In Leading Apple, Tim Cook Doesn’t Ask, ‘What Would Jobs Do?’

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After several years at the head of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), it seems Chief Executive Tim Cook is finally seeing the company take shape under the cumulative effect of his leadership. The Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reflected on how Cook has reshaped the company through a series of small changes, gradually moving the tech giant in what could be a new direction.

After years of “subtle internal changes,” Cook is remaking Apple to be more collaborative, more competitive against rivals such as Android, and more broadly focused than it has been in the past. Starting with the company’s $100 billion share buyback, proceeding to the settlement of a feud with Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL), and then the company’s acquisition of Beats Music, Cook began this year making changes to the way Apple runs.

Cook is reportedly looking for new directors to add to the company’s board, as six of the seven outside directors are 63 or older. He hired Angela Ahrendts, the former head of Burberry, to lead Apple’s retail division. He’s also made Apple’s operations more environmentally friendly, both by running data centers on renewable energy and by ensuring that the company is more responsible in procuring materials.

In the Journal, Wakabayashi describes Cook as a counterpoint to Steve Jobs: “For more than a decade, the company revolved around Mr. Jobs’s unique and mercurial talents. Mr. Cook, who is as measured and accessible as Mr. Jobs was volatile and intimidating, is more a manager than a visionary, and won’t be forgiven in the same way for ignoring shareholders or belittling subordinates. In short, he runs Apple more like most other companies.”

However, Wakabayashi said that Cook has yet to prove that he can uphold Jobs’s legacy in terms of product development: “For all his success, Mr. Cook still must show he has the ability to turn out the insanely great products that has been Apple’s hallmark. Mr. Cook’s Apple is a kinder, gentler workplace, say the more than a dozen current and former Apple employees interviewed for this article. They worry that the frenetic pace and focus that many credit for spurring the development of great products during Mr. Jobs’s reign is giving way under Mr. Cook.”

Four years after the launch of the iPad, investors and Apple enthusiasts alike are waiting for Cook to announce the company’s entrance into a new product category. Given a series of recent rumors and leaks, that new category is most widely anticipated to be the rumored iWatch, which would feature health and fitness-tracking capabilities. The smartwatch is expected to launch with the new generation of iPhones in the fall.

It’s a matter of debate whether it’s a good idea for Apple to broaden the “laser focus” that Jobs cultivated. Pursuing too many ideas and products could spread resources too thin. However, broadening Apple’s offerings could allow the company to be more competitive, and Cook has overseen a variety of acquisitions that could allow Apple to quickly build new products and services, contrasting with the slower, internal development on which Jobs insisted. But Wakabayashi reports that Cook isn’t trying to be Jobs — and that Jobs didn’t want him to.

Writes Wakabayashi in The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Cook says he doesn’t ask What Would Jobs Do. He says that Mr. Jobs told him before he died to never ask that question. ‘I’ve abided by that. I think he did that because I think he wanted to relieve what might have been an enormous burden on me,’ said Mr. Cook in an interview at the time of the Beats deal. ‘Because of that, I’ve always been able to kind of block that question.’”

In a recent Quartz piece titled “Tim Cook is setting Apple up for its next big hit and he isn’t getting the credit he deserves,” Dan Frommer argues that Cook has made several strategic moves to prepare the company to launch “its next big thing.” Frommer said that “throwaway complaints” that Apple hasn’t launched anything major since the iPad four years ago fail to acknowledge that slow development has always been part of Apple’s strategy.

“Even under Jobs, the company spent many years developing new productsTruly major launches only ever happened every several years, with iterations between,” he writes. “It routinely showed up ‘late’ to markets, only to reinvent themOr it would skip entire product fads – remember netbooks? – and look brilliant when they declined.”

The first iMac debuted in 1998, a year after Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997. The first iPod launched in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007, then the iPad in 2010. Each time, Apple’s product launched after the first companies to get to the category had gained large numbers of users, and each Apple launch still defined its respective product category.

Cook is fostering more collaboration among the hardware, software, and services teams, as evidenced by the move to integrate experiences across iOS and OS X via the increasingly important iCloud service. Frommer posits that that integration will extend to “future devices with larger and smaller screens,” creating an even more complete Apple ecosystem.

As the smartphone market matures, Apple’s growth has slowed. The company relies on the iPhone for half of its revenue, which translates to “oversized consequences,” according to Frommer, for each new iteration of the iPhone, especially relevant ahead of the expected September launch of the new iPhone 6. The iWatch may be the next big thing that Apple will roll out, though a successful smartwatch launch would still be small compared to the scale of Apple’s smartphone business.

Though Cook has been criticized for not exhibiting the same creative vision that Jobs famously brought to Apple, Cook is leading the company under a completely different set of circumstances. Apple is a dominant force in the tech world, not the underdog that Jobs once helmed, and Cook is tasked as much with maintaining Apple’s share in core markets as with developing new products and defining new markets.

Until the company’s next moves are officially revealed and the market has time to react, it will be difficult to gauge Cook’s success as an innovator: not one who will be the first to introduce a product, but one who will lead the development of a comprehensive user experience to define a category in a way that gets users excited and sends competitors scrambling. That strategy, after all, has been the central tenet of Apple’s success.

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