The History Channel has a great series called "Life After People," which imagines the fate of the earth after an apocalyptic end to humans. As a technology analyst, Steve Jobs' January 17th announcement of an indefinite medical leave (his third in 10 years) got me imagining the unthinkable -- what if Steve Jobs did not return?
For those who love tech, the thought of a Job-less Apple is about as apocalyptic a scenario as one can imagine -- perhaps second only to the end of life on earth as we know it.
Admittedly, Mr. Jobs isn't really known for being an early adopter of technology. After all, the iPod and iPhone came along well after similar products had already been created in the market. But what Jobs does do really well is to identify a need in the market and figure out how to fill that need in the most spectacular way. He seems to understand and relate to consumers in a way that few other executives are able to do. He's also the king of product timing.
Apple is one of the world's most cherished brands. Currently, it's the second most valuable company with respect to market cap, next to Exxon. But a great deal of that brand equity is based on the personality and showmanship of Steve Jobs. Without Steve Jobs, Apple, as great as it is, is just another consumer products company in the tech market -- like Microsoft, Dell, HP. From an operations standpoint, the company would stay on track thanks to the excellent management of Tim Cook; but the magic would be gone.
As it is entirely plausible that Steve Jobs might have to end his reign at Apple due to health reasons, here are some forward-looking and very speculative thoughts about what might happen at a post-Jobs Apple:
Six Months After Jobs:
Tim Cook is now Apple's CEO. Little has changed outwardly with the company. Apple's product pipeline remains intact. The iPad 2 and a new 4G version of the iPhone rollout as expected. Both products are huge sellers. Earnings remain high for the company. But rumors of executive poaching from tech rivals build. Silicon Alley Insider does its own spotlight on Apple executives most likely to leave.
One Year After Jobs:
Apple's corporate hierarchy begins to change. Tim Cook proves himself (yet again) to be a tremendous chief executive for the company. But, at the same time, analysts notice a stronger public face for Apple's other key executives who oversee its various product channels. Nicknames like "iPhone CEO," "Mac CEO," etc. begin to be bantered about in the technology media.
Momentum builds in the press about "fractured leadership" at Apple.
Cisco and Microsoft begin stealing from the Apple talent pool. Cisco is particularly aggressive as it seeks to expand into the pro-sumer electronics industry with tablets, smartphones and other devices.
Apple's earnings remain strong.
Two Years After Jobs:
Consumers show less deference for Apple products. Although its devices still enjoy a cult-like following, market watchers see a drop in consumer loyalty and interest.
Internally, the company begins to acknowledge that it is losing that "special status" with consumers and the media it once enjoyed under Steve Jobs. Tim Cook directs the product design teams to develop lower-end, cheaper versions of the iPhone and Macbooks to broaden its appeal to consumers. He also makes the iPhone available on all four US carrier networks. The new approach pays off in the short-term, as the iPhone gains ground against Google's Android devices.
Four Years After Jobs:
Apple announces it will finally start participating in technology industry events - ending the company's special market status it enjoyed under Jobs' tenure.
Five Years After Jobs:
Apple is in the midst of an aggressive pro-sumer campaign, and begins unveiling a variety of enterprise-specific devices, particularly centered around VoIP calling and traditional desktop computing. Another key element is cloud-based network services.
The same year, it also unveils a new type of futuristic device, probably a table-based PC, nicknamed the "Steve 1000," to commemorate its original visionary Steve Jobs - and to play on consumer nostalgia. The table PC is too expensive for average consumers, who prefer instead to buy their lower-end Mac desktops and Macbooks at Target and Best Buy.
10 Years After Jobs:
Apple is still regarded as one of the world's best developers of consumer and enterprise technology products, but companies like Google and Facebook are more relevant to the average user because they offer products, content and networks. Under Tim Cook's leadership, the company has also focused more heavily on scaling its consumer products from low- to high-end and adding in a broad array of enterprise-friendly products and services. As a result, Apple did not invest enough resources into its development of a smart TV platform, which causes it to lose competitive advantage with Google and Facebook.
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