By Stephen Hackett
October 7, 2021 11:00 AM PT
Considering Tim Cook’s record, ten years after Jobs’ passing
Back in August, we passed the 10th anniversary of Tim Cook being named CEO of Apple, and of course, this week marks ten years since the passing of Steve Jobs.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge in the decade since, and in my mind, there are three major inflection points when it comes to Apple under Tim Cook.
Announced in the fall of 2014, many say the Apple Watch is the first new product to materialize under Tim Cook. While the exact timeline isn’t known, I think it’s clear that the Apple Watch is a very Tim Cook product with its focus on health and fitness.
The Apple Watch has come a long way in the years since its introduction, but looking back at the original announcement and the first set of models, it is surprising how muddied things were. Apple didn’t quite seem to know what the Apple Watch was for yet, so it threw a lot of stuff at the wall. Kevin Lynch demoed about a ton of apps that never really materialized, and the emphasis on personal communication was way off the mark.
However, as the hardware and software have matured, so has the idea of the Apple Watch: it’s a wearable for people who want to track their fitness and get notifications wherever they go. It’s come into its own quite nicely I think, but it’s easy to look back at its launch and wonder if things were a little too broad because Tim Cook, Jeff Williams, Kevin Lynch, Jony Ive and the other people who led the charge to create the Watch lacked the editor Steve Jobs often proved to be.1
Cook is never going to have the product sense that Jobs had, but I’m that’s a fair measuring stick for anyone. However, as Cook and his lieutenants have gained more experience, products like the Apple Watch have gotten better and better.
The second inflection point for Apple under Cook has everything to do with this chart:
When Apple relented and finally made a set of bigger iPhones in 2014 — ironically introduced just minutes before the Apple Watch — the market rewarded the company with record sales that made their subsequent earnings look weak for years.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were far from perfect phones. The industrial design was lackluster in some people’s eyes, and the 6 Plus, in particular, was starved for RAM and could bend if left in the wrong pocket. Out in the world, none of that mattered. There was so much pent-up demand for larger iPhones that Apple could barely keep up with demand. Some reports claimed that the iPhone 6 line accounted for some 20% of iPhones in use worldwide after being on sale for just three months.
It propelled the iPhone — and Apple — to new financial heights. Much of this growth was thanks to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus being incredibly popular in China.
The company’s cash reserves, stock price and power in the marketplace have only grown since. In many ways, Cook’s legacy at Apple has more to do with the company’s stability than its products.
Apple as a Global Power
That brings us to the third way Apple has changed under Cook’s leadership. Cook has used Apple’s vast power and wealth to back causes he believes in, from the environment to social justice, education and beyond. He’s been to multiple White House meetings and even gave the former President a tour of the Mac Pro factory in Texas.
I think Cook would disagree with any assessment that ends by stating that he has political power, but it’s true of him and many other tech CEOs. These companies wield more power than most countries and enjoy a seat at the table not only in the United States but in China and other countries as well.
It’s hard to imagine Steve Jobs willingly taking these roles on, regardless of which party is in power.
- Not to mention the whole question of “What was Apple thinking releasing a gold Apple Watch that started at $10,000?” ↩