised him to never ask what he would do. "Just do what's right," he said. It's time for the rest of us to let go too, and stop asking: "What would Jobs do?"