Truthfully, Tim Cook reminded me a lot of John Scully when he was on stage announcing Apple's "New" iPad earlier this week.
I had fully expected a decline in Apple's ability to present its products in a post-Steve Jobs world, but not as quickly and abruptly as Cook illustrated yesterday.
While it is clear many are still living underneath Steve Jobs’ venerable reality distortion field and not seeing this decline, I personally think it is pretty difficult to miss.
This is providing other companies with an opportunity that didn’t exist while Steve Jobs was alive, namely, to take a critical market away from Cupertino.
Nevertheless, Apple continues to field the leading device in the tablet space, even though the company seems to be fast forgetting Jobs’ formula for assuring success, so this clearly won’t remain a walk in the park indefinitely.
Tim Cook the Poor Understudy
You often see the following scenario rapidly unfold in a play or TV show: The lead who made the show leaves and reviews and ratings falter because the new actor just isn’t able to step in and assume the role. Frankly, it's pretty obvious that Steve Jobs had a presence on stage that Cook just doesn’t have.
There were no definite screw ups, he was rehearsed, appeared comfortable on stage. Yet, one of the most common comments I saw on the live feeds was that "he was no Steve Jobs." Meaning, Cook lacked energy and didn’t really showcase passion for the product, as there was little emotional connection to the new iPad. Yes, he spoke about the company’s stats in the first 30 minutes with definite pride, but, compared to Jobs, well, he just didn’t have the stage presence.
Now, early on (going back to the 80s) Steve wasn’t that great on stage either. Still, at least he was a geek talking to other geeks - and compared to the rest of us he was far better. Over time, Steve refined his craft, with a stage presence rivaling Hollywood actors. In contrast, Cook is in line with the best CEOs in tech, but that is a vastly lower bar. To be sure, Cook seems like the understudy who never really expected to get the role and, as such, failed to develop a comparable level of on stage skills.
With Steve, you didn’t miss execution if you wanted to keep your job. Unfortunately, there were several huge mistakes with the "New" iPad launch. The clearest miss was Siri, as it has fast become the keystone feature for the new set of iconic Apple products. Yet, the "New" iPad doesn't seem to be Siri capable, at least not at the current time.
Dictation=Newton Handwriting Recognition
This brings us to miss two. Steve Jobs saw the John Scully execution of the Apple Newton and felt it was one of the worst Apple had ever done. The key mistake? Scully insisted on focusing on handwriting recognition which worked rather poorly, rather than PDA features which functioned quite well. In contrast, Palm talked up the PDA features (calendar, contacts etc.) and developed Graffiti, a unique language, which did work and, for a time, owned the segment. The lesson learned? You don’t showcase something that works poorly as a key feature.
The truth is, dictation sucks, and it just doesn’t suck for Apple, but for everyone in the industry. Going in, people expect to be able to dictate (a term that goes back to my own parents) and generate a finished document with precise punctuation. However, current technology just doesn’t handle dictation all that well. It isn't really accurate and punctuation doesn’t work. So once again, a key feature is running the high risk of becoming an industry joke once the product ships. It may become a great Dilbert cartoon but likely won’t do much for long term sales.
No Nvidia Inside
Another rule that Jobs followed as a best practice? Never speaking about a competing product. True, there was one notable exception when he talked about putting Android out of business. Still, that was simply because he believed the OS was stolen from Apple. Yet, even then, he refrained from bringing it up on stage.
Now Nvidia's Tegra 3 products haven’t been selling nearly as well as Apple's. This isn’t a matter of technology, as most consumers really don't care what chip powers their tablet - they just want an iPad. As such, Cook made a strategic error in comparing his own 2 core 4 shader part to Nvidia's. First he said his was faster (which would be hard to disprove), but then he referred to it as a 4 core part. The cores he is referring to are on the graphics side, where Nvidia's chip actually has 12 (even on the processor side they have 5).
Doing this only focuses potential buyers on the chip. What makes this particularly dangerous? Nvidia's next-gen chip will have 8 cores and up to 64 shaders, or 64 graphics cores. Now until Cool highlighted Nvidia's SoC, I highly doubt anyone really cared. Now a lot of us can't help but think that when Tegra 4 ships, the "New" iPad is dead.
The Product with No Name
What is the name of this product, the "New" iPad? WTF? Steve Jobs always iterated the name in some way so he could talk about the new product. If it didn’t change much he added a letter, if it changed a lot he iterated the number, and if it was a defined line he gave it a name: iPod 2, 3, 4, Nano, Minnie, Shuffle, Classic; iPhone 2, 3, 3GS, 4, 4S, iPad 2, etc.
But Cook announced the new product without iteration - which means it will be difficult for customers to tell the difference (without looking at the specs), between the new iPad and the previous tablet. Making it easy for consumers defined Apple’s advantage and Cook's approach didn't do that. I hope this is just a timing issue, and that Apple fixes its marketing oversight before the 16th.
Wrapping Up: The Missed Opportunity
I was going to give my wife a new iPad for her birthday and, like a lot of you, I couldn’t get Apple’s site to work to order one. So I asked her if she wanted a new one and was surprised she didn’t. I thought it was a no-brainer, everything you loved in the iPad 2 would be fitted into the new iPad, along with new goodies like a higher-res display and improved performance.
However, her iPad 2 is just fine for now. And therein lies a major problem: Consumers (and I include myself) have, like Pavlov’s dogs, responded to a new Apple product by buying it and are lining up to do so. Yet, those who weren't convinced by Cook's lackluster presentation clearly didn't see the "magic" and will likely buy something else. And it probably won’t be another tablet, at least until they tire of their current iPads.
While this may be the best iPad ever made, without Steve's magic, well, it may just as well be forgotten. Think about it - most people can’t remember the last Palm PDA because there isn't any magic associated with the product anymore. The real irony here? Apple had plenty of time to backfill Jobs, and there is even a book called "Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs" to follow, and they did neither.
God, I do miss Steve Jobs. I really didn’t enjoy the post-Jobs years the last time, and I expect I’ll enjoy them even less now. At the very least, I now once again have no idea what to buy my wife for her birthday. Sigh…