Apple Inc. has become the world’s most valuable technology company since Steve Jobs returned to the business in 1997 after a 12 year absence, initiating a wave of reform and innovation that led to products like the iPhone and iPad. Now with his passing, the company he helped begin lies at a juncture.
While Jobs’ enticing personality entertained an eager following and his inventions propelled Apple to arguably the most remarkable business comeback in American history, his enumerated goals and Apple’s structured product pipeline will lead the company with ease into the future, experts said.
“Apple product lines are clearly defined today and they’re going to stay pretty clearly defined for the next few years,” Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD group, said in a phone interview.
Products That Don't Have "the Hand of Steve"
Apple remained notoriously quiet and secretive under Jobs, who often made personal efforts to ensure that unreleased technology didn’t escape his timeline. His ideas for unannounced projects will likely be seen in the coming months, but his innovation can only outlast his passing for so long.
“At some point, Apple’s going to be producing products that don’t have the hand of Steve in them, and if they’re going to continue being successful, we’ll never know when that time is,” John Jackson, vice president of research at Boston-based CCS Insight, said in an interview today. “That point has to go largely, if not entirely unnoticed.”
Jobs’ death yesterday came one day after Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor as Chief Executive Officer, took the stage to present Apple’s upcoming iPhone 4s at a company launch event. It was the first glimpse into life without Steve.
“I don’t think anybody, even the most cynical among us, expects anybody to step right in and be the personality Steve was,” Jackson said.
Big Shoes to Fill
Cook, who was hired by Jobs nearly 14 years ago, exhibited a cool confidence and informative presentation earlier this week, but the magic of ‘Stevenotes’ was lacking – a void that may change Apple’s public image.
“Apple may lose the theatrical aspect of it,” Jackson said. “When he took the stage to launch an iPad or iPhone, the world listened and the world willfully multiplied the message. There’s some intangible benefit that Apple got from that.”
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc., an information technology research firm, said the quality of Apple’s products will have a greater impact than the man presenting them.
“One of the greatest legacies Steve Jobs leaves behind is the stellar management team that he trained and put in place,” Gartenberg said in an email. “While we won't see one person as the sole face of Apple, that will matter little to consumers who buy Apple products on their merits, not who created them.”
Jackson said that previous episodes during which Jobs took leave for medical absence are an indicator of how the company will function under new management.
“Steve had already basically taken himself out of the loop,” Jackson said. “I think what we’ve seen in the past has been encouraging, but it’s not necessarily a proven point."
As a highly involved leader, Jobs had his hand in just about every aspect of the business, a fact that will likely show with emerging products.
“Like any good PC company, they have a long term outlook as to what kind of devices they want to provide and what type of price points and what the goal of the laptop category is for Apple,” Baker, the NPD analyst, said.
Keeping the Business Model
With encroachment into the tablet market by companies like Lenovo and Acer, as well as the push by computer makers to more portable machines, Apple’s niche market for handheld devices is constantly being challenged.
“They have a number of threats, all from different angles. They have a very diverse competitive field,” Jackson said.
Yet according to Gartenberg, Apple notebook sales still continue to grow faster than the market.
Without Jobs, Cook will aim to continue bringing new products to the market – even if they’re unaccompanied by eponymous ‘notes’ – and there’s no indication that fans will want otherwise.
“The only thing he can do is get on with the show, and keep Apple humming like the business model that it is,” Jackson said. “There’s no better assurance than a business model that keeps on ticking.”
With Sherri Smith and Davey Alba