Monday, October 10, 2011

Jobs, Disney, and the Future of Apple

So, I was interviewed by Palash R. Ghosh of the International Business Times last week, and the result was an article published on October 6th entitled, Steve Jobs Dies: What Now Apple?  I've given you the link to the IBT site for your interest, convenience, and necessity, and I'll also give you the short item here as well.

Ghosh begins by stating the following:

The death of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs has dominated the news in a way that the passing of a celebrity rarely does. Jobs, who died just about month after he resigned as chief executive officer of Apple, has left behind a massive, perhaps incalculable legacy.

There's also a nice picture included with the article:

The rather substantial caption that goes with the image is the following:

Tributes to the late Steve Jobs are left outside the Apple Store in London October 6, 2011. Technology and design admirers flocked to Apple stores worldwide on Thursday to express their sorrow at the death of Steve Jobs, the visionary who transformed the daily lives of millions. The Apple co-founder who inspired the Macintosh computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad died on Wednesday at the age of 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He stepped down as Apple chief executive in August. 

Now, back to the article:

Now there are some questions about the future of the company he founded and nurtured.

International Business Times spoke to Professor Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in The Bronx, N.Y. about Jobs' death and its potential impact on Apple.

And as is the case with all of these things, what appears is just a small portion of what was said during the actual interview. But I think Palash did a good job of selecting out some key points.  Here's the first round:

IBTIMES: Does Jobs' death put more pressure on Apple to keep trotting out more successful products?

Absolutely. To most of us, Steve Jobs was Apple. It was his brainchild, his vision, his personality that made the company what it was. When he was forced out in 1985, the company floundered and all but foundered, and when he returned in 1996, he put Apple back on track and took it from a niche, boutique market to the dominant force that it is today. While it is a vast oversimplification to say that the company is nothing more than an extension of the individual, everyone will now be looking to see if Apple can continue to be innovative and, simply put, “cool,” without its guiding light, or will it go into decline, much as Disney did after Walt Disney died, and before Michael Eisner came along to revive the corporation? 

You know, we used to joke around, based on the rumor that Walt Disney had himself cryogenically frozen after death in the hopes of being revived someday, that the executives left to run the company were terrified of doing anything, fearing that when the founder returned, he would be angry and fire them all for making decisions that he didn't agree with it.  

But beyond that amusing recollection, I do think there is a certain common ground between Disney and Jobs--it's the better comparison than Edison and Jobs. We don't usually think of Disney as an inventor--he did invented the theme park--but both Disney and Jobs were media ecologists in understanding that they were not just working with content or products, but with environments. Disney did it on a macro scale with Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and with his creation of the Disney brand, the only movie studio with a clear identity (what, after all, constituted a Warner Bros., or MGM, or 20th Century Fox, or Paramount motion picture?).  

Jobs did it on a micro scale, with the idea of the computer interface, the GUI or graphical user interface of the Macintosh, and with the designs for the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad, understanding that he was in the business of creating environments for users to experience. And of course, he created a coherent brand identity for Apple that has been analogous to that of Disney, and distinct from the bland identity of Microsoft, or Dell, for example.

So, anyway, back to our Q&A:

IBTIMES: If iPhone 4S is less than successful, will the new chief executive officer Tim Cook be blamed?

STRATE: It's not so much that Tim Cook will be held personally responsible for the failure to live up to expectations, as it will be attributed to the absence of Steve Jobs, and the inspiration and genius he brought to Apple.

There already is a bit of disappointment about the 4S, considering that people were expecting an iPhone 5 instead.  But after this interview was published, I heard a rumor that Jobs had left four years worth of plans for the future of Apple, which may mitigate this whole scenario with Tim Cook.  But again, the parallel with Disney is striking, or at least strikes me as striking.  But Tim Cook is not in a good position, it's not a hard act to follow, it's an impossible act to follow, and it would not be a shock to find that he is blamed for the first downturn in Apple's fortunes, and replaced.

So, on to the next point:

IBTIMES: Can Apple keep growing, despite a worsening global economy?

: Yes. In every tide, there are cross-currents and counter-currents. The computer and new media sector remains vital, and will continue to grow. People will cut back on gasoline before they cut back on connectivity via computers and mobile devices.

Again, the electronic environment is the environment we live in.   Connectivity has evolved into a utility, and in that context, Apple will continue to appeal (get it, apple, a peel? ok, sorry), for the near future at least.  

And finally, we get into what appears to be an odd coincidence.

IBTIMES: Does it seem odd that his death was announced one day after the release of latest iPhone?

STRATE: Yes it is odd that his death came a day after the release. It seemed as if Tim Cook wanted to say something, and didn't when he presented the new iPhone. And while Jobs was known for his sense of timing, there will no doubt be conspiracy theories popping up, claiming, for example, that he actually died the day before but that [the news] was withheld so as to allow for the launch of the new product. But life is full of strange coincidences, and perhaps this is no stranger than the synchronicity that brought a couple of young computer hobbyists together in a garage in a way that would change the way the whole world communicates.
No doubt, rumor mongers and conspiracy theorists will have much to work with here, and it will be interesting to see what people come up with.  Again, there's the parallel to the rumor that Walt Disney had himself turned into a human popsicle, a rumor that is, simply put, not true.

In the end, Jobs very much fit in with Disney's character of Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, singing, "When You Wish Upon a Star":

And the parallel between Jobs and Disney leaves me saying, "it's a small world, after all!"

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