Apple came under fire on social media for introducing a souped up stylus, which Steve Jobs openly hated. But Tim Cook is unperturbed – he is building his own legacy.
When Apple revealed its new, giant iPad Pro with a special accessory called Apple Pencil yesterday, the crowd in the San Francisco audibly tittered. The reason? The $99 ($65) accessory is not a revolutionary new invention – it’s just a fancy stylus, an electronic pointer abhorred by Apple’s former, much-loved chief executive Steve Jobs.
The joke traces back to 2007 at the original iPhone’s reveal, when Jobs famously said, “Who wants a stylus? You have to get them, put them away. You lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus.”
Fast forward eight years, and it turns out Apple does want a stylus after all.
Of course, the new Apple Pencil appears to be an advanced, slick descendant of the one that was shipped with phones like the Palm Treo 700p back in 2006. But it’s also the symbol of a new era.
It shows Apple chief executive Tim Cook’s willingness to break the hard rules set down by Apple’s opinionated founder – and finally emerge from Jobs’ shadow.
During Apple’s product launch event, Cook announced a slew of new products, with a mix of marginal and radical improvements on their predecessors. The iPhones 6s and 6s Plus come in large screen sizes of 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches respectively, and have a high-resolution 12-megapixel camera.
The massive 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple’s bid for the enterprise workplace – and they showed they meant business by bringing on-stage Microsoft’s Kirk Koenigsbauer, Vice President of MS Office to demonstrate how Apple’s rival is using the Pencil as a productivity tool.
And finally the new Apple TV allows developers to create entertainment and gaming apps, and will allegedly have a television streaming subscription service launching in 2016.
Jobs famously objected to all three: large phones, Microsoft and subscription media services. Yet, Cook has shown the confidence to disregard, and overrule these historic oppositions, making him a leader in his own right. He is no longer just the custodian of a legacy, but is actively building his own. And if it pays off, he will take over your workplace and your living room, while continuing to make the most profitable products on the planet.
The new products announced this week aren’t the first time Cook has strayed from the party line. In March, he unveiled the Apple Watch, the first completely new device created under his leadership – and designed without the input of Jobs.
Similarly, he released the 7.9-inch iPad mini in 2012, despite Jobs’ derision for small tablets, and paid $3 billion to acquire headphone maker Beats – an affront to Jobs’ view that building innovation was far better than buying it.
We can’t say yet how these new bets will play out – whether people will start buying (and wearing) Apple Watches, subscribing to Apple Music or paying with Apple Pay. But it signifies that Apple has moved forward and continues to experiment, rather than simply cultivating its existing, highly profitable range of products.
In a mirror scenario, Microsoft’s new chief executive Satya Nadella faced similar challenges when Steve Ballmer ended his decade-long tenure, and Bill Gates stepped down from his position as chairman in 2014.
People had moved on from primarily using computers to conducting business on their mobiles, powered mostly by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android software. So Nadella repositioned Microsoft as a cloud business. He has made Office software available on Apple- and Google-powered phones. He brokered new partnerships with former rivals, resulting in unlikely collaborations like the recent Office and iPad Pro example.
And he’s coming into his own, just like his counterpart Cook.
In fact, it’s clear that Cook’s Apple is financially healthy. Its stock rose from a split-adjusted $54 to $110 since Jobs died, resulting in a market capitalisation north of $600 billion. Apple has continued to grow its dominance in the high-end smartphone space, especially in China – its second largest market – where it reportedly sold $38 billion of merchandise in 2014.
Cook announced during the event on Wednesday that Apple’s iPhone market grew 75 percent in China year over year, allaying fears about negative effects of the severe downturn in the Chinese economy.
So the big difference between the larger-than-life Jobs and the more human Cook then is that Cook isn’t wedded to a higher vision – he seems able to hear what customers are asking for, and make those products available. In fact, screen sizes of the 4.7 inch and 5.5 inch iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus last year were driven by public demand, and their runaway success finally proved Jobs and Apple purists wrong.
Among his last advice he had for me was to never ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right.’
Tim Cook, about Steve Jobs
So maybe the Apple Pencil isn’t anathema after all – Jobs couldn’t have envisioned the giant sheet of responsive glass that could be used for everything from a 3D surgical aid to a graphic designer’s dynamic sketchpad. The ‘stylus’ acts almost like a real pencil – it can draw thicker lines with greater applied pressure and responds to gestures, like shading when you tilt or drawing lines when you drag it across the screen. These aren’t features that your finger could replicate.
Of course, the stylus wasn’t invented by Apple. There’s a stereotype that Apple often takes existing products and rebrands them as revolutionary, and it exists for a reason. Samsung shipped a stylus with its ultra-large Galaxy Note smartphone line for years, and the Microsoft business-friendly Surface Pro tablet looks awfully familiar.
But the truth is, Apple does somehow get people to eagerly adopt its new products, and inspires fierce loyalty like no other brand.
At a memorial tribute for Jobs in 2011, Cook shared some advice he had received from Jobs before he died. “Among his last advice he had for me was to never ask what he would do. ‘Just do what’s right,’” Cook said. It’s time for the rest of us to let go too, and stop asking, “What would Jobs do?”
This article was written by Madhumita Murgia from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.