As Steve Jobs and Apple prepare to separate for possibly last time, an analogous event come to mind: when Walt Disney left his company - catastrophically.
Of course, it wasn’t that Disney died. No, in fact, Disney is still one of the most powerful media companies out there. Still, the corporation seems to have lost the magic that created a unique blend of the physical properties, like the parks, movies and TV shows.
Obviously, a possible (permanent) Jobs departure won’t mean the end of Apple, but like with Disney, it may mean there will be a long period of adjustment culminating in a post Steve Jobs world.
So, let’s revisit Disney and use it as a template for what is likely to happen to Apple.
Walt Disney and Steve Jobs
Both men were clearly iconic to their companies.
I grew up with Disney and later worked there, so that period of time is one of the happiest and most disappointing in my life.
Happiest under Walt’s rules and guidance - unhappiest when professional management stepped in and eliminated the magic.
Like Walt, Jobs thinks through the entire experience and recognizes it isn’t about the product or the feature. Rather, for Steve, Apple is about the experience. As such, an Apple product has to be designed so that it tells a story, all while capturing the user’s imagination and conveying a magical feeling.
With Disney, from the parks to shows like Wonderful World of Disney, Walt personally ensured that the presentation of the entire package was magical.
So, just like Walt made color real, Jobs created the MP3 player market, made smartphones real to most of us, and positioned Apple as the only successful tablet vendor.
Before the Wonderful World of Color, TV was Black and White, and before Disneyland, amusement parks were just rides.
Decades later no single vendor has driven anything like color into the market. This doesn’t mean we don’t have interesting theme parks, nor does it mean we don’t have advancements like HD; we just don’t have Disney as the key driver anymore.
Though, don’t forget, Disney World was built after Walt died and much of the magic wasn’t lost in the parks until more than 5 years later. Still, if you look hard enough, you can see how Disney changed over the years as it was negatively affected by financial difficulties.
Apple without Steve Jobs
Like Disney, you are likely to see less and less magic out of Apple after Jobs departure, along with more and more marginal products. This is assuming that, like Disney, Apple is unable to find anyone or a team of people capable of capturing the unique skills that Steve Jobs possessed - from product creation to product presentation.
A worst case scenario would be Apple in the 1990s, lots of marginal products, yet few of which people actually want to buy. Current management at Apple simply isn’t that bad, at least not yet, and the result should be a company substantially better than the Apple of the 90s but substantially less exciting than the Apple of Steve Jobs.
The first real test will be the products that will launch this year.
They will have Steve Jobs fingerprints on them so they will be designed to be presented by Steve Jobs, but without his vision in the actual presentations they likely won’t be able to garner as much excitement as they otherwise would have done.
Yes, the real test will arrive next year when products without Steve’s personal influence are brought to market. This is where we’ll see if the folks still at Apple can carry on short term - sans Jobs.
However, the final test won’t come for several years and only after the folks who loved working with Jobs have left the company and taken what they’ve learned with them.
It will be at this time we’ll truly begin to see the new Apple and whether it, unlike its predecessor, can rise to the same level of greatness after the departure of its critical founder.
Nevertheless, we may be witnessing the end of Apple as the iconic company that creates markets and the beginning of something which could still be very successful, but undoubtedly less exciting.
It is certainly a sad thing to see Magic die, so let’s hope all of this is very premature.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently, he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. [[Apple]]