Apple after Jobs

Like many admirers of Apple, I hope that Steve Jobs can find strength and courage and some luck in his fight against cancer. I wish him well.

The incredible rise of Apple in the last 15 years of course has led to speculation about founder’s syndrome. The IT industry is littered with companies that have decayed after their founder’s departure. Friends of Apple argue that the company is in good hands and has talent at all levels. Others fret that without Steve Jobs’ guiding hand, the company will go south.

One feature of systematic futures work is that the field of vision should be broad enough to encompass what does turn out to happen. If events push the future outside the scope of a futures project, we are in the world of Taleb’s ‘Black Swans’. In my past, Apple is one such case. I’d like to share that with you, as many of the reviews of Apple after Jobs have missed out on an important part of the story, which I believe will determine the likely trajectory of Apple in the years ahead.

Back in the mid-90s, Apple was OK but looked strategically boxed-in and potentially a long-term ‘basket case’. I was asked to do a 10-year vision presentation among others on the future of the IT suppliers. Looking back on the set of presentations I saw and contributed to, Apple’s success since then has been outside the wildest projections of the futurists present. What was it that we missed?

We all spotted the devotion of the Apple faithful, but the consensus was that Apple’s future depended on who bought it and for what purpose! How wrong could we be?

Each generation of networked technology creates the potential for business model innovation and disruptive change to supply chains.

The iPod has been a great success, not just because of the slick design, but because Apple has from the start sought with great discipline, some would say ruthlessness, to change the whole of the music business. iTunes and the iPod together created an experience which showed that users would pay for music, when the doomsters were arguing that piracy would win.

From the perspective of the 1990s, Apple looked to have too small a market share to have that disruptive capability. In retrospect, that was true of its traditional markets.

Adding the iPhone and the iPad, the growth of the Apps platforms has been an amazing journey.

As a 10 year user of tablet technology, I am now wedded to my iPad2.

Many of the commentators in the media have focussed on Apple’s products and what comes next.

Looking back on the companies that have failed after their founder’s departure, it has often been business model innovation that has led to their downfall as much as product changes.

I remember friends at Digital complaining about having to compete with their traditional channel and the confusion it created.

Back in the 1990s, no-one doubted the capacity of Apple to come up with innovative, inspiring products. It just didn’t seem enough.

So, my suggestion is that Apple’s future triumph or failure will be determined less by a stream of innovative, high-design spec products than by its ability to ride the next wave of supply chain disruption.

In the past week, we have seen the FT move away from the app store for its digital edition to a native web app. Is this a one-off or a sign of things to come?

Jonathan Ive and the design team won’t suddenly be less competent because Steve Jobs is not around as much.

For me, it isn’t clear where that supply-chain leadership and vision comes from within Apple. The user experience of iTunes and the Mac app store are central to the user experience of the slickly designed user products.

A final anecdote from me, to finish. An Apple devotee recently wanted to show me this new clever app on his iPhone. He has several hundred apps on the iPad and iPhone that he cannot be separated from.

It took him over a minute to find it, showing all the confusion of 20 or 30 years ago about finding some feature deep in the menu structures.

How do you keep the user experience sleek and productive when you have 500 or more apps on an iPad?

There’s probably an app for that. Good luck Steve!

About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

See all posts by Chris Yapp
July 2018

Search this blog