Cringely: Why Steve Jobs really showed iPod chief Tony Fadell the door

“Apple exists solely as an extension of Steve Jobs. Remember that. Anything attributable to Apple is really attributable to Jobs. Other people work at Apple, of course, and excel at their positions, but that is primarily because they were chosen, anointed, or inspired by Jobs,” Robert X. Cringely writes for PBS.

“Here’s what’s going on with Tony Fadell. First, he was vulnerable as a charismatic leader in his own right who has been talked about in the press as a possible heir to Jobs. That alone meant he had to die, but it wasn’t enough to mean that he had to die just now. That decision required an external variable in the form of former IBM executive Mark Papermaster,” Cringely writes. “Steve Jobs wants to give Tony Fadell’s job to Papermaster. It’s not that Papermaster would be any better at the job than Fadell, but there are two over-riding factors here: 1) Jobs can only have so many direct reports, and; 2) he thinks putting Papermaster in Fadell’s job is the best way to get past any legal objections from Papermaster’s former employer, IBM.”

“Papermaster most recently ran IBM’s blade server division and in the mind of Steve Jobs blade servers and iPods couldn’t be farther apart. One is an enterprise sale while the other is consumer. One is a clear IT sale and the other has nothing to do with IT, really, since iPods and iPhones aren’t aren’t computers or computer peripherals. Jobs thinks Apple can make this point stick with a judge and he might well be correct,” Cringely writes.

“Papermaster has to be gone from IBM for a year before he can take a job that clearly competes with his last position at IBM. But Jobs doesn’t want Papermaster for blade servers, nor does he even want him for iPods. Jobs wants Papermaster for the expertise he showed two jobs ago at IBM running Big Blue’s PowerPC operation. Jobs wants Papermaster to lead Apple’s PA Semi acquisition and create a new family of scalable processors optimized for Snow Leopard and beyond,” Cringely writes.

“Of course IBM with its largest corporate legal department on earth has filed suit against Apple, trying to block Papermaster from taking the Apple position. Apple’s legal department is fairly accomplished, too, and Cupertino is a much stronger company than Armonk, which will lead to the ultimate solution to this legal problem. Apple still hopes to convince a judge that it is correct about Papermaster. But if Apple fails in that, Steve Jobs will just pick up the phone and choose IBM Microelectronics as the fab to build the next generation of Apple’s PowerPC processors – a contract worth billions, but ONLY if IBM drops all legal action,” Cringely writes. “Apple will win in the end — I guarantee it. And the way Jobs negotiates, Big Blue will probably end up losing money on the chip deal, too.”

There’s much, much more in the full article – a fun read – here.

Cringely is often quite entertaining, especially if you remember that a certain portion of it falls under the heading of “fiction,” not fact.

29 Comments

  1. When I read people like Cringely (or, far less willingly, Dvorak) — tech writers who are essentially literary journalists — sometimes I get the idea that their stories are intended to read more like soap operas than anything else. There’s intrigue, grudges, scheming, double-crossing, egotism, etc. etc. I admit it casts a pretty interesting human element to otherwise ordinary tech developments. I wonder what kind of track record Cringley has in these sorts of prognostications.

  2. … in the mind of Steve Jobs blade servers and iPods couldn’t be farther apart.

    I’m telling you guys. When Steve Jobs unveils his line of iPod Touch and iPod Shuffle Blade Servers you will all be kicking yourselves!

  3. ARM and PowerPC are both RISC-based, but that is where the similarity ends. ARM CPU’s are low-power embedded CPU’s found in things like bank ATM’s, mobile devices (such as the iPhone, iPod touch, etc.), and so on. However, P.A. Semi built StrongARM, not ARM, which believe it or not is actually different.

    That’s all moot, though, since despite Cringley’s ramblings, none of this has anything to do with desktop CPU’s, switching to PowerPC, or indeed anything other than Apple’s intention to build custom CPU’s for the iPhone and iPod touch (and possibly other iPod models). Apple is a control freak, and this gives them control about exactly what processor goes into their product. They will be able to tailor it in a way that other companies, merely purchasing a mass-produced general-application embedded processor, will not be able to match. This will likely give them a performance/power usage improvement that will help offset some of the battery life problems incurred by the move to 3G, and allow more advanced games and other graphical programs.

    – Jacob

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