Mossberg: Tim Cook’s Apple had a great decade, but no new blockbusters

Walt Mossberg for The Verge:

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook
In the past decade, Apple has grown huge. Its fiscal 2019 revenues were six times the size of revenues in fiscal 2009. Its new headquarters building is larger than the Pentagon. Each of its five business segments would be a Fortune 500 company on its own.

But what about its products? Its culture?

Cook, Apple’s savvy head of global operations, knew the company inside out. But he isn’t a product guy, and he lacked Jobs’ close relationship with Apple’s design wizard, Jony Ive. So he turned over most hardware and software decisions to Ive.

The pressure was on for Cook’s Apple to bring out the next beautiful, premium, innovative product to maintain Apple’s streak, its margins, and its growing ecosystem of devoted users.

Cook’s first big all-new product was the Apple Watch, which was released in 2015. But it took until the third generation of the Watch in 2017 for Apple to find the right hardware, software, and functionality. It was essentially a reboot.

MacDailyNews Take: To be fair, after the iPod, Jobs’ first big all-new product was the iPhone, which was released in 2007. But it took until the third generation of the iPhone in 2017 for Apple to find the right hardware, software, and functionality. It was essentially a reboot.

Mossberg continues:

The other major hardware success under the Cook regime has been AirPods, the wireless earbuds released in 2016 that seem to be everywhere, looking like white plastic earrings.

Apple hasn’t said how many Watches and AirPods it’s sold, but they’re widely believed to be the dominant players in each of their categories and, in the grand Apple tradition, the envy of competitors that scramble to ape them…

Still, neither of these hardware successes has matched the impact or scale of Jobs’ greatest hits.

MacDailyNews Take: Cook can’t win. The iPhone is arguably the best-selling, most successful product ever. Against this, Cook is judged by some; unfairly.

As always and regardless of who Apple’s CEO is, following Steve Jobs’ act is an impossible, generally thankless task (outside of the becoming fabulously rich aspect, of course).SteveJack, MacDailyNews, November 6, 2017

Listen, Cook has his shortcomings. He’s duller than a matte white floor dusted in flour. He tends toward sanctimoniousness, until China directs him to walk into a klieg light’s worth of abject hypocrisy every other month.

He handed Jony the keys and, regardless of missteps and obvious, growing disinterest, failed to take them back until half a decade+ had passed between Mac Pro updates, through years of inferior keyboards in order to save half a millimeter about which no one not named Jony gave a rat’s ass, etc. But, to use the absolute pinnacle of products to bludgeon Cook is disingenuous. It’s like blaming James Harden for not being really that great at basketball because, you know, Michael Jordan.

Not to be forgotten, Jobs saddled Cook with The Colossal Distraction™ (Apple Park), as well, which certainly contributed to many missteps.

Mossberg continues:

Cook does bear the responsibility for a series of actions that screwed up the Macintosh for years. The beloved mainstream MacBook Air was ignored for five years. At the other end of the scale, the Mac Pro, the mainstay of professional audio, graphics, and video producers, was first neglected then reissued in 2013 in a way that put form so far ahead of function that it enraged its customer base.

Some insiders think Cook allowed Ive’s design team far too much power and that the balance Jobs was able to strike between the designers and the engineers was gone, at least until Ive left the company earlier this year.

MacDailyNews Take: Technically, Jobs left Ive with far too much power. Cook’s fault was not rectifying that sooner, but we’ve heard that Cook, if not an outright conflict avoider, doesn’t relish it (or use it to his advantage) as much as Jobs, certainly.

We greatly admire Cook’s commitment to privacy. We wish he’d spend what it takes to get the word out to the world about how vastly superior Apple is on that very important matter over the privacy-trampling Googles and Facebooks of the world. It might even help Apple with government competition regulators. It’s a win-win to spend the money to get the word out and, God knows, if it’s one thing Apple has, it’s money. Pound the privacy message, Tim, until everyone is sick of hearing it and then pound it 10X more.

Again, it’s unfair to criticize Cook for not coming up with something bigger than the iPhone. There is nothing bigger. This side of sub-$1,000 personal teleporters, there may never be anything like it.

By any reasonable measure, Apple Watch and AirPods are blockbuster products about which any other company on earth can only dream. Apple Music is also a blockbuster success! So, really, Tim Cook’s Apple had a great decade, including at least three new blockbusters! (And, btw, have you seen Apple’s share price?)

We continue to look forward to Apple’s bright future, especially as we believe Apple Glasses have the potential to change everything at least as much as did iPhone, and maybe even more!

26 Comments

  1. What’s bigger than the iPhone? A well run company firing on all cylinders unlike any other and earning me money as I use their incredible products. -> “Or if it can launch another blockbuster device” Shut up, Walt, you never created anything. After you’ve run the most successful company in America, come tell us how it should be done. Until then, STFU, geezer.

    1. Walt Mossberg. Still gathering moss on his giant berg of a stomach and ar$3. A do nothing opionater, worse than the blabbering, gibbering, arrogant dingbat CitizenXcum. Even Walt Mossberg is someone CitizenX hasn’t (yet) claimed to have met and been bosom buddies with.

      1. Not true! Walt and I are great friends. We met it 1985 in my shop. Check out my YouTube page for proof. Walt and I were regular visitors of Steve’s. You should shut your mouth with your defamatory nonsense.

        1. Thanks. He is a corpulent bottom-feeder of egotistical proportions, an accidental meeter of all famous people with a YouTube video to (dis)prove it, a shopkeeper who managed a shop, a taker of little people to little league (which apparently makes up for his horrifically arrogant nature) and a complete and utter Xcumbag, which his the origin story to why he is called CitizenX. He’s best friends with commie-lover Dohn Jinger, fartist, and he makes President Xi look like an angel. CitzenXi… xucks.

  2. “Technically, Jobs left Ive with far too much power. Cook’s fault was not rectifying that sooner, but we’ve heard that Cook, if not an outright conflict avoider, doesn’t relish it (or use it to his advantage) as much as Jobs, certainly.”

    What do you specifically mean by this? That Cook didn’t relish the idea of Ive having too much power?

    1. He means that Cook failed to use his power as CEO to rein in Jony and establish a better balance between design and engineering and the customer base. It took way too long for Cook to fix the Mac Pro problem and to address the MBP keyboard problem. A year or two…OK. Five years or more…not OK.

  3. AirPods and Apple Watch definitely are in the blockbuster range.
    Both are getting quite ubiquitous and for me that is when Apple have hit the home run with a product.

  4. Mossberg is a little harsh though some criticism of Tim Cook is warranted (8 years between desirable Mac Pros anyone?). It’s not as though there are countless area’s where devices are in need of a paradigm rethink shift left. Other than cars (flying or auto-otherwise), transporters, warp drive and replicators. The types of devices we use everyday are limited and consolidated anyway.

    Although when the Apple Watch ships with a simple blood glucose monitor sales will be off the charts. I’m loving the stock ride.

    1. I personally think that if Steve was still around, the Mac Pro would have been another trash can or similarly “lovely” system. He was always more focused on the consumer world (cut to Steve’s giddy delight showing off some part of iLife). And, I believe he would be pedal to the metal on the whole “PostPC” thing.

      There would have still been computers around to make sure that developers had an easy way to create code for the preferred platform, but not the 8-slot thing we got. Steve didn’t like the 8 slots in the Apple II 🙂 It’s why the original Mac DIDN’T have slots.

      1. “I personally think that if Steve was still around, the Mac Pro would have been another trash can or similarly “lovely” system.“

        I personally have been reading your anti-Mac Pro opinions for six years proven Wrong Again and Again and sorry to say you STILL don’t have a clue…

      2. Due much to Steve’s focus on the “consumer world,” AAPL is a $1T company.

        The iPhone and the iPod’s successes were almost 100% attributable to consumers…which then bled into corp, because of consumer’s demand (iPh). W/o that focus Apple would be where…still trying to get OSX Server into the enterprise sector?

        The bitter to the sweet, the consumer focus has long relegated Apple to the “next big thing,” which translates into Wall St suspicion/doubt. Current efforts are assuaging that with services and subscriptions. WS loves “annuity” $$.

  5. Unbelievable. The iPhone was probably the biggest blockbuster products of all time, yet Tim Cook should have been able to go it one better. These people are absolutely crazy. They think making products of the century can be done every decade. It’s definitely an unfair bias that Tim Cook is being measured by. Tim Cook could almost be like the guy who took Joe Dimaggio’s place on the NY Yankees.

    I would think AppleWatch and AirPods could be in blockbuster category but the iPhone was more like a nuclear strike of the Tsar Bomba category. When a person represents Apple, they have to live up to expectations that are in the extreme and nothing less is good enough. So unfair.

  6. Mossberg isn’t even correct with the headline, if we’re discussing Apple’s “decade” and that decade ends when 2020 begins. The first iPad was announced January 2010 and began shipping a few months later. If this story is about the decade (and not Tim Cook’s reign), iPad is THE biggest new blockbuster of the decade.

  7. “Focusing is about saying no.”

    Steve Jobs, on the importance of saying “no” to bad product ideas.

    So, maybe this is a reason to say “good job” to Tim Cook. I think he has tried to follow this piece of advice by Steve. Tim knows that worrying too much about the next “iPhone” would inevitably lead to green lighting bad products that would cause Apple to lose its focus, as happened during the period in the 1990s when Jobs was gone.

    So, good job Tim. You have helped Apple keep its focus while still introducing many new products. Used my Apple Card today. And my AirPods and my Apple Watch. And my Home Pods.

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