Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is Apple Changing, or Not?

The inevitable question for Apple, post Steve Jobs, is whether Apple can continue to create new markets on the scale it has done in the past. It isn't an easy question to answer, if only because Apple's product roadmap tends to stretch out a ways.

So any "post-Steve" initiatives will take some time to emerge. Some might argue Apple is changing under CEO Tim Cook.

Adam Lashinksy seems to be in that camp. Jon Gruber is not.

But it wouldn't be unusual to argue that, over time, Apple's performance will regress toward the mean. The only question is how long it might take for that to happen, and how great a reversion might occur. But companies, like products, have life cycles.

Apple isn't likely to escape its own life cycle indefinitely. The next "big thing" Apple attempts might not tell the story.

If it turns out that "television" is that next big product opportunity, we might not start seeing the first real "post Steve Jobs" initiatives until one more major product category is tackled, after TV.

The reason is simply that Apple's roadmap stretches out a significant way into the future, and that Steve Jobs was an unusual leader. Few business executives in the last century have stamped their own sense of "what the market wants" on a company, rather than "responding to what the market wants."

The prevailing mantra of "listening to the customer" was not how Apple revolutionized existing markets, and created new markets. The view has been that people could not adequately determine their own desire for products and experiences with which they had zero familiarity. Few business leaders will have the "arrogance" or "insight" (depending on how one wishes to view the matter) that Steve Jobs did.

That is not to say Jobs did not form a company culture with distinctive characteristics. But neither does the impact of a distinctive  company culture remain constant over long periods of time. HP, 3M, IBM, AT&T and all other sufficiently-large firms also have cultures.

You might question whether the core values and cultures have been maintained, in business-driving ways, over time. People, companies, products and countries evolve over time. It seems unlikely Apple will "forever" escape that aging process.

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