Are the Golden Years of Apple Behind Us?

That’s a pretty bold title, isn’t it? I didn’t really mean for it to be. I’m not a fan of shameless link bait. And it’s not my intention to be hyperbolic. I chose that question as the title because it’s the reason I’m writing this right now. That question has been rattling around in the back of my mind. And instead of continuing to ignore it, I thought I’d try and solidify my thoughts into a cohesive essay.

I’m not making any claims to brilliance here. I don’t think I’ve stumbled upon any insightful or revolutionary ideas here. I’m not even really trying to prove a point. I’m just trying to give a voice to this ever present feeling of dread that’s crept into my thoughts when they drift to the future of Apple. And I’m sharing these thoughts with a community of people who will hopefully understand where I’m coming from, and what I’m trying to say.

Steve Jobs has left the helm of Apple. And while he’s still at the company in what amounts to an advisory role, everyone knows that the Jobs’ era at Apple has ended. Sure the ripples of his presence there won’t subside immediately. David Pogue thinks we’ll need to really start worrying in about two years. But we’re all wondering what this will mean — Apple without Steve. None of us knows for certain. The only way we’ll know is to wait, and watch, as time goes by. The question isn’t so much, will Apple change? It’s, how will Apple change?

First of All, Why Do You Care?

That’s another question I’ve been asking myself recently. Because I’m pretty sure that the reason I care about Apple and its future is closely linked with how I’ll measure their success going forward.

Apple’s products extend beyond simple functional tools. They elevate the computer, and related computing technologies, to an art form. They care about each and every component that goes into the machine, carefully planning and crafting how it will interact with its peers, how they’ll all coalesce to form a cohesive whole.

I think Alan Kay said it best:

“When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I [thought] of it. I said: Well, it’s the first personal computer worth criticizing.”

So it’s that attention to detail, that culture of craftsmanship, that’s attracted me to Apple’s products. I understand what Apple is striving for. They’re a kindred spirit, to me and to anyone else who values something that’s well-thought out and well designed.

As Kay puts it, they’re worth criticizing, and that’s because they’re the only ones in the realm of consumer electronics aspiring to something higher than practicality and utility. These are qualities and ideals that Steve Jobs possesses. He’s done everything in his mortal power to instill them into Apple. But the doubt remains in my mind, can they live on without him being there?

So Why Are You Still Scared?

If Steve’s done his best to build Apple, the company, in his image, why am I still worried about Apple’s future success? Well, I’d like to blame John Gruber of all people for planting that seed of doubt in my mind. On a recent episode of The Talk Show, when asked by Dan Benjamin if Tim Cook was the next Steve Jobs, Gruber replied quite flatly, no. That the next Steve Jobs wasn’t even at Apple. People like Jobs don’t work for companies. They go out and build their own companies.

I think he’s right. Actually, I’m almost positive John’s right. That’s what worries me. I don’t know who that person is.

Now, is that a ridiculous fear? Yeah, probably. But it’s the emotional connection I, and others like me, feel toward Apple that makes it a fear in the first place. I said we’re kindred spirits. Apple is a company creating the type of products that I would want to create if I was in their position. It’s why they’re such a joy to use. The things that I value about Apple are emotional, human traits. Apple is a company now. Technically they always were a company, but now that the human face of Apple has gone, all I’m left to stare at is that company. And it somehow feels different, a little bit colder, a touch more impersonal.

What Am I Looking For?

I figured I should pose at least one question that I actually have an answer to. Just what am I looking for out of Apple in the years to come?

I’m looking for Apple — the new Apple, under Tim Cook — to continue to exhibit the same traits as Jobs’ Apple. I want them to continue striving for perfection in their hardware and software, to continue sweating the details. Because the details matter to me.

I want them to continue to be fearless when it comes to innovating. Blazing trails and taking risks, not being afraid to stick stubbornly to what they believe in. I want them to keep their collective sense of good taste, that inherent ability to know when something feels right, and following that sense.

I want Apple to continue to change, but always for the better. Or at least collectively for the better. They can have failures. But they have to recover from those failures with skill, dignity, and grace. I want them to continue to produce things worthy of criticism. I want Apple to continue to chase new successes, rather than defensively guarding the ones they’ve already had.

That’s a lot to ask, isn’t it? I know it is. But at the same time, I know it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Because that’s exactly what Apple has been for nearly a decade and a half. They’ve been all of those things under Jobs. All I’m asking if for them to continue to do it.

So, What About Your Title Question?

Ok, so what about that opening question? The one that probably got you to open this article in the first place. Do I think the golden years of Apple are behind us? Honestly, I’m still divided.

I don’t think they have to be. I think the fate of Apple rests squarely on its own shoulders. They have the map, they know the direction to lead the company in. They just have a new leader. Let’s see if they can keep going on the path they’ve been traveling down.

But what if they can’t? What if the Apple of the future stops taking revolutionary risks, and retreats to milking past successes? Then I’ll be sad. I think a lot of people will. It’ll mean that Apple Steve Jobs taking the lead really was something special.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope the golden years of Apple aren’t behind us. But whether they are or not, the stage is set for the next Steve Jobs. The next bold and brash innovator, with a keen sense of style and a sharp vision for the future. I don’t know who that person is yet. But I look forward to finding out.

What Do You Think?

This article represents a brief opinion piece submitted by one of our frequent contributors. Here at AppStorm we represent all sides of this debate. For a more positive post-Jobs outlook, check out this article outlining the leadership in place at Apple and why they’re fit to fill Jobs’ shoes.

Leave a comment and let us know about your outlook for Apple in the next five years. If you were given the opportunity to invest in the company now with the hope of a favorable future return, would you take it?