Steve Jobs .. and Apple's failures post his demise

Tim Cook has just launched the Apple Watch. His first new product category launch post Steve Jobs and all it did was highlight just how important a role Steve played at Apple.

For such a large company, it's incredible just how reliant they were on Steve's Autocratic, all encompassing control. To me, the Apple watch launch is the definitive example of how they're missing his leadership and decision making. Here's why I believe this product would not have launched in it's current shape under Steve Jobs:

  1. Technological Overreach - Steve was great at understanding the technological trends and leveraging them at the right moment to stay ahead of the curve while never letting the customer experience suffer. The dropping of the floppy, Flash and the CD drive are but a few examples. Apple consistently made gutsy calls on what didn't go into their products based on technology trends. In each case, their decision was ground breaking but also based on availability of something better that would allow customers to get a better overall experience. Equally pertinent is the example of the iPhone launch. It was delayed for years because the technology was not "ready" yet. In the case of the Apple Watch, one must ask, is it solving a purpose? Is the experience really groundbreaking? The answer so far, is a big NO. The battery technology is not there yet. If a user has a long day on the road, would the piece of metal strapped to his/her wrist continue to operate or become an expensive, odd looking bracelet? If the technology isn't there to support a truly multi-day experience, why go into the market and offer a poorer experience? 
  2. Real World Design Aesthetics - Steve was above all the ultimate customer advocate within Apple. He possessed the instinct to understand what real world customers would enjoy and be thrilled by and what they wouldn't take to. The Apple watch might be a new product category for Apple, but the watch is an established accessory for most people. He would have understood that the watch is an extremely personal accessory and steeped in classical design thats withstood centuries of tinkering. There is no way the current version of the watch would meet his standards. He would have insisted the watch appear as normal and appealing to the end users as a genuine swiss chronograph. The current iteration is a pure design study by the design team and doesn't deserve to be out in the marketplace. Increasingly, apple's design is lacking that connection to its users. 
  3. Ignore Wall St. - The launch of the iPhone 5c, the Apple Watch and the bigger iPhone 6 are all based on insistent demands from Wall St. The iPhone 5C was an absolute failure, as expected. There was no reason for Apple, the de facto producer of premium, category topping, status defining phones to go to a cheaper model. It didn't fit the mold and was clear to everyone except the financial analysts salivating at the prospect of sales in a lower tier. The Apple Watch is an example of Wall St pushing Apple into product categories due to perceived competition pressure. Apple of old would have ignored wall st. and made these calls based on their internal decision making and their own understanding of their customers aspirations.  
  4. Judgement Calls - Finally, the key piece of the puzzle. We know the Apple Watch replaces traditional personal accessories on the users wrist. If the combination of current battery limitations and the usage of battery resources by the functions included in the watch do not meet the end user test of lasting more than 2 days, Steve jobs would have either waited for the technology to improve or made reductions in functionality to compensate. Either way, the end user goal of replacing the current timepiece with something as reliable would not have been sacrificed. This is the sort of judgment calls Steve made all the time. The original iPhone was 2G when most older phones were already on 3G. A Huge compromise, primarily driven by the need to balance functionality with battery life. The current apple watch is crammed full of features when it is likely to not have the kind of battery life to make it last long days. Such lack of judgment is increasingly apparent across Apple's product set and something that would not have been allowed under Steve.

To conclude, the iPhone was the single biggest launch in Apple's history and will go down as one of the biggest leaps in consumer technology of all time. Considering the remarkable degree of technological change incorporated into the original iPhone, it was incredible to note just how well polished the final device turned out to be. The form factor, the user experience, the accompanying apps and their functionality were all incredibly well thought through. Maybe comparing that success to any follow up act is unfair. On the other hand, that kind of attention to detail, thought process that understood customer needs and reflected them in the products is sorely missing from Apple today.

This is not to say that the Apple Watch will be a failure or would not improve in a few cycles. There's a lot of thought that has gone into the product. No doubt that detailed aspects of the design, UI and form function were endlessly debated and agonized over. It just appears that larger, more contextual discussions on the primary use case of the device, the readiness of the technology, the users and the adoption cycle were not focussed on sufficiently. It's just not up to par with the high standards adopted by this company in the past. The leadership, overall ownership and control that Steve Jobs maintained at Apple allowed him to operate free of internal and eternal pressures. That is sorely missing at Apple today. 


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