From The New Yorker:
Steve Jobs died a year ago today, and Apple’s done rather well since. Profits have soared and the stock is up eighty per cent. When Jobs passed away, the company’s market capitalization equalled the G.D.P. of Greece. Now it equals that of Switzerland. Fans still camp out for products, which the press still raves about. The new C.E.O., Tim Cook, is popular. If surveys are to be believed, he’s more popular inside One Infinite Loop than Jobs was. He even bears an uncanny sartorial resemblance to his predecessor. The shoes, and the jeans, fit.
Since Jobs’s death, the company hasn’t released anything big and new. But it has built better and sleeker iPhones and iPads, and it’s sold tons of them. Both of those products were things that Jobs imagined, and that he imagined we’d want. Microsoft used to be the most valuable company in the world; now Apple has that title, and it makes more money just from its iPhones than its rival makes on everything.
There’s another part of Jobs’s legacy that is more complicated, however. At the end of his life, Jobs was obsessed with Android, the rival phone operating system. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this,” he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. Since then, Apple has launched dozens of lawsuits against Android-phone manufacturers. This summer, it won a billion dollars in damages from Samsung.
Massive wars of choice generally don’t end that well for either side. (“The Cold War is over and Japan won,” the famous saying goes.) Apple is now at war with its suppliers—Samsung makes chips for iPhones—and it faces countersuits and counterclaims. It has also irritated engineers, many of whom believe that technology patents slow down innovation and that litigation is contrary to the spirit of Silicon Valley. The more Apple sues, the more it looks like, to use Jon Stewart’s memorable word, a bunch of “Appholes.”
The obsession with throttling Android, and Google, also led Apple to its worst decision of the year: replacing the Google Maps app on iPhones with one that didn’t work. Apple’s map app, to use a word that Steve Jobs favored, sucked. It directed people into cul-de-sacs and off bridges. And it made people wonder whether such a derailment would have happened under the previous C.E.O.
Jobs, an extreme perfectionist, tore up flawed products right before launch. He worried about the number of screws in a laptop. Here is an example, from Walter Isaacson’s biography, also used in a lovely piece by Malcolm Gladwell, of how much Jobs thought about grammar, and how good his decisions could be. Discussing the company’s “think different” advertising campaign, Isaacson writes, “They debated the grammatical issue: If ‘different’ was supposed to modify the verb ‘think,’ it should be an adverb, as in ‘think differently.’ But Jobs insisted that he wanted ‘different’ to be used as a noun, as in ‘think victory’ or ‘think beauty.’ ”
Has Apple lost its perfectionism? And has it lost it because of an obsession with crushing a rival? Perhaps.
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