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A tale of two Apples

Jason Snell | May 30, 2014
Tim Cook's instruction from Steve Jobs was clear: Don't let Apple become paralyzed like Disney did in the wake of Walt Disney's death, endlessly asking what the esteemed founder would do in any given situation. The only directive from Jobs's tenure that mattered after his death was the one that freed Cook and everyone else at Apple from playing "What Would Steve Do?"

Tim Cook's instruction from Steve Jobs was clear: Don't let Apple become paralyzed like Disney did in the wake of Walt Disney's death, endlessly asking what the esteemed founder would do in any given situation. The only directive from Jobs's tenure that mattered after his death was the one that freed Cook and everyone else at Apple from playing "What Would Steve Do?"

Criticism of post-Jobs Apple tends to run in one of two directions (unless you're the author of Haunted Empire and want to have it both ways): Either Apple is doomed because it's slavishly following the out-of-date playbook of its former CEO, or it's doomed because it's not following the playbook of its genius former CEO.

As a close observer of Apple before, during, and after Jobs's tenure, I can tell you that the Apple of today is not playing by the Steve Jobs playbook — except for the bit that demanded that everyone stop asking what Steve would do. Tim Cook and his lieutenants are immersed in the Apple culture created by Steve Jobs, of course, but they're applying that culture to an ever-changing world — rather than going to the 2011 playbook.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the $3 billion acquisition of Beats. Apple bought plenty of companies during Jobs's run, but most of those acquisitions were of below-the-waterline companies that were broken up for their component parts, their employees integrated into Apple's workforce. Beats is an existing consumer brand that will presumably continue — forcing Apple to steward another customer-facing brand for the first time in recent memory. (Claris/FileMaker is the next closest example, and it's not that close.)

Jobs was famously not a fan of the concept of music subscription services. Were Jobs alive today, even he might change his mind on that point, but since he's not here it's up to Cook, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, and the rest of Apple's brain trust to make these calls. It sure seems like music subscription services are going to be a major part of how people listen to music in the future, and Apple had no position in that space. Beats Music, though new and small, is also an excellent service with smart curation features. It gets Apple in the game.

Then there's Beats Electronics, the maker of popular headphones. We can debate the quality of the product — Apple itself doesn't make the best-sounding headphones in the world — but they're popular, successful, and cool. Apple's own retail outlets sell loads of them. By buying Beats, not only does Apple get to influence the future of a cool product (and ensure that it works best with Apple's latest stuff), it also keeps its competitors' grubby mitts off of it.

 

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