Former employee explains how Tim Cook made Apple boring

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Life at Apple is great for Tim Cook.
Tim Cook wants to keep peace at Apple.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Tim Cook’s kinder, gentler management style is the biggest reason why 2016 was one of the most boring years for Apple in recent memory, according to a former employee of the company.

Steve Jobs was notorious for inciting conflict and competition between top employees, which him a controversial leader but also birthed some of the most iconic tech products ever (iMac, iPod and iPhone). After Cook took over, he worked to eliminate conflict within Cupertino’s walls and made employees less passionate, claims ex-Apple employee Bob Burrough.

In response to a tweet from Apple analyst Horrace Dediu, Burrough said the internal culture at Apple is vastly different today than it was five years ago when Jobs was at the helm. Burrough, whose LinkedIn profile notes that he worked as a software development manager at Apple from 2007 to 2014, says it’s a change outsiders can’t necessarily see.

Firing Scott Forstall

While Jobs used to boast that Apple could turn on dime to adjust to changes in the industry, now Apple seems like a giant monster that takes years to bust out big changes. Burrough claims that’s because after Cook fired VP of software engineering Scott Forstall, he sent a message to employees to not bring him conflict.

Burrough’s entire tweetstorm on the issue is well worth a read for fans worried that Apple might be losing its edge to the likes of Amazon, Google and Samsung.

Jobs definitely took a conflict-centric approach to management. In an interview after his return to Apple, he revealed that teams bumping up against each other and having fights helped them “polish” each other and their ideas to produce really great products.

  • Loved that Steve video. Excellent metaphor

  • DCJ001

    “Apple is vastly different today than it was five years ago when Jobs was at the helm.”

    Steve was not at Apple’s helm five years ago.

  • Essentially it’s a fancy metaphor for a simple proverb: “Two heads are better than one.” I still love his metaphor though.

    • Gaurav Pandey

      That’s what I tell my gf :P

    • herbaled

      You missed the point. What Jobs was talking about was those “two heads” banging against each other.

      • Rick

        You’ll need a boyfriend, not a girlfriend

  • Amy Poeler

    My company is filled with backstabbing sons of bridges. Does that mean my company will soar and stock prices rise?

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Backstabbing amongst employees does not make for a better corporate culture and I don’t think it’s ultimately going to increase the stock prices.

    • Gaurav Pandey

      I see what you did here and that’s my point too.

  • I long suspected Cook to be more of an “means” than an “ends” type of guy. Great if you work in Apple, it must be much more pleasant, not so good if you’re a customer. Cook is the right guy, at the wrong company.

  • Gaurav Pandey

    “inciting conflict and competition between top employees” – There better ways for making employees passionate than creating conflict within the companies :|

    • s fr

      Name one that isn’t centered around getting paid more, recognition or competition. And remember this is for white overachievers who are used to getting paid more, recognition and competition.

      • Peter

        Do you really need to bring the race card into this ?

      • s fr

        As of June, Apple’s overall U.S. workforce was 56 percent white (up 2 percent from a year ago), 19 percent Asian (down 1 percent) 12 percent Hispanic (up 1 percent), and 9 percent black (up 1 percent).

        Different people are motivated by different things. Apple isn’t in touch with its target market or its employees either.

      • afox381

        This has NOTHING to do with race. Please take your hate to another website.

  • Larry Fulkner

    So……. Apple was this company that could turn on a dime o adjust to changes in the industry. What! Every product Apple made was a refinement of a product that already existed, & the main thing they did was take there’re time & approach the situation slowly & carefully. Hell, Steve Jobs himself said ” were not always first to release a feature be we usually do it the best” during one of his iPhone IOS keynotes.
    I just can never understand this Apple is doomed crap that is always popping up in the media. It was even said when Steve Jobs was running the company. Every year since the iPhone was released, the next year was always ” the year Apple loses to there competition ” it’s nuts.
    When it happens, it happens. If it never happens, it doesn’t, but damn let it happen, and cut the crazy predictions based off of biased opinions.
    This guy is like so many others, the want Apple to create a feakin break through heaven like product, only because they saw them create the iPhone. Which was a once in a life time situation that was so powerful we see its effect even today.

    • brokedownsystem

      right place, right time, and most of the right features. Sony had an opening somewhat with the mini disc and then proceeded to fumble.

  • sounder

    Cook removed the religion from Apple. Jobs always wanted Apple employees to feel like the job was a religion.

    • Peter

      Can’t see how this is a bad thing ? Apple needs less zealots, especially within it’s userbase…

  • Peter

    Blah blah blah, Apple is doomed etc. Apple is boring etc. we all heard it before. And yet, somehow, their products work well, much better than competition, and sell well – much better than competition.

    Do they need to pick things up ? Yes, they do. Every company needs that. But is Apple really that boring ? That’s BS… i’d much rather Apple be boring but release good products that actually work well, even though they have some minor bugs – rather than being showered with ‘innovation’ from the likes of Razer etc. doing pointless and useless things just for the sake of doing them – or releasing products so buggy they verge on being unusuable even over a year after their release… ( my surface pro 4 is still the buggiest device I have ever owned… you’d think they would fix it in a year, right ? )

    Criticizing everything Apple does seems to be the new hip thing and to go-to topic if you want to get immediate exposure…

  • c o

    Let’s face it Apple are struggling now, just about every product they’ve released in 2016 has been disappointing: iPhone 7 – underwhelming, Apple TV – finally updated but is years behind the competition, MacBook Pro – last gen specs, bad battery life, removal of everything pros need & embarrassingly overpriced. No wonder Apple’s profits are down and Mac sales have reached a five year low.

    I say all this as a long time Apple user (personal & pro), I’ve always preferred their products but right now they are testing my patience – it’s a real shame but for the first time in years I’m considering the switch and I know many many pros who are in the same position.

    Apple you really need to make 2017 count or things are only going to get worse.

    • Peter Steiner

      Well then, c o – if it is really so why don’t you just buy something else instead of trying to spread unfounded ‘news’?

      • c o

        Peter Steiner, go and spend ten minutes googling & you’ll find that none of what I said was “unfounded”. I tried to post the links here but my comment wasn’t let through, try searching these phrases: “New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac” & “mac sales lowest for five years” & also “Apple profits”

      • Chris Jones

        Maybe it’s because, as a longtime user, c o cares passionately about Apple, its culture, its products, its users and its future. Do you really think your “stick your head in the sand, ignore the obvious reality, and ‘love Apple or leave it'” mentality is superior to that?

      • Peter Steiner

        Maybe, as chief of Apple, Cook cares for ‘his’ company too? Maybe not the way you like it, but I#m absolutely sure he does.Take that into consideration. And, as far as my mentality seems to go iyo, it’s always nice to see what education, social competence and good behavior can do to/for people.

    • El Curandero

      I’m writing this on a 15” 2016 MacBook Pro: I got it on the 23rd of Dec. And really, it’s the best computer I’ve ever owned, hands down.
      As to the “last gen specs”: PCI-E based flash HDD, skylake processor, an unmatched screen, excellent trackpad, and a really good keyboard. Touchbar actually convenient and usable, despite what all the internet whiners claim. That’s not “last gen specs”.
      And in spite of just being out for sale during the last 2 months of the year: it became the best.selling laptop in 2016.

      PC sales has declined generally, because of the competition from tablets and smartphones. That affects the Windows market as well, not just Apple.

      I seriously wonder who the persons behind all these anonymous internet whiners are? A bunch of underpaid office clerks and janitors who couldn’t afford it?

      • c o

        Glad to hear you’re happy with your MacBook Pro, but I have to tell you Skylake is last (6th) gen, Kabylake is 7th gen and there are quite a few competitors that have been putting it in there laptops before Apple released the MBP2016. Have a look at HP, Dell, Stealth etc. – all 7th gen cpu. Also 16gb RAM cap is last gen when there are competitors with 32gb. The competitors also have retained useful ports as well as adding USB-C, not forcing a collection of dongles. Oh and they cost less.

        Feel free to come out with more pathetic insinuations about me if it makes you feel better but perhaps you missed the part of my post where I said “I say all this as a long time Apple user (personal & pro), I’ve always preferred their products”.

        So go ahead, take off the rose tinted spectacles just for a few minutes and google “New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac” to see what pros think of this latest release.

      • El Curandero

        Kaby lake is not generally available yet, even if a few manufacturers have got some of the limited supply. Choosing processor is like jumping on a running train: a new model often comes out during the design process. Also, it’s a rather silly complaint: the hasn’t been any significant difference in horsepower between intel generations for years and years. 10% increase, 10% less power consumption? Nothing that rocks my boat enough to guide my purchases.

        On my previous windows machine: I never got over 10Gb of memory usage. Same thing with this Mac. 16Gb is good enough for everyone but a very small percentage of users. If you really are a former Apple employee, you should know that.

        “Useful ports”? I use high speed AC Wifi, I got a wireless printer, I Airdrop files between computers and I use iCloud for photo management. Why would I need a bunch of holes in my computer chassi, relating to soon-outdated interfaces? IMHO, Apple did the right thing when they ditched them, just like they did the right thing when they got rid of the DVD drive a few years back. Do you know anyone using optical discs today?

        I understand, you really want this computer to be crap, so you invent all kinds of reasons to hate it. But after using it for a month, I really cant find anything about it to dislike. Sorry?

        And no, I’m not wearing rose tinted spectacles. i got tired of all the plasticky windows computers with a poorly functioning, impractical OS that constantly stole my time. MacOS has been a breeze to work with in comparison, and time is money. So, even the hefty prize is justified, as far as I am concerned.

      • c o

        Whoa whoa slow down there, in your previous post you stated the specs of your MBP2016 including “skylake processor” & continued to say “That’s not “last gen specs”.” When I pointed out the fact that Skylake is 6th gen & Kabylake is 7th gen you dismiss it as “a rather silly complaint”. Sorry but there’s no getting away from facts, Skylake IS last gen compared to Kabylake.

        16gb may be fine you but for many pros needing to run Premiere, After Effects, Audition and Photoshop all at the same time 16GB doesn’t cut it or when needing to run a VMware or two. Rumours are now circulating about Apple going out their to ensure that the MBP2017 has 32gb in order to quell complaints, so that would certainly suggest more than “very small percentage of users” require more memory.

        No you don’t understand – I don’t want this computer to be crap – I wanted it to be great, I was looking forward to its release as I’ve stated twice before in case you missed it: “I say all this as a long time Apple user (personal & pro), I’ve always preferred their products”. I really did want it to be a good release, since if I’m going to invest a few thousand it better be good. Sadly I was very disappointed, as have many many pro users been.

        I’m not inventing reasons to hate anything, nor am I spreading “unfounded” news, I’m simply reiterating what has been said by many pros who feel the same as I do. Anyway I’m glad you’re pleased with your Mac.

      • El Curandero

        Yeah, you’re being silly. You’re puking all over the place about a computer you’ve never owned, nor intended to buy, like so many others before you. Why?
        And yes: you are a whiner. How do i know that? Because every computer on the market has pros and cons: a person who igonores the many pros of a machine and instead focus solely on the only thing he thinks he can use to trashtalk it, is a whiner, by definition.
        Look: nobody gives a damn if you buy this computer. Nobody. If you want a windows computer instead, go buy one. Nobody will notice, I promise. Nobody cares.

        A couple of points from an adult though:

        *Processors of different models come out all the time, in various stepping and price ranges: and they are marketed in the computer shops at the same time. Talking about “last gen” as if there is only one model at every given time and all others are “obsolete” when their performance varies just marginally, is not just ignorant, it’s the reasoning of a stupid child.

        A couple of other points:

        *I’m running Windows on a virtual machine every now and then. Have never used up all the memory, even with two operating systems simultaneously. What are you even talking about?
        *I’m also using premiere pretty often, and nope, memory usage not over 10 gigs. Ever.

        Cut the bullshit and continue using you crappy Windows laptop. And stop looking at Macs. They are not for you.

      • c o

        I don’t know if you realise this but it is often a sign that the person using insults in a debate is struggling to deal with the actual arguments; it’s called Ad hominem fallacy. This last post of yours is just littered with condescension and insults, oh well perhaps this shows that deep down (though you don’t want to admit it) you know that there is truth to what I say.

        There isn’t really much point in continuing this back and forth I think as it’s like trying to talk science with a creationist: the creationist states they don’t believe in evolution since there is just no evidence so the scientist says look I’ll show you the evidence; fossil records, geographical distribution, comparative anatomy – each time the creationist shakes their head say no & condescendingly changes the topic – so the scientists says well there is DNA which is incontrovertible evidence, to which the creationist simply states “show me the evidence”.

        On a parting note though I’ll just respond to your final sentence: “Cut the bullshit and continue using you crappy Windows laptop. And stop looking at Macs. They are not for you.” I’ll respond by again reminding you of a phrase that I’ve already reiterated to you twice: “I say all this as a long time Apple user (personal & pro), I’ve always preferred their products” perhaps this time you can let that sink in finally. You see my criticism of Apple is not from the point of view of an immature hater but from someone who has used and preferred their products for years, someone who is simply frustrated with the direction they have been taking recently – frustrated because I do use Macs and do generally prefer Macs & MacOS. In fact I’m writing this on a 27″ iMac, I also have an iPad, an iPhone and an older MBP (which I was planning to upgrade until I saw the latest release). So no I won’t continue using a crappy Windows laptop or stop looking at Macs.

      • El Curandero

        Dude, you need a reset. You…

        *Refuse to read, acknowledge or respond to any of the opponents arguments.
        *Starts to talk about something completely unrelated (creationism?)

        Cant figure out all the guys going into core meltdown just because owners actually like their new Macbook Pros. Whats that to you? It has absolutely no bearing on your life?

        And yeah, maybe i was a bit harsh. Thats what happens when you write a tiny little post somewhere about a machine, and immediately get jumped by ten non-owners hellbent on telling you how wrong you are and how much your new computer sucks, even though that’s not your own experience, and despite the fact that they cant back up their whining with any objective observations.

        I reminds a terrible lot about plain jealousy, and yeah, I’m pretty tired of it.

  • tknospdr

    I worked at Apple for just over 2 years. The middle management crap forced me out.

  • Furutan

    My concern is that Apple introduces products (such as software) that is 90% wonderful and never does a darned thing about the remaining 10% (or it totally wrecks an application, forcing you to switch to a competing application). This includes serious issues that are never addressed after as much as a full decade. Another issue is how they will forget about a great existing feature and pave right over it without noticing – the tunnel-visioned genius thing.
    After 25+ years I’ve shifted from looking forward to upgrades to wondering what I’ll lose in the process. Apple has always had an ivory tower reputation and the distance between Apple and we mortals appears to be increasing.

  • William LeVan

    Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. I don’t like what the company has been doing lately. Getting rid of their Airport Extreme, putting limited ports requiring adaptors on laptops, etc.

  • Peter Steiner

    Ok. Thanks for the information.