It's All About the Product
Steve Jobs' resignation and the reasons behind it will be discussed ad infinitum (and elsewhere) but let's concentrate on where Apple is going, what it will be trying to convince people to buy and where Tim Cook might lead the company.
For a start, Apple will already have a solid roadmap (as any good enterprise should) for future iPhone and iPad products for the next three or four generations at least, bringing on board technologies such as:
- Cloud services
- Tactile feedback screens
- New Wi-FI technologies
- Gesture technologies
- Information sharing between apps
- Improved enterprise tools
- New display technologies
It will also have many plans for continued aggressive revenue growth -- the move to Sprint, and the likelihood of revenue from iCloud are just two examples. Selling less-expensive products to China and then India will be on the radar, as will Apple's quest for the next big thing.
The company is also making significant investments in gaming, both in gaming-class hardware components inside and in software for the iOS devices that are rapidly becoming major forces in the gaming market at the expense of stalwarts, Sony and Nintendo. Perhaps there may be hardware too -- possibly a wireless game controller (now that Steve and his button-aversion fetish can be put to one side) to make "proper gaming" a reality on them.
The well-oiled Apple machine should be more than capable of handling all of these products in its stride. But it's only when something truly new is introduced that the company will really be tested. Where Apple is headed next, if recent rumors are true, is the TV market. There a range of three TV sets with next-gen features could be launched.
Do You Want Apple TV?
Assuming this is true, any such TV sets (possibly based on cutting-edge Samsung models, given the companies' deep, if fractious, relationship) Apple can finally sell its iTunes movies and TV shows in the way they were meant to be watched.
The sets, with embedded next-gen Apple TV technology, (and one reason to suspect this is happening is the slow level of updates for the little Apple TV boxes -- is Apple saving its advances up for these big screens?) will be competing against ranges of TVs with hard drives, IPTV services, Hulu, Netflix and mini-app stores of their own.
In theory, all it will take is Apple's massive range of content via iTunes and brand recognition to make a big impression on the market. These will naturally link and sync to the iPad and iPhone, with those devices acting as remotes, putting Apple firmly in the living room -- something Microsoft, despite many attempts, has failed to do.
A True Test of Tim
But at every step of such a process, Apple will be under massive scrutiny, from design to marketing, partnerships, production and product quality. Critics will take the slightest flaw or misstep as proof that Apple can't cope without Jobs (who may still well be involved as Chairman).
Even if there's a successful launch, succeeding in the longer term in the TV market will be a big challenge for any company, even one with US$ 70 billion in the bank. The likes of Sony and other massive consumer names are having to shutter or sell factories, trim product lines and revamp strategies in a market of punishing competition and falling profits.
Perhaps Apple's strength here could be its lack of factories and skill at manipulating partnerships to its own end. Launching TVs the "Apple way" could revolutionize this industry as it did the phone market, but questions remain. While diehard Apple fans can upgrade their phones or tablets on a whim, getting families to replace a perfectly good HDTV or 3DTV set with a (likely) higher-priced Apple model will be a big task in the uncertain economic climate of the next few years.
How Cook will handle all these possible events will be his first serious test. His hyper-focused knowledge of Apple's supply chain should ensure that the production side will remain on track. The fact that Jony Ives remains at Apple as lead designer, despite rumors he was leaving, should see a flawless design and impeccable aesthetics in the product; it's those unknown unknowns that may pose more of a problem for Cook.
Beyond the iPad
Looking even further down the line, to continue Apple's success beyond the computer and mobile devices that will always be known as Jobs' legacy, Cook must further focus on getting rid of the clutter in our tech-based lives, something his predecessor recognized and mastered.
Whatever the collective gurus at Apple come up with next, be it household robots, an Apple games console, artificial pets, a chip-based weight-loss cure, three things are clear.
- No one will be the "next Steve Jobs"
- Apple will do fine, for the next few years, without him
- There won't be another Apple, except Apple
Why make those assertions? No one needs to be the next Jobs or Apple; looking at the focus on software and services, people are more interested in being the next Zuckerberg or Google, and it's a lot cheaper to be the next one of those than an Apple.
And despite the press' insistence on deifying Jobs, he was always smart enough to have seen this day coming and ensured Apple has the people, tools and skills to carry on once he'd left -- something that should become apparent over the coming months with the launch of Apple's next range of services and hardware.