I heard that Steve Jobs had died on the morning of October 6th. My mum, also suffering from cancer, died the same morning. They were the same age. The outpouring of grief over Steve’s death washed over the internet with tidal force, but I was dealing with a far more personal loss. As a result, I am much less emotional about his death than I might have been. I appreciate the loss his family have suffered with the clarity that only shared experience can provide, but the only thing I feel is a selfish fear that Apple has lost it’s rudder.
There are two reasons why I use Apple products. The first is because they, more than any other company in this industry, are sweating the details. A hundred little things that would seem superfluous, insignificant or “good enough” are lovingly implemented, refined and polished until they shine. Apple places high value in craftsmanship. As someone that earns their living with these products I really appreciate that effort.
The second is difficult to describe but is perhaps just another facet of that craftsmanship. Apple’s products are infused with a design sensibility and aesthetic that is hard to articulate. It’s in the feel of a Mac keyboard or in the heft of an iPhone. It’s the way everything, hardware and software, works in concert for a better user experience. That stuff is really hard to get right. It requires vision, focus and taste. As anyone that works in design will tell you, the vision of a design very rarely gets better when subjected to a committee. Focus requires discipline, ruthlessness and judgement to know what is indispensable and what is inconsequential. Taste cannot be taught, you either have it or you don’t. All this and so much more flowed from Steve.
Therein lies the rub. I don’t believe these traits can be institutionalized. It takes a dictator, not a parliament, to create these products.
There are many incredibly talented people at Apple. Tim Cook is a man that epitomizes the role a CEO should play. Apple under Steve always built products that people loved using, but Cook made them cheaper and at a scale that allowed Apple to flourish. One need look no further than the latest offerings from Dell, Samsung, ASUS and HP for proof that Jony Ive’s designs are the best in the world, worthy of being copied shamelessly. I don’t know what Phil Schiller does, but Gruber assures me he is indispensable. These employees and hundreds of others are undoubtedly the ones responsible for 99% of the work that goes into the shiny new objects that Apple builds. All of them have been given stewardship of Apple. But I fear Apple doesn’t need stewards. Apple needs a king.
We will not be able to gauge the impact right away. By all accounts (including Isaacson’s biography of Steve) there are at least 5 years’ worth of amazing products already in development. Obviously Steve will have had a declining influence on the final output, but they were still conceived while he was around. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
If anyone ever had the capacity, the personality and the sheer unmitigated gall to build a company in their own image, that person was Steve. Alas, only time will tell if he succeeded.