Tim Cook's New Apple World Order
Editor's Note: At ECT, writers and editors often banter about topics, puzzling out angles. For today's column, we decided to share that banter between columnist Chris Maxcer and managing editor Mick Brady.
I've been brainstorming column topics -- and struggling to find something relevant that's connected to an opinion. Working now on a piece, "Tim Cook's 'Inclusion' Is Fundamentally Changing Apple," covering the San Francisco Pride Parade inclusion idea, noting that SAP and Nike have used the phrase relating it to innovation, but noting that maybe for Tim Cook, this idea seems to have a whole new meaning for Apple -- the notion may be trickling into the very way that Apple is now approaching its entire business.
Case in point is CarPay, HomeKit, HealthKit, Apple's apps that now can talk to other apps, even including app features in other apps, in addition to bringing Beats into the family and hiring a whole new batch of leaders. Cook is even looking to add board members.
So Apple is shaking out to become a very different sort of Apple, one suddenly more inclusive than ever before. The question for the rest of this year is if all this inclusion will really lead to innovation.
Looking forward to seeing the answers, of course.
So, something along those lines. Keep at it?
Well... here are some sort of random but loosely connected thoughts to chew on...
I'm struggling to see this in a business light. I don't think Cook would have risen to be CEO of Apple if he weren't shrewd about business.
However, as Cook is one of probably a very few out gay CEOs of giant corporations (is there another?) it's difficult to ignore the cultural side -- but then to think that Apple's product development and strategies would somehow be drastically influenced by the CEO's sexual orientation seems absurd.
Apple's cultural, social and political identity has always been kind of muddy to me. From a business perspective, it seems dangerous to take positions that might alienate potential customers. Yet Cook seems to be moving in that direction.
Another thing that strikes me is that as an Apple fan, you seem mostly inclined to go with the flow -- you were pretty much happy with the company when Steve Jobs ruled with an iron fist and carefully nurtured Apple's exclusivity. Now you seem favorable toward Tim Cook's kinder, gentler "everyone is welcome" approach. Are other Apple customers as flexible as you seem to be?
I spoke to one recently who said she had gotten a look at leaked photos of the supposed iPhone 6 prototypes and thought they were ugly. If that's what the next iPhone looks like, she would probably switch. She seemed to think that without Steve Jobs, Apple had lost its mojo.
The way I see Apple, it has not been among the great innovators -- it's been a great packager, marketer and brander of ideas that really originated outside the company. So is Cook's move toward inclusion perhaps a little dangerous? Does Apple want to become the company that's first at the expense of being the company that's best?
Let me know if anything gels from all this cogitating...
Hmm... I didn't mean to imply that sexual orientation connected to the Pride Parade means much to the Apple business model, but what if the phrase, "inclusion inspires innovation" really is meaningful to Cook? What if that phrase is more than a marketing message cooked up and repurposed by PR flacks to create a sense of shared humanity in companies that are just businesses masquerading as something more than just a corporation?
I mean really, to think that when you include everybody, you're somehow naturally more innovative? In my experience, smaller teams tend to come up with more innovative ideas. But is that a law of the universe? It might not be for Tim Cook's version of Apple.
If you take the concept of inclusion and apply it to Apple's business practices and product road maps lately, the Steve Jobs version of Apple was far more exclusive. So, can a way of thinking -- of believing that inclusion inspires innovation -- can that shape how a CEO runs a company?
Organizing principles for businesses are key. Apple puts the product first, with the customer experience second -- but to get there, other rules of thumb help give direction to the company's movement.
There is no doubt that Tim Cook approved of the Apple Pride video. So does Cook believe in this idea at the leadership level? I'm not talking about whether Cook believes you need a certain percentage of minorities in leadership roles to be an effective company. There's a bunch of older white men running Apple, and I think they think they're doing just fine. I seriously doubt that Cook brought on Angela Ahrendts because she's female. I believe Cook brought her on because she's Angela Ahrendts who kicked ass at Burberry.
More to the point, I'm thinking that this "inclusion inspires innovation" theme is also relevant to how Apple is now approaching its product development.
Case in point?
HomeKit. HealthKit. CarPlay. Third-party apps that can work with other apps in iOS -- even Apple apps. These are all based on the premise that developers and manufacturers all working together will be able to deliver the next round of innovation.
In fact, a very inclusive mindset may be the only path forward for an innovative new Apple. What's the problem with Apple TV? Despite having many channels/apps and fancypants AirPlay, it's still closed to much of the TV industry. It doesn't really replace cable and satellite boxes and DVRs, and it doesn't bring much live content to the screen. To make a real Apple TV shine, Apple will have to work closely with an outside industry that's hell bent on fighting change.
Could Apple have created a whole set of home automation products with the Apple logo? Probably. But worth the effort? Probably not. Instead, Apple created HomeKit to let outside manufacturers create home automation products that let consumers use them with their iPhones. Apple's innovation isn't in creating mood lighting; Apple's innovation is creating a system that's appealing and understandable to consumers.
That's the real invention here -- taking complex products that communicate in confusing ways and producing something sensible out of the mess -- only Apple can do that, right? Maybe, maybe not. But that's certainly an innovative effort.
Take the Beats acquisition and the inclusion of Iovine and Dre. Will their Apple outsider (but industry insider) passion bring innovation to Apple? Will those two guys just go on vacation for the rest of their lives, or will they use Apple's vast global resources to build something more meaningful than pretty headphones and curated streaming music? I think Tim Cook is betting that they will bring something more to Apple.
So the real question, then, isn't whether Apple is shifting toward being a more inclusive company -- I think the evidence is ample -- no, the real question is if this new direction toward "inventor inclusion" and collaboration is a sign of weakness... or a sign of evolution.
Is this the only sustainable path forward for Apple? Bringing in new talent -- like the recent hire of Pruniaux from the respected TAG Heuer watch company?
At the same time, Cook has clearly attempted to better integrate Apple's senior management over the last couple of years, and the ongoing metaphor for WWDC was continuity connecting a wide variety of distinct devices into a seamless experience. Isn't this innovation? Continuity takes serious inventive effort.
Heck, how's the continuity in the Windows experience right now? Seems to me that clunkiness within a single operating system has been the common complaint there.
Meanwhile, back to the real test. What will Apple invent? What new product will Apple introduce? The thing is, I don't think Apple will ever invent another discrete cool new product that sort of stands on its own. I think Apple has changed and will only invent products that are part of inclusive new ecosystems. So that's the test. By the time the iWatch hits, it won't just be a pretty smartwatch or fitness band. It'll have an ecosystem of developers and apps that will be inherently part of the whole.
I think people still want to see Steve Jobs hold up something shiny and have that be the product, the invention. All of Apple's "new important inventions" will be fundamentally packaged with apps, services and integration -- which is the business plan that most closely will guarantee their success. For instance, a pretty shiny cover will no longer be enough to sell smartphones to the masses. If that's all you needed, the Nokia Lumia 1020 running Windows Phone 8.1 would sell like crazy.
This is the world in which Tim Cook can win. So I think this is the business strategy that Apple is pursuing: far more open than ever before, and far more inclusive -- not only of human talent at the top, but also in terms of how new products are rolled out.
I can't wait to see how it shakes out, and it'll shake out in one of two ways: great products, great experiences; or vague items that are shippable but uninspiring products of group think. Like I said, I can't wait to see how it shakes out.
You know, I just dropped most of the key points in this email exchange, why don't we try something a little crazy and just publish the email back and forth? A little nontraditional, mildly innovative, yes?
And Mick again:
OK, OK, you beat me down with this topic. Sheesh. Let's go with it.