Steve Jobs was a visionary, a genius, a perfectionist, and sometimes a difficult contemporary. When the Apple co-founder died ten years ago at the age of just 56, even many Apple fans saw a bleak future for the iPhone company. But everything turned out quite differently.
Apple without Steve Jobs was unimaginable. But ten years ago, the inevitable day came: on October 5, 2011, the charismatic Apple co-founder lost his long battle with cancer. Jobs was only 56 years old.
Six weeks earlier, on August 24, 2011, the Apple boss had appointed his confidant Tim Cook as the company’s new CEO. This decision surprised many observers. Cook had made a name for himself as a logistics and production expert. However, he did not show any signs of the charisma with which Jobs had regularly captivated the masses.
Among the skeptics at the time was Larry Ellison, who had been close friends with the Apple co-founder for years. The head of software giant Oracle believed that Apple was doomed without Steve Jobs. In a TV interview, he drew a parallel to 1985, when Apple’s board of directors forced Steve Jobs out of the company. Over the next twelve years, Apple was so run down that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1997, and Jobs was brought back as a savior. “We saw Apple with Steve Jobs, we saw Apple without Steve Jobs. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. Now we’re going to see Apple without Steve Jobs,” Ellison said. “I like Tim Cook. I think there are a lot of talented people over there. But Steve is irreplaceable.”
But things turned out very differently after Jobs’ death than Ellison had feared. Apple is selling more devices and services than ever before. In August 2018, the iPhone maker went down in financial history as the first U.S. company to hit a trillion-dollar valuation on the stock market. Just two years later, it was two trillion. In addition to the stock market boom, experts believe that high customer loyalty was a major factor in the company’s rise. “When a new user starts using an Apple smartphone, they tend to stick with an Apple smartphone,” explains Jeriel Ong, an equity analyst at Deutsche Bank.
And the rally is not over yet. Since October 2011, the share price has risen from around $13 to an all-time high of just under $150. Cook also regularly treats shareholders to dividends, which Jobs has always refused.
Cook succeeded in constantly capturing new groups of buyers with the iPhone. He also expanded the range of add-on devices such as the Apple Watch computer watch and AirPods earphones and placed subscription services such as iCloud and Apple TV+ on the market. It also managed to charge higher prices for its products, so much so that a large portion of the entire industry’s profits now end up with Apple.
However, Tim Cook is still not a great presenter on stage. Nevertheless, he has now set his own accents that clearly set him apart from his predecessor. One example is the topic of the environment. In 2008, Steve Jobs was still engaged in heated exchanges with representatives of Greenpeace when the environmentalists demanded that he stop using brominated flame retardants in Apple products. These can be toxic, are difficult to break down in the environment, and accumulate in living creatures.
Under Cook’s direction, Apple eliminated not only the controversial flame retardants but also all other environmental toxins in production. He also converted the company completely to renewable energy. This ambitious project is now to be extended to the entire supply chain.
This change has also been registered by Greenpeace. “Since Tim Cook took over at the helm of Apple, he has made environmental protection an important part of the company’s identity,” the organization stated in 2017 when it published a report on environmental standards at electronics manufacturers. Apple only had to admit defeat to smartphone provider Fairphone in the “Greener Electronics” ranking because the Dutch company’s devices are easier to repair.
In addition to the environmental issue, Apple under Cook is also trying harder to set itself apart from the competition in the area of data protection. Last April, for example, Apple changed its iPhone software so that providers like Facebook now have to ask users for permission if they want to track their activities across different apps and websites. Jobs had announced this privacy principle back in 2010 at the “D8” conference but left the implementation to his successor.
When it comes to protecting privacy, Cook was already able to make his mark in front of a large public in 2016. At that time, the FBI demanded that Apple manipulate the iPhone operating system iOS in such a way that law enforcement officers could search the locked iPhone of the bomber after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino. Cook rejected that claim, saying it would not undermine the products’ security features.
Cook also faced setbacks on this issue, however. For example, Apple shelved plans to introduce a scanning feature on the iPhone that would prevent child abuse images from being uploaded to the cloud. Previously, there had been an outcry of indignation that Apple was taking the wrong approach in the justified fight against child pornography.
The biggest shortcoming of the Cook era, however, is that Jobs’ successor has yet to come up with a revolutionary new product. His predecessor regularly pulled a “one more thing” out of his hat that turned entire industries upside down: the iMac in 1999, the iPod and the iTunes music service in 2001, the revolutionary iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010. Under Cook, there are rumors of revolutionary new products such as an Apple car or glasses for augmented reality applications, but so far Apple fans are waiting in vain.
In this context, Cook critics point to a quote from Steve Jobs written in large letters on the wall of Apple’s old headquarters: “If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”