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Too Much Cook Spoils the Mac?

'He came from Compaq, after all.'

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'SteveJack' of MDN penned a blistering op-ed yesterday.

Tim Cook is not the best person to be CEO of Apple

A few choice soundbites:

'He also approved, tacitly at least, the infamous butterfly keyboard, presumably in the interest of shaving off half a millimetre about which nobody gave a rat's ass.'

'Let's face it, Steve Jobs' track record of picking Apple CEOs was less than stellar.'

'Hopefully, when the time comes, Sculley II isn't up next.'

'As you may have gathered by now, I and the rest of the staff at MacDailyNews are not here to blow smoke up Apple Inc's C-Suite's collective ass. We are here for Mac users - and, by extension, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS users - and we demand excellence at all times and in all endeavours. If you can't deliver, why are you still here?'

No one ever guaranteed that everything was OK at Apple.

Apple were first in bringing the GUI mainstream. They had quite the team as well (folklore.org). Whilst the hard-core crowd muttered 'real programmers use command lines', partly in jest, pundits, both qualified and not, extolled the 'scientific' watershed of the original Mac, going on about 'right side, left side' and so forth.

The cold hard facts: Alan Kay's team had a mouse 'way back'. Steve Jobs' team brought it mainstream after reportedly testing some 300 designs. Yes, almost everyone coming from another environment wondered about the power of a one-button mouse - until they started noticing the 'option' key. Even the unassailable Brian Kernighan called the Mac mouse 'paraplegic' to one of the authors of this piece. But Steve Jobs was always about efficacy and mainstream adaptation. He's the guy who pushed the Mac team to shave three seconds off the startup time. He's the guy who made them understand the relevance of rounded rectangles. And so forth.

He's also the guy, for what it's worth, who understood the importance of Interface Builder, back when it was a Mac-only product called SOS Interface - a corporate leader so obsessed with things that he ran out immediately to buy all shrink-wrap copies he could find, because 'I want that on my new computer'.

He's the guy who, despite his magical wealth, wandered in the doldrums for years until he'd talked to academia and seen the need for NeXT.

He's the guy who came right out and said it: that the best programmers aren't 2-3 times better than the average, but 200-300 times better.

He's the guy who found Avie Tevanian. He's the guy who found Brad Cox and Objective-C. He's the guy who, with John Warnock, brought desktop publishing mainstream and finally gave the Mac a niche. (Sweden's leading broadsheet used Macs exclusively.)

He's the guy who kept his ear to the ground and saw his chance when Gassée gave Amelio an offer he couldn't accept. He's the guy who came back to Apple, after sealing a $429 million deal, as an exec without portfolio, and later, after a clever coup, took the reins for a walloping $1 per year.

He's the guy who downplayed his medical issues to keep people's faith in the company alive. We saw him withering away but we said very little.

He's the guy who almost literally invented the smartphone. He's the guy who turned the entire telco industry topsy-turvy. He's the guy who renamed the company. He's the guy who took 'Mac' out of the corporate name once mobile devices came along.

He's the guy who sold blue boxes for free trunk calls. He's the guy who gave the world the iPod.

Most people understand, at least intuitively, what drove Steve Jobs. Tim Cook does as well. Tim Cook lives in Steve's shadow. His leadership of Apple is almost explicitly dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs. But it's not about pushing the company in new directions.

Steve Jobs would have pushed the company in new directions. For example... what? That's hard to say. Steve's idea was to always precipitate the consumer, to give the consumer something that hadn't yet been thought of, but something the consumer would immediately take to.

Tim Cook doesn't like Macs. He's said so. His adverts cheekily ask 'what's a computer?' He's said that he doesn't know why anyone would want one.

Tim's a nice guy. Nice. People here have direct experience of that. He's nice.

But is nice enough? Dare one use the word 'balls'?

And the keyboard fiasco:


Is it any wonder that it's being dissed? Computers aren't that important, are they?

Two thirds of Apple revenues come from iPhone and related stuff. Two thirds. Nice big sums for a company once doomed to the margins and eulogised by Michael Dell. They're still not offering platform-independent, but they're thriving. The first company to break the trillion dollar glass ceiling. Apple. Yes, Apple. Who, back in 1996, had about two months to put their ship in order before going into receivership. Trillion dollar market cap. Their iPhone did that. Steve Jobs did that.

Steve Jobs is the one who discovered Jony Ive. Ive was already working there, but he was ignored. Jobs took the reins and asked people 'you got any good ideas?' And a new product was born.

Steve Jobs gave us the table lamp. Ive had reputedly finished his first design and Jobs told him (his most famous line) 'this is shit', and Ive started all over again. The table lamp became a cover story.

But who puts the software in iPhone? Do they do that on iPhone? Is iPhone a bootstrap system? Is iPhone something to tinker with?

iPhone is an appliance. The Mac may be a computer, but the iPhone is an appliance. You can't tinker with iPhones to make great new iPhones. You have to tinker with Macs. Because they're computers.

So perhaps that's the answer to the advert's cunning rhetorical question.

'A computer, little girl, is a device you use to make that little gadget you're holding in your hands.'

But the idea that computers only exist for end-users - an idea Cook seems to hold - is folly in the extreme. All the Oprahs and Anistons and Reeses and Spielbergs can't make it true. Microsoft, of all companies, proved this, time and again. And so did IBM, that venerable behemoth that Steve Jobs once welcomed to the PC industry.

'Personal' computers are used everywhere in the corporate world. Does one expect engineers to come to work in the morning to desks that have only smartphones in place for the day's blood sweat and tears? Are accountants going to balance the books on smartphones? Are banks going to survive on only smartphones? How can companies like IBM exist when they explicitly abandon the personal computer market and demonstrably don't give a hoot about mobile devices?

(Why did IBM get into personal computers anyway? Did they really like them? Or were they perhaps trying to obliterate the minicomputer market so they could go back to 'big iron' again?)

Big iron exists. And the world needs more than six mainframes, despite what Bill Gates once estimated. The world needs big iron, and the world needs computing power on the more personal level. The world needs what Mark Pilgrim called 'the freedom to tinker'. You need to tinker to invent. Dennis Ritchie once quipped 'we work in a sandbox'. Without those sandboxes, you don't get the new inventions, and you can't maintain and update and improve them either. All the mobile gestures won't compensate.

Tim Cook, unbelievably enough, doesn't seem to see this. 'SteveJack' noticed.

'In the Apple CEOship as defined by Steve Jobs, Tim Cook is out of his element. He cannot keep products updated', he writes. 'He cannot innovate fast or far enough.'

No, it's bloody hard on an iPad tablet, and even worse on an iPhone smartphone - essentially passive consumer gadgets and little more.

'He cannot even manage to have adequate supplies on hand at launches, repeatedly.'

Damning words directed at someone who used to work in that field.

'To ice his half-baked, lopsided cake, his stultifying keynotes make waiting in line at the DMV seem exciting.'

No, Tim Cook isn't the one to inspire. He's himself inspired. By the former CEO.

Spiritually, the company needs a new Steve Jobs, even though everyone admits that's impossible. Technically too, the company needs a new Steve - someone who really understands the business. For that business, despite the great quarterly results, is not just about a gadget, one single gadget. Computers - Macs - still make up one third of company revenues. But yes, they've become the ugly step-sister. There's a begrudging admission of their need, but the wider ramifications have been lost in the rush of the moment, with that trillion dollar miracle still giving people a rush.

The original Mac wasn't going to survive the Internet age. Apple knew it. Guess who they brought in to fix things?

Or can you envision the day when Fort Meade is run by a rack of iPads?

There are a lot of things people could complain about. Surprisingly, little of this applies to the era of Steve Jobs. Steve was right about so many things, in a world where good guesswork brings home the bacon.

√ He was right about NeXT - although his hermetically sealed boxes weren't the answer. The OS was.

√ He was sort of right about File Viewer, although he was castigated by a crowd that had largely ignored him for ten years.

√ He was right about letting Apple be Apple, because there are some things even a CEO can't control.

√ He was right in ignoring the fanboys as much as possible.

√ He was right about the iPod. He may have been wrong about not going platform-independent.

√ He was right about the perceptive pixel, and right again about shelving iPad until they had iPhone.

√ He was totally right about his presentation format in January 2007.

But was he right in choosing Tim Cook to be his successor? SteveJack doesn't think so.

Perhaps Bill Gates chose Steve Ballmer because he knew everything was going to come crashing down and he wanted someone else to take the blame. Steve Jobs wasn't worried about anything crashing down. But, for a company dependent on always renewing - yes to the same demographic each time - choosing someone who will merely hold the rudder without checking out new territories: perhaps not the best choice. Was there anyone else who had the fire and vision to take over?

A new Steve means a new Apple. But there are no new Steves on the horizon. Yet living in the past is like living in a haunted house.

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