Q: Where is Apple at right now as a company in this post-Steve Jobs period?
A: I think, were Steve Jobs still here, Apple would be in the exact same position: wildly successful financially, with justifiable skepticism about their future growth prospects, and unjustifiable skepticism about their short-term opportunities.
The iPhone was in many ways a once-in-a-generation business opportunity: carriers are paying Apple handsomely to disrupt the personal computer business, just because Apple’s product happens to have an app that makes phone calls. Oh, and that product is one that is a necessity for almost every person on earth. It’s difficult to imagine a more lucrative opportunity, and fair to question how Apple can grow from such a large profit baseline (then again, it was hard to imagine a better business opportunity than levying a massive tax on every single computer just as computers became a necessity for every business and home, i.e. the Microsoft model, yet it turned out even better opportunities existed).
What’s not justified is the assumption that iPhone sales are going to suddenly collapse in the face of lower-cost, “good-enough” Android-based phones. This sort of thinking is primarily the provence of analysts with their roots in PCs who witnessed the race to the bottom among Windows OEM’s, and it ignores that the PC market was primarily driven by businesses, where the buyers were not the users, and thus highly focused on price. The iPhone, on the other hand, along with all of Apple’s products, competes for consumers, and every other consumer sector offers evidence that there is a sizable portion of consumers who make purchase decisions for more reasons than just price. Apple, with their focus on the user experience, has always been a consumer company, and in a lot of ways their success over the past decade is a result of consumers embracing technology just like businesses did in the 80s and 90s. The right company, in the right place, at the right time with the right product.
Steve Jobs certainly played a major role in that, and his most underrated quality in my opinion was his patience (on the flip side, one of Microsoft’s biggest failings is their timing). However, the values Jobs insisted Apple embody – quality, simplicity, the “feel” of something – are actually not that difficult to understand. There is no magic formula, just the incredibly difficult work of making choices and executing in a way that ensures those values come through in the products.
The problem, though, is that those qualities aren’t easily measured or put on a spreadsheet. A lot of analysts handled that uncertainty by simply ignoring them, and then, when Apple continued to surprise, Steve Jobs became the scapegoat for success. And, now that he’s gone, these analysts can’t imagine how Apple can be successful even though the reasons remain just as clear as ever. Apple even made a commercial about it (the Designed in California spot)!
In other words, I think Apple is fine. My long-term worry is about what happens when all of the old guard leave, and those in charge have only ever known success. But that’s still a ways off.
An Interview With Ben Thompson On Apple, Microsoft And Stratechery – Forbes.