The Time Is Now For Tim Cook To Think Different


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This October marks the five-year anniversary of Steve Jobs' death. The industry clearly lost a true visionary who absolutely changed many things about how we live our daily lives. I had met and covered Jobs in the early days of the industry, and he was truly charismatic and could see things others flat out could not.

But five years have passed and Jobs' influence over the products that Apple builds is gone. We are no longer seeing category-changing product introductions like the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The Apple Watch was very likely the last product Jobs had influence over.

So it's now Tim Cook's company, and it's different. Cook is also a longtime industry player, having worked at IBM early in his career. But I got to know him a bit when he was chief operating officer of Intelligent Electronics. IE was one of the multibillion-dollar channel companies back in the late 1980s, early 1990s.

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Cook is smart, disciplined and, frankly, a very good manager. But he's not Jobs. Apple has always been a disrupter of other people's technology. Even the original Macintosh was a play to dramatically improve what others had started. But to be a disrupter you have to be a visionary, and nothing in Cook's background signals that to be his strong suit. Can he manage disruptive thinkers? Jobs once said a lot of his job was deciding what not to do. When you are the one leading the disruption agenda you can do that, but I'm not sure you can manage other people who are in that role.

Cook today is managing declining sales in iPhones, iPads and computers. The Apple Watch is a marginally successful product. There has been no major innovation coming out of the company since the Jobs influence has waned.

And there are other problems. Siri still isn't world-class and pales in comparison to Amazon's Alexa. Apple's mapping app is not nearly as good as Google Maps. This fall Apple is going to release less-than-remarkable upgrades to the iPhone, which may help it catch up to Samsung's Galaxy but is unlikely to be better. It will refresh the MacBook Pro with more speed and some software enhancements, but so what?

Google and Tesla are way ahead of Apple in self-driving cars. Samsung has caught up in phones. Apple has no advantage in notebooks. The tablet isn't growing as a category. Its enterprise deals with IBM and Cisco have produced nothing of value.

So unless there is a Jobs protégé we don't know about, Cook and the Apple board need to decide where the company is going. Cook and Apple also need to begin acting a bit humbler. Perhaps, dare I say it, they need to start realizing Apple no longer has the swagger to be able to convince entire industries to change the business model to its benefit.

Maybe Apple should start looking for partnerships that can help it gain share in categories it plays in. Become a true business partner where both sides benefit.

Apple destroyed what was once an incredibly loyal VAR channel, something Cook saw firsthand in his IE days. New Macs and a channel attack could make inroads in corporate America. I've never understood why Apple doesn't embrace the channel more fully and leverage the huge advantage it can bring.

Unless Cook and company take to heart the phrase of its old advertising line and begin "thinking different" about the channel and its entire approach to the market, we will be saying its best days ended two years ago when the last of the Jobs' influenced product came to market.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of The Channel Company. You can contact him via email at rfaletra@thechannelcompany.com.

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