Apple, One Year Without Steve

Can the designer, the operational whiz, and the iOS boss carry on Steve’s legacy?

Friday marked one year since the passing of Apple’s iconic leader at the hand of a stubborn pancreatic cancer. For a decade, the disease seemed determined to claim the life of the brilliant mind that was Steve Jobs, as if the Universe had bigger plans for him.

Steve wasn't as much a technology guru as he was an expert in gathering just the right talents to make just the right gadgets, and ultimately make just the right sales pitch to the entire world. He loved to show off Apple, and he had every reason to do so. He made a cult of the company. A religion, if you will. And it was all clockwork.

Most Apple watchers knew all this years before the pancreatic cancer would return to hit him twice as hard, leaving the CEO frail in appearance, and leaving investors fearing the worst for their assets. Which is why they continued to ponder the question “what will Apple do without Steve?” months before the man showed the first serious signs of weakness.

A year after the CEOs death, Apple has not only maintained high profit margins, but it has become the most valuable company in the world with a market valuation exceeding $700 billion / €540 billion, with high hopes to become the first company to hit the trillion dollar mark in Wall Street listings.

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Yet investors and analysts alike are asking the same age-old question: “can Apple thrive without Steve Jobs?” who, in essence, is still regarded as the sole creator of this hip company that keeps churning out thinner, lighter, and ever more stunningly attractive products, as if it was only hitting the On / Off switch to a conveyor belt.

Well, let’s look at some key aspects of Apple and how things are doing in these areas one year post-Steve Jobs.

The profits

No one can hold a stick at Apple these days. Not Samsung, not Microsoft, no one. The iPhone maker's profit margins are off the charts, and that’s something many people attribute as much to Steve Jobs’ vision, as they do to Tim Cook, the current CEO.

Cook, the company’s former chief operating officer, was a highly important figure in the executive team during Steve Jobs’ tenure. He tended to all of Apple’s relations with suppliers, scoring some lucrative deals that ultimately enabled the Cupertino giant to make obscene profits with each passing quarter.

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He continues to do that to this day, and he seems to have things completely under control, despite having an agenda that is twice as bulky as it was last year. Should Cook tend to the Foxconn debacle with the same keen sense, Apple’s future looks quite bright indeed.

The products

Here’s a department where it’s much too early to assess the impact of Steve Jobs’ death. The main reason being that the man oversaw the development of most of the products Apple is selling today.

For investors, a good vantage point is, perhaps, the rumored iPad mini. It is known that Jobs was never fond of tablets that measured less than 10 inches on the diagonal. Then again, Jobs was also known to change his mind once every two minutes. So, investors should probably wait another year or so to make sure Apple is rolling out products entirely thought out by Jony Ive and his industrious team.

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So far, Jobs’ absence hasn’t been felt in any of the hardware products. But it does seem to be taking its toll on the software.

Looking at some of the blunders in OS X Lion, iCloud, and iOS 6, most recently the Maps fiasco, we can safely say Steve would have asked for someone’s head on a platter by now.

Although Apple has always had problems with cloud services, many believe Steve Jobs’ insane attention to detail would have churned out a much more reliable Maps application in iOS 6. At most, Steve would have had the inspiration to slap a Beta sign on it, just like he did with Siri, some pundits argue.

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There’s also a question of how much Apple is innovating these days. Steve Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple’s and a dear friend of the late Steve Jobs, recently opined that Apple’s success wasn’t so closely related to Steve Jobs as some may think.

“Who knows? Back then we knew how to make good new versions of our computers to satisfy the needs of our Macintosh market. But we didn’t do radically different things until the iMac,” he said.

“We should keep a watch for Apple returning to just milking its existing markets and not astounding us with new categories of products, or totally astounding ones. There is always a danger. And my personal opinion is that if it goes sour, it might have gone sour with Jobs there so conclusions should not be drawn,” he quipped.

And Wozniak does have a point. It’s not like Apple was perfect when Jobs was around. We just loved the anticipation of seeing that charismatic man wearing a black turtleneck on stage every three months or so. The products are basically just as good, or just as bad, depending on your point of view.

The vision

Steve might be gone, but you can bet your dog he entrusted years’ worth of blueprints to his minions:

- Tim Cook, CEO;

- Scott Forstall, chief of iOS and, as some say, the up-and-coming heir to the throne;

- and Sir. Jonathan Ive, SVP of Industrial Design and perhaps the most sensible man in the executive ranks at Apple Inc.

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Apple clearly lost some guidance when Steve Jobs passed away last year, but it’s still too early to see exactly what type of vision will be missed. You see, while Cook is dealing with his figures and the company’s relations, Jony Ive is thinking up the sexiest design for the next iMac or iPad. In the tech industry, analysts say only Jobs knew how to juggle both perfectly. This is where the Mac maker will ultimately experience some turbulence, now that Jobs is gone, the same analyses opine.

It’s no mystery that the man had Apple all planned out. The most conclusive evidence comes from the airtight ecosystem he created and the unified experience across the Mac, the iPhone, and the iPad. This unification was years into the making – perhaps even since the ‘80s when Jobs was as stubborn as a goat, but still one of the best visionaries of his time.

While the groundwork is now laid out for Cook & Co. to build upon for years to come, there’s still a question of whether they’ll be able to make that next bet in the company’s favor. Some things require immediate decision. Even Steve couldn’t foresee the unforeseeable.

The future

For some, Steve Jobs was the sole creator of Apple. Many don’t even know it was actually his friend, Steve Wozniak, who not only did all the legwork but was actually the author of Apple’s first computers. The guy soldered virtually every chip in the Apple I computers with his own hands. Back in 74, Jobs was, in essence, the sales guy with a keen eye for coming on top.

And he continued to remain a sales guy right until his last days at Apple. But he was so much more this time around. He not only knew how to sell, but what to sell next.

It was this "depth of field" that enabled him to make bolder and bolder bets, like a chess player using “chunking” to store entire game boards in one thought process, to see the win ten moves in advance. That’s what gave Apple its all-knowing aura.

Starting next year, there’s a chance we’ll see that aura gradually fade away as the first real signs that Steve is no longer around to check-mate his opponents.

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Then again, as times move forward, maybe Apple’s leadership does need change in order to survive.

The man did say “Death is very likely the best single invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.”

NOTE: Starting now, our Mac section button (in the site's header area) will be featuring a black ribbon for the entire month of October in the memory of Steve Jobs, with each passing year.

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