With yesterday's announcement of Jobs' leave of absence, speculation regarding Apple's future without Jobs reignited once again. TechCrunch and many others argued that the situation is not as bleak as it may seem, as Apple's product roadmap is defined for the next 3-4 years, and that the operations side of the business is safe with Tim Cook at the helm. While I'm not of the opinion that Apple cannot survive without Jobs, I do take issue with the product roadmap argument. Although it's certainly beneficial to have a roadmap in place, its value depreciates rapidly in an industry plagued by constant change and strengthening competition. A four year plan is more symbolic than it is beneficial and is assumed to change in response to market conditions and customer tastes. As a result, Jobs' work will only be a starting point for the current management team rather than a four year guarantee.
Although the Apple executive team has all the hard skills necessary to be successful, such as industrial design, operations, marketing, and technology knowhow, it is Jobs' vision and strategy that have made the company successful. Their success stems from the fact that Jobs has been able to define the needs of consumers and create new markets, as they did with the iPhone, iPad, and iPad. In addition to the physical products, Jobs has proven to be a master strategist by tying in software offerings such as the iTunes music store and app store that has increased the value of the physical good, boosted customer retention, and created significant barriers to entry for competitors. By creating a cohesive set of products reinforced by a brilliant software strategy Apple has created a virtuous cycle, with each product's success propelling the next. I would argue that this is Apple's biggest strength and is what will continue to propel them forward for the next few years. Thanks to their first mover advantage in nearly every market they serve, competitors must take a reactionary approach to each of Apple's products which has left them at a place of disadvantage. The problem once again is that competition is catching up, particularly in the mobile space with Android, so the string of market defining products, and Jobsian clairvoyance and strategic ruthlessness is something that will always be needed in order to continue the growth trajectory that the investment community has come to expect.
Apple has a powerful footing and an executive team that can execute flawlessly, what is needed is someone that can inspire people the way Jobs does through his mix of showmanship and vision, and can tie in the software and hardware parts of the business to maintain a leadership position in the markets they serve today and the ones yet to be explored. This all being said I wish Jobs a speedy recovery, and hope that they don't soon have to worry about their future.
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