What The iPhone 5 Tells Us About Cook As Apple's CEO

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

The iPhone 5 saw more pre-orders than almost any product in business history (see footnote 1). Within 24 hours of its launch, it had 2 million pre-orders, double the figures for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) own iPhone 4S. Analysts like Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray (a managing director and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, specializing in Internet/ Source: piperjaffray.com) estimate that it might have over 10 million sales by this Monday, 49 million by year end. iPhone 5 has also astounded observers by the speed of its launch and availability across the world. It has become available in 31 countries, and by the end of the year, customers in over 100 countries will be able to buy the iPhone 5. According to figures from Piper Jaffray's Peter Misek, that is 30 countries more than the iPhone 4S figures for the same time period last year, which debuted in 7 countries.

However, the iPhone 5 launch was marred by the Map fiasco, which saw cities and railway stations being put into the middle of oceans, lack of traffic information and returning no results for genuine searches. People who have used the free Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Maps - like this author - know how useful and generally efficient that piece of app is. The map problems can probably not be put at the door of the 20 or so map data providers like the Dutch company TomTom who license map data to Apple. As has been tritely put by TomTom media manager Cem Cohen: "There is a difference between a map and an app. We don't develop the app. We license the map data, which is like a foundation. The customer can build on top of that, but we license the same mapping data to all our customers."

Interesting conclusions can be drawn from the two paragraphs above. One of them relates to the differences between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook as Apple's CEOs.

Keep in mind that the iPhone 4S was set to be launched on October 4 last year, and Jobs died on October 5. Although Tim Cook became the CEO two months before that, on August 24, we can assume that Jobs's shadow fell long and hard on the iPhone 4S. Probably not so for the iPhone 5, though; launched on September 12, 2012, almost a year after the legendary visionary's death, the iPhone 5 must be almost all Tim Cook (FN2).

So, what exactly does the iPhone 5 have of Tim Cook? In very brief, astounding sales figures and supply line management coupled with a glaring product issue that would have made the perfectionist Jobs thump tables in despair.

This is precisely the difference between the two CEOs. Steve Jobs was a technological visionary, a perfectionist who understood user experience inside and out and did not mind launch delays for the sake of the perfect product, like delaying the "fair skinned" iPhone 4 launch by 9 months because it didn't have UV protection. UV protection! Tim Cook is a chief executive officer who understands managing a product from the drawing board to the store shelf, who maintains a lower profile but works in the background to ink deals with over 240 suppliers, and brings a great product to the market at the right time in the right volume. One is a technology maverick, the other is a business wizard.

This is not to say that Steve Jobs did not have his embarrassing moments, like the email synchronization software MobileMe glitch in 2008, which led to his famous "hate each other" speech. Not only did it have syncing issues and was known to be unstable, but it charged some Australian and European customers' credit cards during the free trial, a mistake which Jobs deeply deplored. However, the ever-perfectionist Jobs was quick to admit the problems, calling the launch of MobileMe a mistake and admitting it was not up to Apple's standards. This Fortune article has some interesting material on that Jobs fiasco. It offers a glimpse of just how Apple worked under Steve Jobs: "... a brutal and unforgiving place, where accountability is strictly enforced, decisions are swift, and communication is articulated clearly from the top." After the terrible reviews (notably from Walt Mossberg, a long time Apple reviewer on Wall Street Journal), Jobs is reported to have said in a meeting, after having asked what MobileMe is supposed to do, that "So why the *** doesn't it do that?"

We haven't yet heard similar language from Tim Cook. The Map app was the iPhone 5's one major departure from plain evolution to trying to become a sort-of revolution. It was an effort to remove Google's ever-popular Maps app and substitute one of its own. The Map app, had it been successful, would have defined the iPhone 5 from its predecessors, just like Siri, 1080p video and dual-core processor defined iPhone 4S from the iPhone 4, which was defined by retina display, and so on. However, the Map seems to have failed so far, a frustrating event that should have led to some scintillating language at a Steve Jobs meeting. Cook has been quiet so far. As Reuters quoted Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie: "The big question is how will Tim respond now?" Apparently, while the Maps team is in lockdown trying to develop and perfect the app, Cook's response to this immense glitch is much more toned-down than Jobs's tantrums on similar occasions. A quiet, efficient CEO with both eyes fixated on long-term growth.

Is this a bad thing for Apple?

If you want to be philosophical, things that start with a bang cannot - and should not - continue to "bang" throughout their life cycle. "Cannot" because there's only so much innovation that can go into a business product, and "should not" because the real deal, after innovation is over and out, is conservation. Tim Cook, as he has shown time and again, is a business conservationist of the highest order. Even 4 years ago, when getting Tim to replace Jobs was still a speculation, it was widely understood in Apple insider circles that Jobs and Cook worked so well together simply because Jobs was an intuitionist and Cook was a planner. Brought into Apple from Compaq with "a mandate to clean up the atrocious state of Apple's manufacturing, distribution, and supply apparatus," according to Adam Lashinsky of CNN, Tim Cook realized that Apple needed to survive manufacturing and focus on what it did best, research and more development. He closed down factories and warehouses and established contractual relationships with technology suppliers around the globe, clearly demarcating Apple's core proficiency from inefficient ones.

At this stage in Apple iPhone's product life cycle, conservation is more important than revolution. With the demise of Steve Jobs, the iPhone has probably entered its maturity stage. It is already a unique product, a revolution that has changed how the world communicates. At this stage, it needs to conserve its energy, fight its competitors, establish its market share and keep growing at a steady pace. With the big win against Samsung and others, and its great launch and production efforts, Tim Cook has slowly proved to be an able manager of the largest company in the world.

I don't think he is a bad thing for Apple, not at all. I think he is a very good thing for Apple. I think he is very good news for Apple shareholders for the next 5 years, while Apple reaps benefits from innovations of the last 5 years. As its pool of revolutionary innovations slowly dries up as other players catch up, though, one wonders if Tim Cook, the manager par excellence, will have the technological intuition to bring in the right people and create more and important revolutions that will keep the company maintaining its pioneer status for years to come.


1. The Samsung Galaxy S III did have 9 million pre-orders, beating the iPhone 5 by a large margin.

2. This author is not speculating, by any means, Jobs's influence on all things Apple. That influence will last for years to come. Here the focus is on management more than innovation.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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