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BLOG: Is Apple lost without Steve Jobs?

Mike Elgan | Sept. 17, 2012
Apple announced a lineup of great products this week, but there was something conspicuously missing.

Here's an example: Apple had been developing the iPhone for years. After major arguments about materials, the team had decided to use reinforced plastic on the screens for the first version. That was the plan, and everybody spent more than a year working on it.

Just one month before the first iPhone shipped, Jobs summoned his team and issued an edict: The screen would be glass. He just didn't like the plastic screen.

No committee was formed. No study was done. At any other company, a decision like that would take months to change.

But Jobs was Jobs, so the team, the glass maker, the Chinese factory -- everybody -- scrambled to unite behind his hunch. The phone shipped on time with a glass screen.

A large number of people within Apple deserve credit for great work in design, engineering, marketing and so on. But Jobs gave the company an extraordinary edge by using his unique authority to prevent the company from making big mistakes or missing big opportunities.

That authority extended outside the company. Jobs' influence, in fact, brought into readiness the very glass needed to replace the plastic screen he overruled.

In 2006, Jobs convinced Corning to bring 1960s-era, nearly forgotten glass technology out of mothballs and make it a priority -- to work from old plans and bring the product to factory readiness in less than six months. Corning's CEO thought it couldn't be done, but Jobs assured him it would be done.

The big letdown

Apple without Jobs is still a great company, and still a conspicuously successful one. But it's not the same.

After years of spectacularly successful ad campaigns -- from " Think Different" to " I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" -- Apple began hitting them out of the park with emotional, loving ads for the iPhone and iPad.

But in the past year, the company has been struggling to get its message right.

A series of commercials featuring Apple Store " geniuses" fell flat, and Apple quickly pulled it. Critics said the ads emphasized how dumb Apple customers are compared with how smart Apple employees are.

Before that, Apple ran some strange ads hawking Siri, its beta virtual assistant feature, with major celebrities such as John Malkovich, Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. The ads looked and felt just like Apple's normal highly polished commercials, but the celebrities made them seem like something strange. Technically, they were great. But they didn't "feel" right. Critics panned them.

Apple seems unable to fix Siri itself. After a few weeks of working great, the feature became less and less reliable over time, even as Apple promised huge expansions into China and the addition of new features, such as the ability to make restaurant reservations (which Siri could do before Apple bought it). The founder of Siri, Adam Cheyer, left Apple in June.

 

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