Even after Tim Cook took the reigns in August, there was no doubt that Apple remained Steve Jobs' company. Every iProduct and Mac that rolls off the assembly line reflects Jobs' vision of technology that's elegant, functional, and simple. Inside the Apple campus, the corporate culture is imminently Jobsian and will likely remain so for years to come. The new leadership is hardly new as Cook, Scott Forstall, and Phil Schiller are Jobs proteges who have been with the company for at least 14 years.
Considering the company's amazing success, no one can blame Cook for saying he'll "honor [Jobs'] memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much." And the company site is right to post that "his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."
But while the loss of its founder, brightest mind, and spiritual leader will be difficult to overcome, the Cupertino company also has an opportunity to make some small but important changes. Just as Disney has experienced its greatest success doing things old Walt would never have approved, Apple can grow from this experience by doing five things Steve wouldn't dream of:
1. Stop the secrecy.
The NSA, the Illuminati, and the Gossip Girl writers combined have nothing on Apple when it comes to Omertá. Under Jobs, Apple's lips were so tight that it often had nothing to say. While other companies let their product managers hobnob with the press and talk about their thought process and plans for the future, Apple prefers to remain mute or refer to a set of brief talking points. Employees live in fear of the so-called Worldwide Loyalty Team that investigates leaks with an iron hand.
However, partners and enterprise customers prefer some kind of road map so they can make their own plans regarding large deployments. As other companies have proven, this level of secrecy and paranoia is not necessary to succeed. Microsoft is able to gather valuable feedback about its Windows releases by blogging about their development and sharing public betas, while Intel builds excitement by demoing upcoming processors months or years in advance.
2. Appeal to real geeks.
Steve Jobs was many things: a successful entrepreneur, an amazing salesman, and a visionary. But he was not a geek.
Jobs once famously said that a computer is the most remarkable tool humankind has built, a bicycle for our minds. Under Jobs' leadership, Apple has totally focused on the ride, not the gears on the bike. That may play well in Peoria, but not in the halls of geekdom where we like to take things apart, see how they work, and then put them back together again in a slightly different configuration.
If Apple wants to win over hardcore geeks, it needs to show more flexibility, explain how things work, and let us customize their products a bit more. I don't expect Cupertino to allow third-party companies to build Macs, but making it easier to upgrade your Mac desktop or "heaven forbid" root your phone/tablet would go a long way. HTC's unlocked bootloader program should serve as an example.
3. Embrace other platforms.
To the faithful, this may sound like heresy, but Apple would be a lot more successful if it let Windows or even Android users gain access to more of its services. Today, you can run iTunes, Safari, and QuickTime under Windows, but if you want to program an app for iOS, you need to drink all the Koolaid and program on a Mac.
There's absolutely no reason other than its own foolish pride for Apple not to make its SDK available for Windows, build cross-platform versions of iMovie/Garage Band, or provide a version of iTunes for Android. Apple could use the extra business, and it may convert a lot of people to its platforms in the process.
4. Enter the search/web apps game.
"We have no plans to go into the search business. We don't care about it—other people do it well," Jobs told Walt Mossberg at last year's All Things D conference. However, Apple's two biggest competitors both offer search engines and powerful web-based applications. Meanwhile, iCloud appears to be little more than a convenient sync service that keeps your documents and media files the same on every device, but it doesn't let you work in the cloud like Google Docs or Windows Live.
The industry's biggest players believe that the future will eventually belong to web apps, and search is still the original killer app. I wouldn't expect Apple to compete with Google and Bing, but it would benefit from acquiring or developing a search engine it can use as a default for its platform and as a front-end to the other web apps it desperately needs to develop. Apple could differentiate its offering by integrating it with Siri and making it feel like a personal assistant.
Providing powerful web-based software will soon be table stakes for anyone that wants to run an ecosystem. If Apple develops cloud applications with the same enthusiasm it uses to innovate in hardware, the company will position itself well for the next era of computing.
5. Be a kinder, gentler company.
From following journalists to the bathroom to allegedly colluding with the police to search people's houses for lost products, purportedly allowing its suppliers to dump hazardous waste, and giving very little to charity, Apple's reputation isn't as shiny and clean as you might think.
Tim Cook has already boosted the corporate image by instituting a matching gift program for employees. It's time to mend some fences. Invite Gizmodo back to your press events. Show international observers that all your suppliers are following labor and environmental standards. Sponsor some new educational or artistic programs. And, for Jobs' sake, let us poor journalists pee in peace.
There are many things I would never expect Apple to do, much as I'd like it to. There's no way the company would go open source, stop screening apps with an iron hand, or start licensing its operating systems to other hardware vendors. Flash is also probably off the table forever. But with the tweaks I suggested, this incredibly successful company can take its business to even greater heights.