The size of Steve Jobs' legend hit me with full force last night.
I was watching a stage event based on "Portlandia." I was honoring the memory of a friend who loved the place. Star Fred Armisen was doing a slide show, and demanded we not photograph his most precious possession, displayed on a screen above our heads.
It was a picture of him and Steve Jobs. Armisen had done a "Saturday Night Life" skit, portraying Jobs introducing an invisible computer, marked only by his fingers making the shape of a square. There, on the screen, was Jobs, and his fingers were making the square.
But what most thrilled Armisen was that Jobs was smiling. His greatest career thrill was that he once made Steve Jobs smile.
Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook knows he can't match the legend. Apple can't be what it was. It will no longer be a cash hoarder, he told the company's shareholder meeting, raising the prospect of a dividend.
The company's latest purchase, an app search engine called Chomp, is a minor tweak to its strategy, a focusing of its abundance on customer needs.
With great wealth comes great responsibility, and Cook's recent actions indicate he feels that keenly. Environmental moves, efforts to improve conditions for Chinese workers, and (most recently) acceptance of new privacy safeguards, may look like grandstanding, but they represent a knowledge that image matters, not just in gaining success but dealing with it.
While analysts continue pounding the table for the stock, Cook is more concerned with building new industries around Apple in the right way. For instance:
Apple now dominates the music industry. Shouldn't it have better tools for creating music masters?
Apple has become a major cloud vendor without embracing cloud at all, since iCloud is mainly just a storage service. But integrating these capabilities in its operating systems is suddenly a key goal.
Apple is trying to define firm boundaries around its business, no-go zones for growth. Competing with Facebook, no. Creating content, no. Apple will continue to define itself by the software-driven devices it sells. Period.
Apple still sees plenty of room for innovation within its niche. Among its latest patent applications is a new kind of of keyboard, one with the "travel" typists like but the thin profile that makes for light weight.
The Daily Finance sums this up as Apple "protecting its core" and that's right. The emphasis here is on the word protecting.
Apple believes there is plenty of growth left in doing what it's doing, and will define its future based on protecting and distributing what it has rather than going in different directions. That's not just bullish for Apple, but bullish for the entire tech sector.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.