I read an article in Forbes on-line, Would Steve Jobs Have Released the iPad3?, by Gene Marks. Apple has been under the microscope more than ever since the passing of Steve Jobs. They have launched the iPhone 4s and the latest iPad since the passing the of inspirational, brilliant, and enigmatic co-founder of the company. Critics are looking for flaws in the new leadership in these products. The people in this school looking for chinks in the armor claim that these two products are not different enough from their predecessors. This may indicate that the company is now being run be more traditional marketers who may do OK but do not have the Jobs mojo.
It reminds of a few books I read in the late 1980s and found quite inspirational. One of the books was actually about Apple. The other was about Sony. Actually in looking up the exact titles on amazon.com, I learned that both books came out in 1987. I am pretty certain that out by 1984 since I was using examples from both in training I was giving in 1985 and 1986. The books were:
• Odyssey: From Pepsi to Apple by John Sculley with John A. Byrne
• Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony by Akio Morita with Edwin M. Reingold and Mitsuko Shimumoru
In those days, Sony was the company that was viewed as Apple is today. It was the prime innovator of consumer electronics. They had invented the transistor radio in the 1960s and revolutionized the industry with the concept of portable music. They continued the walkman and the portable disc player. The made the best televisions on the planet. They were innovative and unstoppable. They were the envy of their competitors and companies in other industries. Morita was the genius behind the company and drove the product development machine much like Jobs did at Apple.
At the same time, Apple was emerging. They had innovated the first PCs but had been overtaken by IBM powered by Microsoft PCs in the workplace. The had come out with the first Macs that were viewed as innovative but were really used by desktop publishers and in education. Steve Jobs wanted to be more and he wanted Apple to be more. He thought he needed to get a solid businessman with great experience in marketing to take the company to the next level. This would make for a great partnership that would allow Jobs to develop and innovate new products while Scully ran the business side of things.
Sculley was a wunderkind at Pepsi. He became President at the age of 39. He was a high flier and still relative early in his career. Jobs wooed Scully to come to Apple. As reported in Scully's book, Jobs clinched the deal by telling Scully "Do you want to keep marketing sugar water or do you want to make products that will change the world." Scully joined Apple. It didn't take long before Scully and Jobs butted heads... really hard. Scully out maneuvered Jobs in the Board Room and ended up as Chairman and CEO. Jobs was out. It was crazy but everyone thought Scully was the man. Jobs went on to found NeXT and Pixar.
Sculley went on and hung his hat on a product called Newton. It was a decent product but a flop. It was a Palm Pilot ahead of its time. Sculley actually coined the term Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) when describing the Newton. It was too pricey and perhaps not functional enough. The reality might nave been that people were just not ready for it. The key thing is that probably would not have happened with Jobs at the helm. He would have made sure the timing, the pricing, and functionality were all right for the launch. Apple spent over $100M on this product which did not make the grade. The Newton was not the only product and strategic mistakes. The products in his era were bigger and bulkier without the design and functional elegance the Jobs products are known for... especially those that came after Jobs' return to Apple.
Sculley ran Apple from 1983 to 1993. He left when the sales flattened, margins shrank, and the stock dipped. The soft drink marketing whiz could not take his skills to another industry. His book was fascinating and engaging when I read it. It would be kind of comical now I suppose. In May 2009 Conde Nast Portfolio compiled a list of the 20 Worst American CEOs. John Sculley was #14 on the list.
Sony did not fare well without Akio Morita either. The company that led the consumer electronics world in the 1970s and 1980s became something much lesser. They dominated personal music players with the walkman and the discman products. Everyone had one. Everyone had to have one. Everyone copied them but the people who really wanted the best had Sonys. It was that simple.
Music was about to go seriously digital and ultra compact. Sony should have owned that market. Sony should have led the movement into that market. They tried and failed. Sony had the people, the music, and the technology but could not put it together the way Jobs and Apple. Apple created a product that allowed people to carry all their music around with them by putting a small hard drive into their digital player. They also created a channel to sell digital music via the internet. Voila. Game over. Apple wins Sony is barely a player in the space anymore.
The main reason for this was that Apple had Jobs again and Sony no longer had Morita. It is probably not that simple but it is the way that I see it.
That is why I am so fascinated to see what Apple does or does not do without Jobs. My guess is that Apple will be run by smart business men who are sharp marketeers, finance guys, and maybe some engineers. If these guys cannot maintain to some degree the Jobs passion for innovation, sleek design, and excellence, the great company will become a good one. The good company will be vulnerable to the Steve Jobs or Akio Morita who creates a juggernaut of a competitor.
Is the iPhone 4s and iPad3 a continuation of excellence or a harbinger of future mediocrity? Did I just say mediocrity? Oh my!