When Tim Cook stepped on stage to unveil the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12, the manner of the unveiling illustrated how Apple has changed, and hasn't, in the year since Steve Jobs died.
Cook, as has become his pattern, left the actual product introduction to Phil Schiller, Apple's longtime senior vice president of worldwide marketing, and to a nifty bit of stagecraft, as noted by DaringFireball blogger John Gruber.
"When Schiller unveiled the iPhone 5, it rose from the stage floor on a smoothly-rising and rotating pedestal, pinpoint spotlights hitting the phone and only the phone," Gruber says. "The rotation of the iPhone atop the pedestal was in perfect sync with the rotation of the iPhone projected on the big screen at the back of the stage. There's no store where you buy such pedestals; Apple designed and engineered it specifically for this event. It was on stage for about a minute."
IN PICTURES: iPhone 5
The entire event, which as Gruber notes was actually two events unveiling first the iPhone 5 and then new iPods, unfolded just as smoothly. Cook briefly gives and overview of Apple in "numbers and milestones," Gruber writes, and then turns over the unveiling to Schiller, who calls on high-level specialists to talk and demo specifics. Cook closes with "heartfelt coda regarding the company's ideals and goals."
Cook may lack Jobs' onstage charisma and showmanship, but his approach, symbolized by that rising pedestal, in effect says "here's what important: this Apple product, not me." During the two-hour event, Cook spoke for just over 10 minutes.
Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed more than two dozen current and former Apple executives, employees, and partners to get a sense of how Cook is reshaping Apple. The changes, they say, are subtle but definite.
"His leadership style is quite different, both internally and externally. He's much more open," says Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in New York, quoted in the Businessweek story. "I think he believes he doesn't have all the answers, so he's willing to listen to other people. I'm not so sure that was the case with Steve."
"[T]he company is happier and even somewhat more transparent than it was during Jobs's tenure, these insiders say," according to the Businessweek story.
"Cook has been more clearly present and open in conducting Apple's business than has Jobs," says Benjamin Levy, a principal with Solutions Consulting, a Los Angeles IT services firm that specializes in deploying Apple products in the enterprise. He's a longtime Apple user. "He traveled to China openly, made a statement about the iOS 6 Maps issue, and [done] several other things that show a willingness to be engaged on issues that could be considered [in the past] to be private to Apple," he says.
The China trip was a visit to Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturing partner. Cook argued for better pay and safer working conditions. Apple also changed its mind over withdrawing its products from an environmental certification program. Cook traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to meet congressman and senators, "a way of letting politicians know Apple was ready to grow its relationship with Capitol Hill and that the company might take a stronger interest in policy issues in the future," writes CNN’s Heather Kelly, in "How Apple has changed under Tim Cook."
Kelly notes that Apple hosted investors at its California headquarters, where they met with the company's CFO. And Apple announced its first shareholder dividend in 17 years.
There have been missteps, or "blunders" or what are seen as blunders, such as this list by Mashable.com's Seth Fiegerman. "In the post-Steve Jobs era, Apple's top executives appear to be making more mistakes and to be more willing to admit them," Fiegerman writes. His list of Apple's "biggest blunders" during this period include withdrawing from the environmental certification program, cutting back on the number of retail employees, and replacing Google Maps with its own location platform, Maps. Apple executives issued apologies in all three cases.
But Cook's letter to customers (see transcript) was more nuanced than a general apology for Apple Maps. "At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers," he wrote in a brief letter posted on the company's website. "With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment." He promised the Apple was "doing everything we can to make Maps better."
Fiegerman lists also what he calls blunders that Apple hasn't apologized for, or even acknowledged: the new Siri and Genius TV ad campaigns; a stand-alone podcast app released in July; and the beta release of Siri a year ago. All three were greeted by some with criticism.
Investors like what they've seen over the last 12 months. Apple's stock price has risen about 76%, from $372 per share on Oct. 4, 2011, to $671.45 on Oct. 3, 2012. It briefly topped $700 in early September. Its market capitalization on Oct. 3 was $625.77 billion, an increase of about $265 billion in value from 13 months ago that makes Apple the world’s most valuable public company.
The brand consultancy Interbrand just named Apple as the No. 2 global brand for 2012, trailing only Coca-Cola, and beating out IBM, Google and Microsoft. Its rise over the past year was dramatic: In the 2011 ranking, Apple was No. 8 in "brand value," an Interbrand metric that measures several values, such as the financial performance of branded products or services and the brand's "overall strength."
iPhone 4S last year and the new iPad this year have proven to be highly successful products, in unit sales, revenues, gross margins and profits. The iPhone 5 is expected to continue that success.
But many point out these products, and Apple's current success, is simply the momentum created when Jobs was at the helm. A Los Angeles Times story quoted Pete Solvik, managing director of venture capital firm Sigma and a former Apple employee, saying, "The $64,000 question is: Does Tim have the ability to lead the organization to another major breakthrough in a new product category? I have little doubt he is going to have continued success with revisions of the current products. Everybody hopes that he has the ability to sustain the business with a new hit too."
But both the senior management team that Jobs assembled, and the very ethos of Apple itself, where Cook has worked for nearly 25 years, are still intact. Some commenters have said that Cook is simply "delivering" products midwifed by Jobs' creativity. But Jobs hired Cook for precisely that reason: to create a powerfully efficient and adaptive supply chain that Apple is now leveraging on an unprecedented scale for its mobile product line.
"Tim is all about execution," says Chuck Goldman, CEO of Boston-based Apperian, and a former Apple employee. "What he lacks in product development has been picked up by the [larger] team. He is much more customer-centric then Jobs and he listens to them more."
Apple "is a large, well-oiled machine that knows how to design and sell beautiful products that consumers want," writes CNN's Kelly.
And it's that knowledge, embedded in Apple under Steve Jobs, that some say is the essence of Apple. The company itself shows the same qualities as its products, John Gruber argued over a year ago, in a blog post after Jobs announced his resignation as CEO.
"The same thought, care, and painstaking attention to detail that Steve Jobs brought to questions like 'How should a computer work?', 'How should a phone work?', 'How should we buy music and apps in the digital age?' he also brought to the most important question: "How should a company that creates such things function?" Gruber wrote. "Jobs's greatest creation isn't any Apple product. It is Apple itself."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. http://firstname.lastname@example.org