In the wake of Steve Jobs' departure
, Apple is probably going to have a rough couple of days, but one can't but chuckle at the irony of the former CEO's timing. Apple has a long history of doing things in a way that surpasses their competition and Jobs' announcement handily surpasses HP's decision to abandon tablets and PCs. HP, after all, is just a company. Jobs is an institution.
At least, that's how he's seen. Not only is it nearly impossible to discuss Jobs without resorting to the gratuitous use of superlatives, it's equally difficult to discuss Apple without mentioning Steve. It's a mistake, however, to think that the relationship between Jobs and Apple means the company can't survive without the man. Apple didn't instantly fall apart when Jobs resigned in September 1985, and the company's eventual descent into near-irrelevance and bankruptcy was scarcely preordained.
Jobs' has a deserved reputation for being demanding, controlling, and taking a hands-on approach to every aspect of product design, but not for recruiting pushovers or yes men. Jonathan Ive, Apple's Senior VP of Industrial Design, has achieved minor rock star status in his own right for his designs while Tim Cook, the company's new CEO, has been with Apple since March, 1998. The company's other executives are similarly vetted and accomplished, and while none of them have Steve's sense of presence, he wasn't a man to suffer fools. There's also the fact that pancreatic cancer--the type Jobs survived--is normally quite fatal. The man has already had to grapple with the question of departure and what it would mean for his company. He's had years to work out the details. Given Jobs' neurotic attention to detail, it's unlikely he forgot to leave a few memos on the topic of what should happen next.
How come no one ever shows off that one picture of Steve Ballmer from the 1980s?
Oh yeah. That's why. But if you ignore his crime against humanity suit, Ballmer arguably aged better.
Steve Jobs has stepped down. In the next few weeks, Apple will launch the iPhone 5 and, if rumors are accurate, a lower-end iPhone 4 that'll slip in and replace the iPhone 3GS and re-establish the $99 price point. The iPad 3 is expected early next year
. In the meantime, Apple is still the top mobile PC manufacturer (assuming you count tablets, which makes absolutely no sense, but no one asked us). It's still engaged
in a huge round of lawsuits with Samsung and HTC, it's still looking
for a few good LTE engineers, and as of earlier this month, it's the world's most valuable company.
The best way to replace Jobs is not to try. The company needs skilled, competent leadership, not Jobs 2.0. For all that the man was easily the most visible company figurehead in all of Silicon Valley, Apple didn't get where it is today solely on his back. Fourteen years is more than long enough for the man to have imparted his values, leadership style, and insights on everything from product design to the proper number of buttons on a mouse.
The best thing Wall Street could do is remember that even Jobs had his failures. The lump-stick-rectangle G4 iMac never sold well, the Mac Cube was a square, and IBM's G5 turned out to be a dubious bet, at best. There are products Apple could have made more competitive and at least one mouse (the hockey puck) that should've been thrown out the window ten seconds after the first prototypes arrived on campus.
Jobs is human. Coincidentally, so is Tim Cook. He'll never be Steve, but there's no reason that he has to be—and no reason why Apple can't continue to do disgustingly well.