Duff: Can Apple be Apple without Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs decided to step down as CEO of Apple this week, but it’s not the end of Apple, and it’s not the end of the world.

We can expect Jobs to stay on as figurehead of the company, and we can trust Steve’s judgment as a manager, as he leaves a hand-picked team behind.

Jobs’ health has been declining for a long time, so this should not really be a surprise to anybody. I’m sure Apple will be fine for the next few years as the company rolls out long-term plans and makes incremental improvements in existing products.

But without Jobs to provide vision and crack the whip, who’s going to make the next iPhone?

Or, to be more specific, who’s going to build my Dick Tracy watch?

The technology is almost here. We’ve got the touch screens, the Bluetooth headsets, the onboard processing power and the video displays.

Alpha geeks are already building customized bands and walking around with Nanos on their wrists. it can’t be long until somebody adds a phone.

Will Apple still have what it takes to build that next big thing? Will they still have the most valuable stock in the world, the only sure thing left in this crazy market?

Will the spirit of Steve Jobs prove to be as powerful as the man himself?

I was watching a documentary this morning and saw a common thread in how friends and admirers describe the man. Steve Jobs is not really a CEO. they describe him like a religious figure — a cult leader dedicated to the idea of Apple as fervently as religious leaders are to God.

The “idea of Apple” is harder to explain, but it comes from the 1960s, from a culture that embraced freedom and passion and creativity. Apple was about breaking boundaries and shattering stereotypes.

Jobs once slammed Microsoft by characterizing it as a boring establishment company, saying they had no taste, no style and no vision.

Apple took its ideas from beautiful things in the real world. their audio equipment was built for people who love music. True Type fonts were created from the example of beautiful books. While other companies put technology first, Apple put people first.

Start with a design that people will love, then make the widgets fit.

At Apple, design comes first. the rest of the technology world has followed that example, to the point where Jobs’ vision has become ubiquitous.

I’m writing this on a PC, but I’m using True Type fonts and a windowed operating system. I’ve got beautiful pictures and beautiful music at my fingertips, and I’ve got an Apple product plugged into the back.

More than anyone else, Steve Jobs saw computers as things that people would use — things that people would live with and work on, day in and day out. Not as toys, or tools, or shopping kiosks, but as devices that people would form a connection with — the same way they form connections with the cars in their driveways and the clothes on their backs.

The iPhone is the ultimate product of Steve’s vision — a computer that does so many things, it doesn’t really feel like a computer anymore. a modern smartphone is a phone, a camera, a photo album, a music player, a book reader, a calculator and a day planner.

Take a trip back to 1984 and pick out all the devices you would need to carry with you to match the capability that now fits in a 5-ounce square. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the phone, the camera, or the music player, but he brought them all together and made them fun to use.

Apple’s business is using computers to deliver beautiful things. they did it so well, the whole world had to follow their example.

Are there still some visionaries left at Apple, or is it destined to become another Microsoft — a competent but conventional company, bogged down by turf wars and corporate overhead?

Google can handle technical stuff, but they have no flair for design.

Without a visionary to guide them, geeks inevitably produce ugly-but-functional interfaces that only look cool to other geeks.

Can Google hire a design guru and force its engineers to put humans first?

I don’t know much about Tim Cook, Jobs’ designated replacement, but I’m willing to bet the spirit of Steve Jobs will carry Apple into the next decade before somebody changes the world again.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply