Tim Cook's first year report

Monday 08 October 2012 12.51
Tim Cook's report card at Apple - one year on
Tim Cook's report card at Apple - one year on

Anyone logging on to the Apple homepage last Friday (5 October) was not hit with the usual landing page but a short message from CEO Tim Cook marking the first anniversary of Steve Jobs' death. It's a short simple message presented on a white page, maintaining that trademark clean design aesthetic popularised by the company's enigmatic co-founder.

"Our values originated from Steve and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple," wrote Cook. "We share the great privilege and responsibility of carrying his legacy into the future."

A fine sentiment, to be sure, but Jobs didn't want Cook to keep the company ticking over. The spirit of Steve Jobs doesn't mean pumping out product - it also means taking risks and accepting failure in the confidence that ideas that work eventually pay off in spades. With that in mind let's see how Apple under Tim Cook has done in the past year and what (if anything) has changed.

Presentation style (B+)?

Everyone looks forward to an Apple product announcement. Since the 1984 announcement of the Macintosh Steve Jobs turned keynote addresses into theatre. The formula is solid and works as well in small room or large auditoriums: the state of the market; identify the problem the new product solves; introduce the product; in-depth demonstration; breakout sessions for the press.

These presentations work best with an element of risk. The first iPad was met with guarded enthusiasm, head scratching and a dip in the share price. The most important moment of that presentation was when Jobs took to a lounge chair on the stage and showed how people would use the iPad in the home. It took a while but the message got through.

Cook has had an easy ride so far. His product launches to date have largely been about extensions of existing product lines like the Macbook, iPhone and iPad. We'll know more when the Apple TV/iTV gets its first airing.

Without the charisma of Jobs, Cook is doing the smart thing and keeping this as-is and making sure no one person shoulders the entire presentation. Apple feels more like a team than a dictatorship on stage now and this is a good thing from a leadership perspective.

Soaring valuation (A+)?

You can't argue with results when they're in your favour. Apple's market valuation has continued to soar. On its own iOS devices are worth more than Microsoft and Apple's $623 billion market valuation dwarfs that of second-placed Google at $252 billion and third-placed Microsoft on $251 billion.

Big wins in the patent wars (B)?

It's been a good year for the legal department. A successful ban on sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany and a $1 billion award from a US court have been significant victories - even if they have made a mockery of the patent system by using them as offensive weapons to limit competitors' market access.

Samsung will be particularly aggrieved, having been forced into redesign its marquee tablet for Germany (the Galaxy Tab 10.1n ), losing its 7.7 model completely and getting off the hook in England on 9 July when judge Colin Birss said they didn't infringe Apple's design patents as they were "not as cool" as the iPad. Apple is proving adept at winning wars and embarrassing enemies when it loses battles. We give it a good grade for results, not ethical soundness.

Selling genius (C)?

Under Jobs the 'geniuses' staffing Apple's retail stores weren't sales people, they were customer service representatives, tutors and brand advocates. In August it looked like that model was about to change towards a more sales-oriented approach, when staff at Apple's stores in Essex and Milton Keynes with less than six months experience were told they would be laid off. Similarly its staff across the US was told their working hours were being changed. All of a sudden the geniuses weren't advocates but regular retail staff.

Within days head of retail John Browett (formerly of Dixons and PC World) was forced into a u-turn , admitting: "We messed up". An official statement from the company was more contrite: "Making these changes was a mistake... our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve."

The Mike Daisey effect (A+)?

The radio show This American Life probably thought they had struck gold when actor/director Mike Daisy approached them with a story about his experiences with Foxconn employees in China, where many Apple products are made under contract. Daisy's story painted a picture of hard-working people who will never get to play with the expensive devices they produce - and occasionally suffer terrible injuries manufacturing - was captivating radio.

Unfortunately very little of it was true. Outed by Rob Schmitz, a reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace, Daisey was forced into a retraction - much to the embarrassment of This American Life. From having to defend its choice of materials and manufacturing partner Apple was suddenly blameless. Apple's decision to conduct their own inspection of working conditions was largely a token gesture. Daisey's implosion represented a free ride.

Maps without direction (D)?

Touted as a killer app for iOS 6 and another dig at Google (the new software dumped native Google Maps and YouTube applications), Apple Maps was championed on the basis of a superior user experience with photographic images and 3D manipulation combined with better source data as supplied by GPS manufacturer TomTom. More of an 'alpha' than 'beta' release, Maps veers from the incorrect to the surreal, misplacing oceans, landmarks and adding a new airport to Dublin.?

A contrite statement admitting the company's failure to provide a "world-class" product (and even mentioning a few third party alternatives) and a promise to work "non-stop" until Maps is fit for purposes will reassure some users, while other wish Google would hurry up and release a new Maps app - something they have no immediate plans to do . Sorry isn't the hardest word for Cook to deal with. This is another plus for him, but we'd all rather he not have to say it much.

Overall: B+

(Solid with room for improvement)

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie