The Beginning of the End for Jobs

64 Comments

Steve JobsI finally got around to watching the stream of Wednesday’s iPad announcement at about 11:30 local time last night. Of course, I couldn’t wait until the bitter end to go to bed, and falling asleep was a bit challenging even at that late hour. After a short but good night’s rest, I awoke with a thought that had absolutely nothing to do with the iPad, and everything to do with the iPad all at the same time.

I have a strange sense that we were watching what is perhaps the penultimate performance by the master of the keynote. Please understand, this is entirely an intuitive sense that something wasn’t quite business as usual. I have no knowledge of any such information, nor am I making a prediction. I’m just offering my take on what I saw. And I saw several telltale signs that Steve Jobs may be on his way to relinquishing his CEO role at Apple. Here are my thoughts.

  1. Jobs went out of his way to point out that Apple is a $50 billion company.
  2. There were a couple of historical references, including the great black-and-white photo of Jobs and Woz and the first PowerBook.
  3. Though they weren’t necessarily presented in this manner, that sounds a lot like personal legacy to me. Reading between the lines, the unspoken message is “I’ve turned this garage band into one of the most powerful companies in the world today.”
  4. With one quick comment and supporting slide, Jobs made a major strategic shift and repositioned Apple as a mobile products company, which has a much more exciting future than computers.
  5. He also made a clear effort to convince the media in attendance that they could sell this device. The subtle message is that if they can get traction on the iPad while growing or maintaining the other three product lines, they can succeed well into the future without him.
  6. Schiller and Forstall played pretty significant roles in the iPad announcement and Jobs is nowhere to be found in the announcement video. Neither of these unprecedented, but noteworthy nonetheless.

My gut tells me that the earnings and iPad announcements this week was the first real indication that the public reveal of Apple succession is underway. I expect Jobs to become non-executive chairman, maintaining a public profile and involvement as inspirational leader and assurance for investors. Cook will take over as CEO and Oppenheimer remaining CFO. Cook will remain the behind-the-scenes operational genius, with Schiller, Forstall, and to a lesser extent Madsen being the public personae for products. Schiller is the Mac guy (yesterday, his role was relegated to iWork, which is a port of a desktop suite of apps). Forstall is the iP guy (iPhone, iPod, iPad). If the future of the company is truly as a mobile products company, that suggests Forstall will have an increasingly visible role with the company, with Schiller taking a back seat. Indeed, Forstall seems more at ease leading a major presentation, save for his inability to hide the remote while clicking to change slides or averting his eyes to the confidence monitor. The wild card is designer Jonathan Ive, but my guess he is very passionate about the design side of the company and doesn’t want the hassles of the business.

Apple doesn’t need a breakthrough device for some time. If it continues to execute well on its current product lineup–something Cook excels at–they should be in great shape. Right now or soon after the iPad ships might very well be the perfect time for Jobs to announce his successor.

64 Comments

donal

Wow. That was my take from the presentation as well. I saw something in body language which made me ponder if this was the delivery of the final product under Steve Jobs stewardship. His body language reflected ‘this is the last hurrah…I will miss this’.

Nan

It means next to last, are you saying he has one more “song” to sing?

Tom Foremski

It would make sense for Steve Jobs to step back from some of his daily duties, and he quite clearly already has done that because of his illness. But I don’t think he is done being successful. I think that he has just begun on what will be seen as the most important chapter in this life, the most successful chapter. Here is more…http://bit.ly/aIptYx

adamjackson

This would be a sad day for the technology world.

My hope is that Steve walk away from Apple in 24 months and stay on as a visionary who’s hand touches every apple product for the next 10 years even if he stops by to say, “that sucks” and goes home.

Then, he finally takes the side of Bill Gates and begins driving innovative ways to make our world a better place by using the pull of Apple w/ Disney in a way that leaves his legacy as a visionary and global face for poverty and hunger.

I think Steve can really make a huge impact in his final 20 years just has Bill has been doing for the past decade. The two guys together can really make our world a better place and I think even Steve gets tired of gluing aluminum to plastic and putting a microchip inside of it.

Scott H

Your phrase “gluing aluminum to plastic and putting a microchip inside of it” instantly reminded me of his question to John Sculley, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water to children, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Apple may have just been gluing together aluminum, plastic, and microchips the past dozen years, but I do think it’s also been changing the world.

adamjackson

Hey Scott. Totally! I’m not downplaying the impact Apple had on the world. Pepsi has also done things culturally to our world that altered things.

I was thinking of that quote when I wrote it actually comparing Apple to what Sculley was doing at Pepsi.

to be fair, I’m just “pecking away on a keyboard” because everything can be simplified.

yeah apple rocks, but Steve could really improve his legacy more by stepping away now. Apple is in good hands.

R4 Card

I wholly agree with you. And to be honest, the thing that struck me the most about the presentation, was the he didn’t seem as on top of things…. or rather, I got a sense that he was tired on stage. Talking about the product, showing it off, but almost like he was searching for the right words, or words in general in some cases… I hope that makes some sense.

Snafu

In a way, there is this sense of Jobs having finally achieved what seemed to be his ultimate goal in personal computing: to produce the computer appliance that perfectly hides the fact that it is a computer. The iPad is pure function, in the sense of the user not having to worry about OSes or apps’ compatibility or maintenance or malware or anything computerish. As closed as the original Lisa was. And it is a Tablet, the format that kept failing and failing, done well. We can nitpick it to death, but the fact is that this is it: the post-PC platform. We’ll see Google, Palm and others produce their own versions, but once again Apple is first to nail it.

(I’m not trying to be rah-rah about it, but this is how I think the view from his mountain looks like)

Somehow, there must be in him a certain feeling of acomplishment, a weight having been lifted from his shoulders and, having in account his health, some sense of last legacy. After all, I don’t think he can create any new category of product in the time he has left.

Joe

In another report you say to not listen to rumors, real world patents or trademarks but you want us to swallow your “gut” on this one. Ha! You are a very confused blog. In other words, listen to your rehashed news and silly opinions. Thanks for the humor.

Richard

I’m totally with you on this. Creating one, last, “insanely great” product – and a truly Walkman-like, “nobody even knew they needed it” product, at that – has probably kept him going at his accustomed pace. Now that the public intro is done, he may well take time with his family, while he still has time to enjoy them. Leave Apple? Never (they’ll carry the man out in a plain, white box with a tasteful “Designed by Apple in California” notation on it). Step back and let Tim Cook running the company for real? I say, watch for WWDC and the manufacturing release of the iPad. It will be his last public appearance as “iCEO.”

Dave Greenbaum

I agree as well. I think that’s one of the reasons for the buzz beforehand. He wants to go out with a bang.

maxzino

Well it’ll be sad to see him go, i’m an apple fan who doesn’t own even one apple product (i know what you’re thinking). What more can apple come up with? Probably nothing out of this world for the time being, just cool improvements and variations of their existing products.

Helder Luis

I felt that too, not that specific… but yeah… there was something awkward with the keynote from Jobs side… if you think of it, where was all the entusiasm that we seen on the iPhone keynote?
Maybe something was missing from the keynote… i also feel that there is something more in terms of software regarding the iPad…

And can someone tell me what the hell is that button on the right of the unlock slider?

Kevin

The button will turn the iPad into a digital photo frame of sorts, showing your photos with some transitions so that while it is charging, it can display your photos. A very nice little touch.

Kevin

Helder Luis

Too bad… i thought it could be for multi user log in : )

Imagine sharing an iPad with the family…
It surely would work around here : )

Nan

How funny that you should write this today. I had the same feeling last night as I watched the keynote. He looked so frail anyway and I also had the gut feeling that this one might be his last hurrah. So are they going to call themselves “Apple Mobile” now? That’s what I was wondering while watching it.

geoff

It could be that because of his health and really forced to look at his own mortality, that he’s treating each keynote as his last. It’s sad to think of him leaving as he’s really a textbook presenter and director but maybe it’s time for him to move onto other things.

Nick Santilli

He’s probably just tired of only making a 1 dollar salary every year. ;)

Kidding aside, good observations. It’s bound to happen sooner or later of course. But now with the latest super-hyped/over-rumored device finally in the wild, what else could he possibly have up his sleeves to hang around for? (A geek can dream, right?)

Tony

No. He has one more product to take on.

AppleTV.

He has got to finish that off, it was his hobby that is a sleeping giant to control the house. You control the TV you control the house. That would be the final product that puts Apple over the top. NO one will be able to compete in as many product categories so successfully as Apple if they get ATV going.

Bill

Absolutely, I love my tvs, all four of ’em. I’ve thought this product is a potential masterpiece. I don’t think Steve Jobs can quit, it wouldn’t be good for him personally, and hobbies are fun anyhow!!!

Andrew Power

@jlk – It’s a nice sentiment, but divorced from business reality.

If Jobs’ health fails it affects stock price, and hiding this (which has kind of happened before) is illegal under US securities law.

While Jobs has been an inspirational and successful leader for Apple, the absence of an heir to the throne is in fact a weakness. As history has shown us, if there’s no heir, serious consequences follow.

jlk

I don’t see this at all. I thought he looked really healthy. And as long as he is healthy he will do what he loves, which is run Apple. There is nothing else he would want to do. He will stop running Apple when he is dead, end of story. If that is in 1 year or 30, the same truth holds.

Ted T.

Running Apple is what Jobs *wants* to do. There is no other life that he can’t wait to live. He will only leave Apple if he can no longer run it. Period. Considering he looks healthy, expect him to continue at Apple for many more years.

Andrew Power

@Thorsten

Obviously the iPad’s not for you, then. But HTML5’s going to kill Flash in 2010.

Just like Apple were the first to ditch floppy discs and, to an extent, optical drives – they seek to lead on online tech.

j c

It’s going to happen someday. People put way too much faith in Jobs as the embodiment of Apple; that works great for overall guidance and product announcements, but it’s too risky otherwise. As long as Apple can hold onto their philosophy and keep attracting talented workers, I’ll be happy.

Meghann Cheetham

It’s so sad to think that Steve could be leaving his post as CEO; what a decade it has been for him. At least he would be leaving on a high.

gdwizard

I just wonder who will be his replacement. It is just very hard to imaging an Apple without Jobs.

Andrew Power

I think we all know Jobs will be going soon – especially if his ill health kills Apple stock – and a successor is being groomed, but who?

Only Jony Ive has the charisma, but that’d mean a shift in his role.

Stanley Goodsoil

I can’t believe you just wrote this. I had the same thoughts while watching the Stevenote. I didn’t notice really any of the things you mentioned but, something just seemed like Steve was saying, I am getting ready to say goodbye. It’s interesting that someone else picked up on it. Now that you make your case, it seems like it is almost inevitable.

It also goes along with the reported “this is the most important thing I ‘ve ever worked on” comments from Steve. It seems like he’s brought what he considers the big achievement to market and he’s ready to step away from the helm, at sometime soon.

Nan

Funny. I just commented on that down below. I totally agree with what you’re saying.

Apple Fan

Same here. I had the very same thoughts when I watched. I got the feeling rather than an iPad(its an excuse). Its a milestone of what he has done so far. And it was more of a goodbye note than anything else.

Dave Ottalini

I’m not sure Steve can do much more to make this company a success. It may well be time for him to take a step back and really enjoy his life and family. It would be nice to see Apple share some its wealth through an educational foundation (say) that Jobs could work with (yes – like the Gates Foundation) but in any case, he deserves to “retire.” On the other hand, he is a workaholic so it will be interesting to see what he does over the next year or so.

Fred

What happened to all the chatter about the I-phone ending exclusive deal with AT&T? I think Apple will live to regret its decisions. Yes, Apple products are hot right now but nothing consumers will move on and to other products as they come available. I will never leave my carrier for the I-phone and I know their are others out there that feel the same. Get the clue Apple your days of popularity are numbered. Job bashed Adobe for being lazy, he needs to look at his own approach of expansion as lazy. After all this time Sprint and Verizon should have the I-phone. Get a clue Jobs.

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