A week after Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple, but before his sad death, I wrote the following about the media reaction to his leaving...
Eighteen months later, the strength of Apple as a consumer products juggernaut is being called into question. Although their sales are still astronomical, their growth has slowed and their stock price has dropped substantially -- about 1/3 in the last 4 months. They are no longer the world's most valuable company."The consensus seemed to be that Jobs built a strong culture, hired smart people, and taught a way of thinking that will serve Apple well in the future. The story line went like this-- while Jobs will be missed, he is no longer essential to the future of the company and it will go on brilliantly without him.I don't buy this for a second. Genius is non-transferable."
In the months since Jobs' death, Apple has done very little to reassure us that it is still the same company that startled us with beautiful, imaginative products. This came to mind the other day when I saw a tweet from the great Dave Trott quoting Bill Bernbach:
"It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we're legally allowed to take over our competitors."Apple has clearly not shown the same type of creativity in the past 18 months that it did in previous years.
As I said at the time...
"...one of the first indications of whether Apple is capable of continuing its explosion of creative energy without Jobs at the helm may be found in its advertising."Advertising did turn out to be the first indicator. Luckluster ad efforts for "Siri" and a campaign featuring a "Genius" did not live up to the high standards of intelligent, thoughtful advertising Apple had established.
But more important, there have been no significant product breakthroughs. We had gotten used to Apple amazing us with new products and features every six months. But in the past 18 months all we've seen from them is incrementalism -- smaller iPads, larger iPhones. Just the kind of stuff we're used to seeing from the followers in the industry, not the leader.
Meanwhile Samsung has grabbed the cool factor from them with products, features and advertising that are very attractive to young people (yes, there are categories in which it pays to target young people.)
I am not ready to be worried about Apple. I expect they will be back before long with a breakthrough idea or two.
But as Bernbach said, the future is about one thing -- Apple has to demonstrate that they can be as creative without Steve Jobs as they were with him.
So far, they haven't.