It’s been almost five years since Tim Cook was named Apple CEO, and during that time the company has seen some pretty incredible highs. But there have been some significant lows, too.
The recent fall in iPhone demand is perhaps the most significant setback, leading to Apple’s first quarterly decline in revenue in 13 years. Cupertino has also been criticized for releasing unpolished products and buggy software in recent years.
So, is Cook doing enough to keep Apple one step ahead of the competition, or does he need to do more? Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we discuss Cook’s first five year’s as Apple CEO.
Killian Bell: We’ve spoken briefly about Apple under Tim Cook in previous Friday Night Fights, but I want to know whether you think Apple is in a better place now — or whether things have gotten worse for the company since Steve Jobs departed.
There’s been a lot of pressure on Cook in recent years as fans and investors await a revolutionary new product that’s yet to arrive. Almost everything released under Cook — with the exception of the Apple Watch — has been little more than a slightly improved version of an existing product.
Apple’s certainly in a great place right now, but could Cook be doing more five years on?
Luke Dormehl: Way to hedge your bets, Killian. So Tim Cook has led Apple to a great place, but the company could be doing more? I honestly don’t think there’s a single exec at Apple who would disagree with you.
The reality is, though, that to truly understand how good Tim Cook has been for Apple you have to go back and read the doom predictions that hit Apple in late 2011 after Steve Jobs died. At the time, virtually everyone was publicly voicing the opinion that, like Disney after Walt died, or Polaroid after Edwin Land, good times had peaked and the company was set to decline from there.
The opposite happened. Today Apple brings in four times the revenue it did in 2010, has many more employees, and is operating in plenty of new sectors — as well as proving incredibly effective at updating both its software and hardware cycles at a rate that was, frankly, unimaginable during much of Jobs’ reign at the top. Cook is an easy target in some ways, since he doesn’t possess the boundless charisma of his predecessor, but his operations expertise has continued to drive Apple’s growth — and for the most part he’s been smart about who he has positioned around him to continue that growth.
It’s not like Cook’s been shy about moving into new areas, either. There has been emphasis on new markets for the iPhone, which is inevitable, as well as a push toward the enterprise market, which you could argue was an inevitable extension of the good work that happened under Jobs. But the Apple Watch, Apple Car, Apple TV, the fruitful push into services — many of these are things Cook has led.
He’s also been great at making Apple into what he calls a “force for good” in the world. There are certainly things I’m not sure about: I’d personally like to see a more simplified product line in some cases, but it’s hard to argue that Cook is not the right man to be leading Good Ship Apple right now. Let me put it to you this way: Is there someone better and more qualified than him to be running Apple right now?
Killian: I’d like to point out that I didn’t say Cook could be doing more; I just asked you that question. I actually agree that he’s done a great job of maintaining Apple’s success up until now, but I also think he may be struggling to fill Jobs’ shoes.
In five years, Cook hasn’t revolutionized any industries in the way Jobs did. We’re still waiting for him to deliver something entirely new that could become as successful as the iPod or the iPhone, and I don’t think Apple Car will be that product. Apple is struggling in markets like China and India where it desperately needs to grow, and if iPhone demand keeps falling, what can Apple rely on?
You’ve also mentioned many times during these FNF debates that Apple has become somewhat unfocused under Cook. It has too many fingers in too many pies, and some of its products have suffered as a result. We’ve seen Maps apps that don’t work, software updates that render new iPhones totally useless, and design abominations like the Magic Mouse 2.
Apple has also given rival companies a chance to catch up under Cook. Samsung couldn’t compete with the iPhone while Jobs was in charge, but in recent years, the South Korean company has delivered greater devices with better specifications and better features — like wireless charging, water-resistance, and iris scanning — that sell incredibly well.
I can’t tell you whether there is someone out there who could do a better job than Cook — no one can. And I’m certainly not suggesting that he should be replaced anytime soon. I’m merely asking if things could be better at Apple, and I think most would agree that they could.
Luke: It’s a difficult question in some ways, I’ll agree. But the problem with people who assume that Jobs went through life revolutionizing one industry after the other aren’t entirely seeing the whole picture: there was a good ten year period in Jobs’ career from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s when, despite a lot of the innovative projects he was involved with, nothing was clicking. Apple had a spectacular run from the early 2000s until Jobs’ death but it was also a case of his being in the right place at the right time. The iPhone, for instance, took the Newton MessagePad concept Apple had tried back in the early 1990s without much success — and attached that to the growing ubiquity of internet connectivity. The iMac and iPod also attached themselves to a spectacular period in tech history.
Cook finds himself in a post-smartphone world where connectivity is already pretty much ubiquitous in the world’s wealthiest regions. Jobs, of course, had the ability to see where things were going — but my point is that there was a long period of time when the world wasn’t yet in the right place for those technologies to find a mass market. Cook has been great at driving adoption of Apple’s existing products, while also exploring new areas which could bear real fruit 10 years from now. As he pointed out during his recent Washington Post interview, Apple may never again find another gadget that’s going to have such widespread adoption as the iPhone — but if it can make a success of enough of its areas of business (and it is) Apple will continue to go from strength to strength.
I don’t know if I can say the same for a lot of the Android OEMs you often hold up as some kind of “how to” manual in this area.
Killian: It is a difficult question. Maybe Apple won’t find another revolutionary gadget, but if it can’t, it must at least stay ahead of the pack. I don’t think it’s doing that under Cook.
The iPhone continues to sell well in the grand scheme of things because it’s so iconic, and it already has that image. But that’s only going to keep it going for so long if rival companies like Samsung continue to deliver better devices. Apple is going to have a hard time competing with the Galaxy Note 7 this fall, for instance. Slightly improved designs and better cameras aren’t enough to make up for the fact that the iPhone still lacks a number of exciting features that are commonplace on rival handsets.
Anyway, let’s hand this debate over to the readers now. Do you think Apple is in a perfect position under Cook, or could he be doing more to keep the company at the top?
Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?