Tim Cook vs Steve Jobs: New CEO Acts Like a Leader, But Where's the Magic?

The iPhone 4 launch event had a cast of many, but how well did Apple's new CEO perform? Having attended many "Stevenotes," I had pretty measured expectations when I arrived on Apple's campus in Cupertino. The size of the auditorium is quite small compared to other venues where Apple products have launched, but there's no question that the pressure was on Cook when he took the stage. As it turns out, the new leader displayed a wry wit and cool confidence as he outlined the company's successes and helped his charges debut new products. He also wasn't afraid to take jabs at the competition.

But Cook also did a lot of delegating, and the overall presentation came across as more matter of fact than magical.

On the plus side, Cook never missed a beat during the introduction, showing off his sense of humor right off the bat. He told the crowd, "This is my first product launch since being named CEO. I'm sure you didn't know that." Cook continued to keep things light when he said that Apple "had a few people to share our opening with in Hong Kong," a point juxtaposed with a photo showing a sea of people.

At other times, Cook was straight-out earnest, telling the audience about his love for Apple. "I consider it a privilege of a lifetime to have worked here for almost 14 years and I am very excited about this new role." Later toward the end of the presentation Cook said, "I am so incredibly proud of this company and of all the teams that worked so hard."

Cook was really at his best, though, when he compared Apple to the competition. At one point he emphasized that it took Windows 7 20 weeks to get to 10 percent of its install base, which Lion did in 2 weeks. He punctuated this point with plenty of emphasis, but his language (voice and body) was more professorial than PT Barnum. That's just Cook's style.

To a certain degree, iOS head Scott Forstall outshined the CEO in the presentation department, showing more energy and excitement. But he also had the most exciting feature to announce and explain in Siri, the iPhone 4S' voice-controlled personal assistant. I could tell that he was genuinely floored by this feature's abilities when he said it "completely changes the way you think about what a phone can do for you."

Cook pretty much stayed away from hyperbole, and that's where Steve Jobs excelled in his addresses. He was so enthused about the products he announced that he literally got carried away and borderline giddy. Like a kid in the candy store.

Overall, Cook's presentation was crisp, professional, and occasionally entertaining. He also exuded the confidence of someone who is in charge. And yet, something was missing.

Call it lack of drama or lack of flair, but the first Cooknote was as straightforward as the invitation for the event: "Let's talk iPhone." Could it have something to do with the fact that the iPhone 4S is an upgrade to an existing design as opposed to a whole new device? Yes, but the fact that Cook didn't make me believe that it was a whole new iPhone says something, too.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.