Reading around the web an hour ago, looking for confirmation of the then-minutes-old news that Steve Jobs had resigned as CEO, I repeatedly encountered and bridled each time at use of the adjective “shocking” to describe the announcement. But my initial resentment was unwarranted. This is not out of nowhere, it’s not even unexpected. We could all see this was coming — but it is a shock.
I saw that headline and my nervous system took a jolt.
The thing to keep in mind is this: Apple tomorrow, a week from now, and next month is the exact same Apple from yesterday, a week ago, and last month. Tim Cook wasn’t named “CEO” until today, but he’s been the chief executive at the company since Jobs started this — his third — medical leave back in January, and probably even before that. Whatever Steve’s role is going forward, it’s only different in title than what it has been, in effect, for some time. Whatever it is that ails him, he’s been diminished.
It’s no coincidence that I wrote about succeeding Jobs just last month. All you need to read in that piece is the second footnote:
Perhaps this entire article could be replaced with, “Look, it’s going to be Tim Cook, and that’s that.”
How do you replace the irreplaceable man? Like we’re seeing. An open-ended medical leave, where he retains the CEO title. A continuation of strong new products, including a major improvement to the iPad, the device that is upending the entire computer industry. The ceding of day-to-day operations and leadership to Tim Cook, his right-hand man and chosen successor. Ever-higher profiles during public product announcements of top product-focused lieutenants like Phil Schiller, Scott Forstall, and Eddy Cue. It wasn’t something you could see or hear, but from the audience during this year’s WWDC keynote, it was something you could feel. Midway through, I wrote:
He’s here, but this is the first post-Steve keynote.
Apple’s products are replete with Apple-like features and details, embedded in Apple-like apps, running on Apple-like devices, which come packaged in Apple-like boxes, are promoted in Apple-like ads, and sold in Apple-like stores. The company is a fractal design. Simplicity, elegance, beauty, cleverness, humility. Directness. Truth. Zoom out enough and you can see that the same things that define Apple’s products apply to Apple as a whole. The company itself is Apple-like. The same thought, care, and painstaking attention to detail that Steve Jobs brought to questions like “How should a computer work?”, “How should a phone work?”, “How should we buy music and apps in the digital age?” he also brought to the most important question: “How should a company that creates such things function?”
Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.
Today’s announcement is just one more step, albeit a big and sad one, in a long-planned orderly transition — a transition that no one wanted but which could not, alas, be avoided. And as ever, he’s doing it his way.
So it goes.