Apple Without Jobs
I finished the Steve Jobs biography a few days ago. One can't help but think about what he meant to Apple and to the industry. And, one can't help but think about what Apple without him will be like.
As some folks have said quite correctly, a company as big as Apple could not be completely dominated by Jobs. Taken as given, that is not the point and may not matter for the future of Apple.
Whatever the next great thing was that Apple was devising, Jobs was on it continually. At least, that was one thing I learned from the biography. He demanded it be simple, simpler, simpler than it could be imagined. He dominated the engineers by forcing them to do what they had never imagined doing before. Most importantly, Jobs didn't care if he hurt feelings doing that dominating behavior. His desire for perfection was huge and his caring for the world to be better through tremendous products (be it Apple, Next or Pixar) was huge. But, his caring for people was ambiguous. He was extremely harsh, terribly so. But, that is needed to get the best out of people who are talented and know that the feedback is a way to encourage them to do better and not a strike against their soul, no matter how it felt
Who is currently at Apple who will say, "this sucks, it is not good enough" to someone who has poured their heart into a design for weeks to get it to awesome, better than has ever been seen before?
That was one of the things about Jobs, he was nearly psychopathic in his disregard for the feelings of others. It is rare in the extreme to find someone who is that pathological in their human interactions yet has the desire to create excellence and lead large groups of people.
I'll bet there is nobody at Apple now who can be so cruel so that the incredible greatness we've seen can emerge. Therefore, Apple will slowly slide into normality.
Slowly, I think we will start to see the first worrying signs in 2013, but they may not be obvious. 2014 and we will begin to see Apple looking not nearly so special. 2015 will be the end of Apple.
Also based on the biography, Apple appeared to work years out in front of releases, about 3 (though it could definitely work more quickly when needed). So, I think we will see great stuff from Apple for about another year. There are rumors that they've got TV figured out. I think those rumors are true, that we will see something awesome on the TV front, probably based on the next generation of Siri (releasing it on the phone means it get refined and kinks worked out before it goes into the living room). I have a feeling the only problem that might be tough for Apple to work out on TV is negotiating content. Jobs was a relentless, shrewd and forceful negotiator who managed to always get what he wanted. The only way Apple gets good content deals on TV is based on their huge success with music. So, we'll see if corporate track record is enough.
Jobs was also interested in dealing a blow to the textbook industry. He had a child that had started college and had seen a lot of crazy stuff in raising his kids. If he'd seen a few more years of his kid in school he would have probably become as passionate about it as he was about cell phones (they all sucked). If they had a well developed plan in place before his death (a decent likelihood) then it probably will be a great solution when it comes out sometime in the next year or so.
Subsequent releases of iLife, iWork, iOS devices, and computers for the next year will probably also go very well with convergence in OS experience between the computers in iOS.
After that, who knows?
They will probably try to release a next great thing but watch for the problems because they will look like this: a) creeping complexity, particularly in a new device, b) lack of refined design, c) lack of focus of the company.
Creeping complexity will manifest in software on computers and possibly on iOS. The devices will not have new buttons, that is a done and dusted design decision. Look at the Apple TV should it come out. If the physical control for it is hardware rather than software on a iPod/iPhone/computer, just another damned remote, game over, Apple fell off the truck quicker than I expect. If it is well done, it should have something left off that feels like every TV should have, but it doesn't because really, it is not needed anymore (kinda like iMac didn't have floppy drive and iPod/iPhone doesn't have removable batteries). It should feel like a one trick pony, but it does that trick so exceptionally that it nearly sings it.
If the company starts producing multiple models that don't fit that old neat grid of Pro/Consumer Portable/Desktop, etc... watch out, game over. They've returned to the engineer/accountant driven company of the Skully et al years.
On the other hand, maybe there is a messiah. It is possible that one of Jobs children has enough of his DNA that he or she could do what would need to be done. In the book his youngest child was said to be very hard headed, 'payback' to Jobs.
I think it is fine to have hopes for Apple to survive the death of Jobs. However, after reading the biography, I'm not confident that it will be the company we know and love for much more than the next couple of years.