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And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone’

Fred Vogelstein, The New York Times:

It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, he wanted the world to want one right then. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge; others had scuff marks on the screen. And the software that ran the phone was full of bugs.

A fantastic, behind the scenes recount of what took place in the years, months, and days leading up to the original iPhone unveiling on January 9, 2007. This is like the missing chapter from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography – all the cool stuff us nerds wanted to know about how the first iPhone was developed and launched. A definite must read.

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“The Ballmer Effect”

When the heart dies and the brain takes over, will the creativity and innovation that made the body strong remain, or will the brain become content just being alive?

This is the question that came to mind after reading a tweet from Michael Margolis, a former Apple software engineer, claiming that the Apple TV 2.0 UI — developed five years ago —  was tossed when Steve Jobs didn’t like them.

My issue is not with Apple using a UI that was previously tossed per say, but the confidence I have in Apple being able to create a non-Steve Jobs-initiated product that is truly innovative, that confidence is starting to wane. Sure, you could say that the Apple TV needed a UI overhaul, and this change helps in the short-term, but the bigger question is did Apple do this because they perceived it was a better design than the original, or because they knew any change would raise sales numbers and profits? These actions reflect upon the leader of the company, Tim Cook.

One of the many reasons Steve Jobs admired Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was the very similar thought process they both shared when it came to running a company. They both knew that making money was the means to build better products, not the other way around. Market capital and revenues weren’t as important to them as the average CEO, which is one of the reasons why they created such iconic companies and products. A decision based on profits may not be the best decision for your product. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have had complete control over those decisions. But when a successor comes — someone who is not a creative genius, but a business genius, how will the company change?

A developer I spoke to described the change as “the Ballmer effect,”  When a creative CEO is replaced with a business-minded leader, priorities change from making the best product, to making the biggest profit.  Innovation should be the biggest priority for a tech company, which will in-turn bring in the biggest profits, with the best example being Apple, under Steve Jobs.

Surprisingly, the person closest to Apple’s moves over the last twelve years apparently has not learned enough from his predecessor. Tim Cook is undoubtedly one of the best business minds around today, but it seems like he would be better suited running IBM than the most innovative company of the last 50 years.

In a surprising twist, Ballmer has learned from Apple, appointing Steven Sinofsky, a truly gifted innovator, as the head of Windows Division, which has paid off greatly for Microsoft.

The next two to three years of major releases from Apple are already in the books, most likely placed there by Jobs himself. But when Jobs’ final creations are unveiled, will Apple be able to continue their innovative streak? Will they still be the pinnacle to which companies will still try to reach nearly two years after they release a product (See: Retina Display)?

As Ballmer learned from his mistakes, so can Cook. But those thought to be their successors — Scott Forstall, head of iOS, who many compare to Jobs, and Steven Sinofsky are there, waiting in the wings, ready to make innovation the top priority once again.

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Death of a Showman

As we anxiously prepare for the launch of Apple’s next generation iPad, I can’t help but reminisce about previous launches I’ve experienced, and specifically the anticipation leading up to those keynote presentations.  My nostalgia for these presentations is due in large part to a key element which will be absent from the stage Wednesday.  That key element is Apple’s legendary showman, Steve Jobs, who was known for his remarkable stage presence as well as his familiar attire.  The appearance of Apple’s former CEO and frontman on stage in his signature black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers became a staple at these highly publicized events.  The charisma and command of the audience Steve Jobs elicited while on stage can only be compared to perhaps a Kennedy or a King. Without his showmanship, these events can seem less exciting or stellar.

As consistent as the recent increase in Apple’s stock price has been, so too has the success in generating demand for new products due to these performances.  As the new torchbearer takes the stage on Wednesday, I seriously doubt Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook – a soft spoken southerner who spent most his career outside the spotlight – will be capable of delivering the same captivating and impacting performance that has become the norm for these product presentations.  Tim Cook is no showman and that has been evident each time I have had the opportunity to watch him speak.  He is effective at delivering a clear and concise message, but in no way connects with the audience in a way that leaves them hanging on his every word the way Steve could.  This was never clearer to me than after watching the iPhone 4S announcement with Tim on stage in Steve’s place.

The purpose of these events being planned, choreographed, and conducted has not changed over the history of Apple product launches.  It continues to be staged to serve two primary purposes — to build excitement and create demand for the product before it is available to consumers.  The artfulness of Jobs past deliveries can clearly be correlated to creating demand for the product being showcased.  The excitement produced from these events was due in large part to the delivery and audience engagement which were true gifts that Steve possessed.  The efficacy of generating hype for the iPad 3 now falls in the hands of Apple’s new leadership, and I will be watching very closely to see if any changes in style have been addressed since Tim brought us the iPhone 4S.

There is no possible way to ever duplicate what Steve accomplished during these events.  Some stylistic changes will be necessary for Apple’s new leader if he hopes to effectively serve those two primary purposes for hosting these events.  Building a buzz that translates into lines of customers waiting days, paying hundreds of dollars to get their hands on Apple’s next hero product requires something magical to take place.  In my opinion that magic starts on the stage where these events are hosted, and requires flawless execution by the event hosts.

I’ll be there with a critical eye, watching Tim’s performance.  What I hope to see is a significant leap in Tim’s ability as a showman.  The future success of Tim’s presentations may need to rely on a combination of two skills — communication and connection.  Achieving this level of connection with the audience will be central for Apple’s new leadership to generate the desired effect from these events, after the death of their iconic showman.

This time, we will see an iteration of an already successful product, but what will it take when Apple’s leadership is faced with delivering something totally new?  By the time we see the next new Apple product none of us realized we could live without, Tim better emerge as a true showman to present it to us for the first time.

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The Visionary: A man that changed the world

Thomas Edison. J.P. Morgan. Steve Jobs. These are people that changed the world dramatically for the better. Steve Jobs is undoubtedly in this group. Steve changed the way we think and communicate, much like Thomas Edison. As J.P Morgan saved the American dream twice, Steve has kept the perception of American innovation alive in the minds of millions. Steve created the biggest company in the world from a garage. Steve redefined and revitalized a crumbling music industry. Steve created an entire industry, that did not exist before 2009. In China, when asked about America, the first thing that children will mention is the iPhone. Not sports figures, not actors or actresses, the iPhone.

Steve changed the way we think. When you have a question that you need answered, you go to your phone. When you want to hear a song, you look it up on iTunes. And above all this, when you need to do anything, or use anything that revolves around a computer, Steve had a hand in it. The inventor of the personal computer, Steve Jobs permanently changed the entire world. The simplistic approach to all his endeavors, from bringing computers to consumers, to shrinking that computer to fit in your pocket, and allowing you to talk to the world. Steve is crucial to your life, whether you know it or not.

This is not a time to ponder the future of Apple. This is a time to reflect on a man who’s ease and elegance creating devices that we didn’t know we wanted or needed, is gone. Visionaries aren’t fully appreciated until they are gone. We will see and feel the affects that Steve had for years to come.  The brilliance of a man is realizing his gift, and using it for the better. Steve Jobs accomplished that to the fullest.

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Jordan retired. For the second time

This is Jordan retiring. For the second time. To all of the journalists and analysts who say this will not have a profound effect on Apple, how wrong you are. Steve Jobs has had more effect on modern society as a CEO than anybody since J.P. Morgan (he bailed out the U.S. Treasury, twice). To lead Apple, whose main products did not even exist forty years ago, to become the world’s biggest company, is astonishing. Ideas are a dime a dozen. To find a person, who can take an idea, execute it, create an new industry, while revolutionizing another, and do it while being ill for a portion of the time, is truly, truly amazing.

Apple will survive; Apple won’t fall off; all of that is true. Jobs will stay on as Chairman. But what made Apple — much like Microsoft before Bill Gates retired — was their leader. Microsoft has had success since Gates left. But, without Gates, there have been many mistakes. Microsoft, once the leader in the tech world, has now fallen behind the likes of Apple, Google, and even Amazon in innovation.

Apple, a meticulous planner, should have the next few cycles of iOS devices mapped out already. Tim Cook will do a good job, as he has been running the company, sans major decisions for the last few months. Jobs’ hand will still be on the company for the next few years, but much like Microsoft and Gates, there will be times when the new CEO doesn’t want to hear what the old CEO has to say.

For now, consumers should have no worries. The next iterations of iPhones and iPads are already past the design phase and are getting ready to be built. But for Apple executives, Jobs will be missed. His presence alone could seal deals with component makers for years to come, and make city officials not think twice about approving Apple’s requests (see Apple’s new spaceship headquarters).

His next official appearance at an Apple event will most likely come at the expected release of the new iPhone in late-September, early-October. It may be his last. Steve Jobs, the CEO, will be remembered as a brilliant leader who led an organization – that once fired him – back from the brink of bankruptcy, to become the largest company in the world. Steve Jobs, the innovator, will be remembered as a visionary, who executed and anticipated the demand for products that only he knew we needed.