Tim Cook and the slow-burning revolution

It’s almost 10 years since Tim Cook took the reins at Apple. A lot has happened since. But many still talk about him as if he’s just taken over, often lamenting that Apple is not as innovative now as it was under Steve Jobs.

I for one don’t understand why people would think that. It is an undeserved underestimation of him.

Yes, Cook is substantially more grey and dull than Jobs. But something good must have happened in his period as CEO — arguably even something better than under Jobs. Because at the time Cook took over Apple’s market cap was $354 billion. At the time of writing — May 14, 2021 — Apple’s worth $2048 billion. Tim’s Apple is in other words almost 6x as valuable as Steve’s Apple. You don’t get that kind of growth and valuation by only being a pencil pusher.

So why does he get so little credit? There have arguably been a couple of revolutions under him too, but they are not as easy to spot as before. It all comes down to style. Let’s start with a couple of examples.

New consumer products

The Apple Watch and the AirPods are Cook products. They may not have defined a new segment (Apple products seldom do), and they may not have impressed initially (more on that later), but they’ve grown to dominate the wearables segment with a 51 % market share. In 2019 Apple claimed that their wearable product segment alone was the size of a Fortune 200 company.

The difference from the Jobs days, however, is that new product launches now use a few years to find their roles. Jobs was a master at defining what something was from the get go, whereas Cook’s Apple uses time and patience to let the new products find their place in the world.

Take the Apple Watch as an example. Starting as a run-of-the-mill smart watch — although a beautiful one — the Apple Watch has iterated into a health focused power house. It is on the brink of revolutionising how we monitor and predict health issues in a way we’ve never been able to before. There were smartwatches before Apple, but the Apple product put the rest of the industry in a catch-up mode.

The AirPods have a similar story. Starting as run-of-the-mill earbuds they’ve grown into feature rich gizmos with spatial sound, Siri integration, and lots of other stuff. As was the case with Apple Watch, they once again put other dominant firms (Sony springs to mind) in catch-up mode.

The invisible underpinnings

Lastly their ARM based chip designs are what made these other gadgets possible. No AirPods without the S1 system-on-a-chip. No Apple Watch without the U1. Initially they built the iPhones on third-party chip sets. But they (and the iPad) wouldn’t have grown into what they are now without the A series chips. The high-end iPads and the Macs have just gotten the proprietary M1 chipset. One can just speculate as to what these products can become when things settle down a bit.

I don’t own either of these gadgets and is a casual iPhone user at best. So I can’t be accused of being a fan boy. But even so I find it hard to underestimate the Cook era Apple. As you see I think Apple is just as revolutionary now as it was under Jobs. Their products are, eventually, just as groundbreaking. It’s just that Cook plays the long game and sees the revolution play out over time.

The two couldn’t be more different. But you’d be hard pressed to find flaws in their respective results.

This article started as a comment to Erik Engheim’s article Apple is Turning Into the Next Microsoft.

Norwegian with many interests. Programming being one of them.