Worried About Apple Management

7 Jun

Not bragging, but my Mac cred is, well, pretty credible. I don’t directly own any Apple stock (nor any of its competitors). But I am a satisfied user of many  Apple products and have been for more than 20 years. My primary system is a Mac as is my wife’s. We use the company’s Time Capsule for our router and backup system. I have a MobileMe account and an iPhone. I’ve signed up for AppleCare since Day 1. I use a lot of Apple’s software. And, as I mentioned here before, I even spent a few years covering Apple while on staff at MacWeek.

That said, I’m concerned Apple may have peaked. And my concern is Apple management. Not Steve Jobs, but other executives and the board of directors.

Let’s start with technology choices. I was underwhelmed by the latest iPhone touted by Steve Jobs at WWDC this week. Its hardware and software scream “catch up” to me. And by catch up, I mean trying to gain ground on Android phones.

PC World recently did a roundup of what its editors think are the top of the heap of Android smartphones. It listed 10 very slick devices; one of which, the HTC Incredible, appears to be well ahead of the latest iPhone incarnation. If PC World published a similar list for iPhones, depending on how the reviewers counted, they’d have two: the new iPhone 4 and the now outdated 3GS.

Whereas you and I both know that between now and the next iPhone mediafest, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and other mobile handset makers will release gobs more Android devices. Some of them will be way cooler than the latest unit from Apple. Or the next one.

Just as with the personal computer, Apple has led the way with a smartphone for consumers. But I think Google and its partners will win in the long run. Part of it is a sheer numbers game. More developers equal more choices. And choice is what you need to dominate the mobile market. Steve Jobs’ approach is insular and controlling and limiting.

Yes, Steve Jobs is way smarter than me. A “national treasure,” some say. As long as he’s CEO, supporters believe, Apple will always have an edge.

However, a CEO needs a strong management team to work with; a group that can tell Steve Jobs to his face that he is wrong when he is wrong. Apple does not have that management team.

How do I know? Well, consider his admission at the D8 event last week. He said, “You know, when this whole thing with Gizmodo happened, I got advice from people who said ‘you gotta just let it slide, you shouldn’t go after a journalist just because they bought stolen property and tried to extort you.’ And I thought deeply about this, and I concluded the worst thing that could happen is if we change our core values and let it slide. I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.”

“I’d rather quit.”

I bet he told people he’d rather quit than admit he was wrong to go after Gizmodo, when most reasonable people would have let it go. He’d rather quit than “change our core values.” Which are what? Using the police to harass tech-crazy hacks? Hacks that love Apple products and promote the hell out of them? Explain those values. (“Extort” was hyperbole, but I’ll let it go.)

I fret that Steve Jobs actually did threaten to quit over the issue, even though he “got advice from people” who disagreed with his dumb decision. His dumb, really, really dumb decision. But management let him rule the day. And, I suspect, Apple management will rue that day in the future when the next dumb decision he makes under threat of quitting has more strategic consequences for Apple.

As I said, Steve Jobs is way smarter than me. But I’m smart enough to know that he’s not infallible, which makes Android, Ubuntu, and alternate technology seem like good bets so long as Steve Jobs lacks the management team to back him up when he needs it.

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5 Responses to “Worried About Apple Management”

  1. Rick June 7, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    I think you’re largely right on a lot of this, Mark, although I don’t necessarily agree that Android right now is a better smartphone OS than the iPhone OS. I think the iPhone is still a lot more fluid in feel and use, but I do agree that Android phones will get a lot better, much quicker. The fact that they might be more usable as phones is an entirely different matter, however… 😉

    The whole Gizmodo-Apple thing was a bit seedy all the way around, and in the end, it was all about a stupid phone that will be obsolete in a year.

    It’s funny; I first read this, and my hackles were raised a bit. Then I reread it and and I literally laughed, because in the end, I realized that I really don’t care any more. In 10 years, another tech manufacturer will be on top because that’s how these things go. The difference this time around is that people won’t be “pulling” for Apple as it goes down. I’ve always been amazed at how many people think that Steve is just thinking about the “little guy,” when it’s pretty clear that legacy and shareholder return are really the things that seem to matter most to him.

    • Mark Everett Hall June 7, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

      I admit to having gadget envy for the HTC Incredible. I so wanted the iPhone 4 to blow it out of the water. But it didn’t. Admittedly, that’s a letdown.

      But his D8 comment really worried me. Isn’t there anyone at 1 Infinity Loop who can disagree with him? I’m beginning to think not.

      Ultimately, though, you’re right. In 10 years, who cares? (Though I will want a new smartphone before the decade is over. 😉 )

  2. Rick June 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    My understanding, from my ties to Apple early in the decade, is that no one inside Apple really tells Steve no. Supposedly Jonny Ives can, but he’s not going to care about anything beyond design/product issues.

    Right now, I’m reading “The Last Tycoon,” about Cornelius Vanderbilt. I’m thinking that the title of the book is all wrong.

  3. Mark Everett Hall June 7, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    If no one can tell a CEO no, then it’s not a “corporation” he’s running. It’s a fiefdom.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Worried About Apple Management (via Croisan Views) « Chicago Mac/PC Support - June 7, 2010

    […] Not bragging, but my Mac cred is, well, pretty credible. I don’t directly own any Apple stock (nor any of its competitors). But I am a satisfied user of many  Apple products and have been for more than 20 years. My primary system is a Mac as is my wife’s. We use the company’s Time Capsule for our router and backup system. I have a MobileMe account and an iPhone. I’ve signed up for AppleCare since Day 1. I use a lot of Apple’s software. And, as I … Read More […]

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