With Steve Jobs stepping down, it’s a good time to look at what makes Apple special. How have they been able to make hit after hit, and even briefly pass Exxon to achive the largest market value in the US?
To understand what makes Apple special, we need look no further than the words of Steve Jobs at the iPad 2 unveiling:
I’ve said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.
In other words, Apple’s secret sauce is making technology not only functional but beautiful. They make technology devices that people want to own not just because they work, but because they are works of art. And, because of that, they have achieved their vaunted “coolness” factor that propelled first the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad to success.
The question is will this marriage of technology and liberal arts remain once Jobs is gone? If history is any indicator, things do not look good for Apple in a post-Jobs world. When he left Apple the first time, the new execs stopped taking the big risks that created the original Apple II and the company tanked. When Jobs returned from the wilderness, the company steadily rose again. You can practically track when Jobs was at the company by looking at when they released their most successful products.
So what makes Jobs special? Job’s special skill is that of taste. In fact, he famously said:
The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste
Jobs role at Apple was not really to design anything (they have Ives for that) or code anything, it was that of the great editor. He decided which products Apple should bet the company on and which features should be added or (more often) cut to make a beautiful product that the market would love. He had that mystical “taste”.
So the question now is: does Tim Cook have taste?