Apple’s legion of followers and critics lament the good old days when Steve Jobs ruled the Cupertino roost with a heady mix of technology vision, artistic understanding, and personal dynamism, but the company back then was smaller, the product line limited, and the corporate structure unique for such a large enterprise.
For all the products that Apple puts onto the technology table, the company’s structure is somewhat flat and not managed on a per product basis, as is the case with most technology companies which have many products. A good comparison company would be General Electric. GE makes medical devices, jet engines, mining equipment, rail data systems, energy farms and much more. Each product has someone in charge, someone responsible for how the product is developed and marketed, and, most importantly, oversees resources, management, and the bottom line.
That’s not the case at Apple and that might explain why the company has suffered in recent years while trying to get new products out the door. Jobs first five years after returning to Apple saw the development and launch of the iMac, Mac OS X, Apple Retail Stores, iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store. All we’ve seen from Tim Cook’s Apple since Steve Jobs died five years ago is Watch.
In a word, culture. Apple has run like a startup for a long period of time and Steve Jobs’ personality drove product development. Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs so there is less urgency to produce new products, and seemingly less urgency to get updates and upgrades out the door on a timely basis.
Apple’s organization needs to change, or Tim Cook needs to learn how to make his executive buddies more responsible for product d. After all, most of Apple’s senior executive team have been around for many years, even dating back to Jobs early tenure during the second coming. But without Jobs barks and demands, Apple has become slow to react to changing market conditions.
Other than cash cow iPhone, what products get out the door in a timely manner? Macs have been slower than normal with Mac Pro completely ignored since it was introduced in 2013. The iPad line is a convoluted mess with Apple selling old products as if they were new. The variety of options and versions for Watch seems to be a management nightmare and many customers complain that stores seldom have the Watch model they want. Apple TV claims to be the future of television but the future of TV is 4k video, which Apple TV cannot do, while video providers are pushing 4k content out the door in ever increasing numbers, and television makers have UHD TVs which upscale HD content with ease.
Where is Apple among the revolutions going on in technology gadgetry these days?
The problem I see is obvious. Steve Jobs implemented Apple’s organization structure and it worked fine when Apple was the Mac and then rolled out product hit after hit. Today, that same structure has become unwieldy and unresponsive to market changes with Apple falling well behind nearly every competing technology.
Why? When Jobs ran the show he was responsible for product development. Who is responsible today? The house that Jobs built was good when Jobs was running the show. The house doesn’t work as well without Jobs at the helm, and needs to be adjusted accordingly. Cook is a smart and experienced executive, as are those in his management circle, but there’s no one around with a whip to make things happen, to move the bar forward. That’s what Jobs did. If there’s no Jobs around, Apple needs to change the structure of how it operates and put accountability on product managers.
Being a startup-like organization is a romantic proposition that works for awhile under the right circumstances. Apple’s situation has changed and the company needs to adjust to the changes. Steve Jobs was Apple’s biggest asset. Replacing Jobs is Apple’s biggest problem.