Was Steve Jobs Really Irreplaceable? [Opinion]

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Cook is doing a tremendous job as CEO, so was Jobs really irreplaceable?

When Steve Jobs passed away a little over year ago, he left Apple — the company he started in his parents’ garage back in 1976 — in the hands of Tim Cook, its former Chief Operating Officer.

The question on everyone’s lips at the time was how well Apple would fare without its co-founder at the helm. Jobs was unique. He was an innovator and a visionary, and he had this incredible ability to see into the future.

Jobs knew what we wanted — and what we didn’t — long before we did. He devised exciting new products that have changed our lives and sold in their millions, and he left rival companies playing catch-up. He revolutionized not just one, but a number of different industries.

He really did make a dent in the universe.

So naturally, when Jobs passed away, it was hard to imagine Apple without him. He had spent time away from Apple in the mid-eighties when John Sculley was CEO, and when he returned in 1996, his company was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Some feared that the same thing would happen again — that Apple would lose its way and struggle to maintain its edge without Jobs steering the ship in the right direction. But 12 months on, the company’s in a better position now than it’s ever been in.

So, was Steve Jobs really irreplaceable?

It’s been an incredible year for Apple — arguably the best ever. The company has gone from strength to strength, with hugely successful products like the iPad and the iPhone pushing its share price to new heights.

Cook hasn’t tried to emulate Jobs; he’s doing things he’s own way.

Back in August, Apple became the world’s most valuable publicly traded company of all-time, with its market capitalization reaching a whopping $619.37 billion. Since Cook took over, its stock price has climbed 79%.

There’s no doubt, then, that Cook has done a terrific job over the past 12 months. And he’s already making his mark on Apple. Cook hasn’t tried to emulate Jobs; he’s doing things he’s own way.

With that said, I don’t think Jobs was irreplaceable as a CEO or as a leader. But I certainly believe Apple has been missing something — a certain spark — since Jobs passed away. I think that is Jobs’s “reality distortion field” that we’ve heard so much about — his ability to sell a product no one else is really sure of, and to convince people to do things they didn’t want to do.

Digital music wouldn’t be what it is today without Jobs — period.

Look at the iTunes Store, for example. Digital music wouldn’t be what it is today without Jobs — period. Jobs convinced the record labels to sign up to a service they were reluctant to be a part of. They didn’t want to join the digital music revolution back then, and it was Jobs who convinced them that this was the way forward.

He did the same thing with the iPhone. Before the iPhone debuted in 2007, carriers had complete control over cell phones. Once they had been manufactured by Samsung or Nokia or Motorola or whoever, carriers then had the final say over what cell phones could and couldn’t do on their network — and they loaded them with terrible software nobody wanted on their phones.

Jobs convinced carriers to let Apple have complete control over the iPhone, and five years later, that’s still the case. When Apple releases a software update, you can install it straightaway — you don’t have to wait weeks for your carrier to test and approve it like Android users do.

Jobs’s fearless negotiation skills, and his no-nonsense attitude towards getting things done are things Apple has been missing since his death.

I can’t help but feel that Jobs would have ensured Apple’s new Maps service was complete before releasing it.

Take the recent Maps debacle, for instance: We know Jobs was responsible for putting together Apple’s Maps team, and the one who wanted to give Google Maps the boot. But I can’t help but feel he would have ensured Apple’s new service was complete — not just half-baked — before releasing it to the public.

We read about how Jobs pushed his staff to do the best work of their lives, and achieve incredible things within time scales they thought were impossible. Did the Maps team have that pressure and that motivation after Jobs’s death?

Then there’s FaceTime over cellular, one of Apple’s biggest improvements in iOS 6. Unlike most other carriers, AT&T has decided it’s going to force its customers to upgrade to new, more expensive shared data plans if they want to take advantage of the feature. Otherwise they simply cannot use it.

I don’t think Jobs would have allowed that to happen. This is one of the features Apple has been touting in all of its iOS 6 promotions, and a large portion of its customers cannot use it without changing their data plan. Jobs would have wanted a key feature like this to work “out of the box,” and I think he would have prevented AT&T from charging extra for it.

Or how about the Apple television, which is still yet to come to fruition? The biggest problem Apple’s having, according to the reports, is getting the television studios and cable companies to get on-board and allow Apple to show their content without the need for a set-top box.

If Apple still had Jobs’s negotiation skills, would those deals already be in place? Would the cable companies have been eager to sign up to the next big thing in television? He convinced the record labels and carriers to support Apple’s upcoming products and services — why couldn’t he have done the same with the cable companies?

Since Cook took hold of the reigns nearly every single piece of hardware the company has released was leaked prior to its unveiling.

How about all those leaks? I know there were leaks under Jobs — the most notable being the iPhone 4 — but I don’t ever remember them being this much of an issue. Apple was still regarded as the most secretive consumer electronics company there is.

Since Cook took hold of the reigns, however, nearly every single piece of hardware the company has released was leaked prior to its unveiling. And this is despite the fact that Cook said he was “doubling down” on secrecy.

We saw the display, components, and rear panels for the new iPad; components and front and rear panels for the iPhone 5; and now we’re seeing components and rear panels for the iPad mini.

Apple leaks have hit an all-time high, and I think that’s because component suppliers just aren’t scared of Apple anymore. Jobs would have come down hard on them for leaking these things, and I just can’t imagine Cook doing the same thing.

Jobs’s DNA is still engrained in his company.

It’s possible, probable even, that all of these problems would have been beyond Steve Jobs’s control too. The scope and size of Apple’s business now are absolutely unparalleled in the company’s history, and they may have proven too much for even a personality, an intellect and a vision as big as Steve’s.

One thing is for sure, though: with Steve at the helm, it always felt like he’d have the last word, that mistakes would ultimately be righted, and that the company’s prospects extended so far into the horizon they can’t even be dreamed of. It was the product of his irreplaceable Reality Distortion Field, and without it, Apple sometimes seems just a little less empowered than it was before.