What killed Apple's Soul? Book Review of After Steve
"After Steve, How Apple Became A Trillion Dollar Company And Lost Its Soul."
Written by Tripp Mickle
Published by Harper Business
MPR: 499/- (Paperback)
The book is basically casting Tim as a neglectful father who never gave Jony the support or protection he needed. And Jony, as a spoiled and detached diva
who fell increasingly out of touch with Apple customers, regular humans, but is any of it true?
Some of it, none of it, all of it.
I have to just tell you about my personal biases right up front. Nothing about Tripp specifically, but just in general, I find that the big newspapers, the papers of record
and the business publications, they're fantastic reporters, they are amazing writers
but they don't always have a history with the company. And in some cases
for a lot of companies, even that doesn't matter. But for other companies, companies like Apple for, you know, big example they just don't work the way any other company works. They have very distinct cultures, very distinct organizations and very distinct views and goals that separate them from the vast majority of other companies, even within their own industry.
But these big papers and big business publications even all the way through their editorial staffs they are in institutionally unable to sort of handle that to process that.
So everything gets covered as a beige company like IBM or GEE. They have tremendous sources, they have incredible access to information.
They get a lot of facts, but many times those facts end up being viewed through very,
very generic lenses.
So to me, it leads to a lot of incorrect narratives or rather facts being used to support a narrative rather than facts being used to discover the narrative.
Now in this book, I think Tripp has done an incredible job not just in collecting all of these stories from hundreds and hundreds of interviews but in really beginning to put together a much more comprehensive view of Apple. I don't think it represents all of the people in Apple.
I think a lot of that is still missing but I think the general vibe of Apple is way better represented than it is in those, you know, big media publications and papers of record. And I think that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment because for the most part, it's also been missing from almost every other book about Apple.
So just straight up front, if you are interested in Apple, in their culture, in why they do things and things that they have done sometimes things that don't make sense,
I cannot recommend this book more. I don't think everything in it is accurate and I'm gonna go through a lot of that. And I think as perspectives go, it is very two-dimensional not very three-dimensional at all but a lot of this stuff is just completely unavailable in written form anywhere else. So anytime you have any ability to get any of it at all and it interests you, it is absolutely worthwhile doing it.
And I'll put a link to the book at the end of the article.
When you work at a company like Apple which understands design at a very, very deep level, all design is fundamentally compromised. It is fundamentally a trade-off.
You can never have everything. Anything that you plan has to come with an opportunity cost, any engineer and designer you put on one project becomes unavailable for any other project. Anything that you need fixed that you put people
on to fix means they can't also be working on something new at the same time. And at Apple scale that is a tremendous responsibility, just managing all that. And it means that people don't always get their way. And some people become incredibly salty when they don't get their way. It becomes a huge issue. And oftentimes when you do actually see people named whether it's in a newspaper or a magazine story or in a book is because the person naming them did not get their way and they want to sort of lay it on that person's feet.
So I take a lot of what is said here from that perspective but the stories themselves are really, really interesting. Everything from how Steve Jobs came and basically rescued Jony Ive from being an off campus designer whose ideas were never listened to and managed to collaborate with him in the beginning for the BondiBlu
IMac and increasingly over the years through the iPod and the different Macs and the iPhone and the iPad managed to build a partnership, a collaborative partnership that was inarguably one of the greatest of all times they just complimented each other so well.
You know, with Steve being an incredible editor for Jony's ideas, someone who was able to rapidly sort through everything the design team came up with and make almost instant decisions about what they should go forward with and what they should rework. He was an overturned editor at the height of his powers. And that was exactly what Jony needed at the time. But Steve was also incredibly supportive.
He removed any and all roadblocks from Jony's path.And Jony was someone who believed that ideas were fragile, that you had to nurture them, that you couldn't sort of argue them back and forth.That wasn't his vibe at all but that was very much the vibe everywhere else in Apple. And Steve managed to shield him from that all the time. He managed to elevate design to being this very protected very well guarded almost sanctum inside of Apple, this temple almost inside of Apple.
And after he got through carefully pruning that particular Bonsai tree, he would protect it from every other element. So he didn't have to worry about the accountants
or the logistics or the operations or the marketing, any of those things. Steve would be almost the singular interface for design at Apple. And at the same time, Steve and Tim Cook had this incredible relationship where Steve would work with design and envision these amazing products, things like the iMac and the iPhone and the iPod and the iPad. And then Tim would figure out how to produce them not just to spec, to standard, but at prices that people were willing to pay, the best prices possible.
He revolutionized the entire supply chain for the entire industry. And that was an incredibly different partnership but one that was every bit as valuable to Apple.
And then suddenly at a certain point, Steve Jobs was gone and Jony was left
without that collaborative design partner, that interface, that shield from the rest of Apple and Tim was left without that taste maker, that product visionary, that editor
that selected all the things that he would then move the massive machineryof Apple to build. And that is irreplaceable, no matter how talented everybody else is, no matter how much everyone else in the team comes together, that was a singular part
of Apple that it produced such greatness up until then. And it was gonna require a lot of change to keep producing greatness, even if you consider that greatness more normalized that it would never have the same heights, but it would also never have the same lows. Everything would be, you know, just a little bit more linear from then on. That will take massive, that would take, did take massive compromise from everybody because Jony without Steve and Tim without Steve were never, could never be the same as when they had Steve. So for Jony, he lost that editor.
He lost that person who would carefully prune all of the design team's ideas, get rid of most of the worst ones. I mean, some of them, you know,did steal ship even, you know, under Steve, there was the G4 Cube and the wide Nano and the Buttonless Shuffle and just a bunch of ideas that were not so great even design wise but there were so many really, really spectacular ones. And Jony no longer had that person, that collaborator, that editor.
So we got to see perhaps more of the raw product of design. Unfortunately, it's not covered at all in the book but things like what happened with the Mac from 2013 on especially 2016 with the butterfly keyboards and the new MacBook pros, none of that is covered in the book, but that is, you know, symptomatic of what was happening at the time. The Apple watch is covered, including the Gold Apple watch and Jony's desire to move the company into high fashion for that watch.
And the other sort of discontent around Apple about what the product focus was gonna be. And maybe it should be not faction but fitness and Jony's reaction
to having to deal with Apple without that shielding that singular interface that Steve provided. And at the same time, Tim Cook wasn't Steve. He wasn't the person who would be there every day with Jony in the design lab who would make all of those hard choices immediately. Tim was way more collaborative. He would take his time.
He was a thinker and he would also give far more autonomy to the senior vice presidents and all their separate organizations and expected them to make those decisions themselves. And so a lot of times it's only when things weren't working
that they would reach Tim and Tim would have to weigh in on them.
And then there are like little anecdotes about, for example how Jony Ive and the industrial design teamworked to make these superellipses, these curves that were incredibly gentle and had multiple mathematical points so that there was never sort of any hard stop between the straight lines and the curves.
And then him looking at the software, looking at the icons under Scott Forstall and just seeing RoundRects, you know literally squares that were chopped off with curves at the ends and just bemoaning, his retina bleeding over the difference
between that very careful, very precise hardware. And I guess in his mind
that very sloppy software implementation, which would lead to tension between industrial design hardware design and human interface design, the software design.
And then all of this has built up with the problems with the iPhone 4 antenna
which Scott would blame on hardware.
But a lot of that tension erupted until, you know, Scott left and then Jony took over the design team. And he probably wanted to have input, to have say, to have control over those decisions but he probably didn't wanna have to go from managing a very small dozens of team member industrial design group to hundreds of people in an expanded hardware and software design group. And the book sort of comes to the conclusion that, you know, Tim had his problems and Jony had his problems and fair enough but all of this stuff at a company the size and honestly the importance of Apple, it's never simple. I mean, you need simple narratives for books.
You need to have your villains and your heroes, your dramatic tension and some kind of resolution or blame or conclusion to those things. But none of this is ever that simple these things are incredibly complicated and involve a whole range of both company dynamics, again, the trade offs and the compromises that you have to make to ship any product or choose which product you want to ship. And also the human dynamics of everybody who's involved and getting them all to point in the same direction especially as Apple was exploding. I mean, at the same time, Apple gets blamed for not being as innovative as it was under Steve Jobs which, it's hard to measure innovation.
There were a lot of wonderful products releasedunder Steve Jobs. There were some real stinkers tooand Tim Cook's Apple has done things like the Apple watch and like AirPods and like Apple Silicon Macs but the innovation under Tim Cook much like Tim Cook, you know, in stark contrast to the fiery spikes of Steve Jobs has been
much more operational, much more methodical, much better planned out.
You know, the Silicon team has taken a decade to get from phones and tablets to the Mac and building out all of the technologies and incredible array of technologies
that lets them produce devices capable of things that they've, we've just never had before. And that is sort of everyday innovation that when taken together is a spectacular for any company, let alone for Apple who just keeps doing it
over and over again. Now, can you defend saying Apple lost its soul?
I really don't think so. I think the title is absolute click bait.
But I think it's also inarguable undeniable that under Tim Cook, Apple gained very much of a soul. You know, Steve used to say, you don't pimp your karma. He would donate to charity. He would support a lot of initiatives and organizations but he never wanted, Apple to be doing that publicly. He wanted all of that good to be done just for the sake of good, not for any publicity where I think Tim understands that given the size and scope and scale of Apple that they can lead by example. And I think one of the first things he did was start matching charitable contributions and being much more vocal about charity and civil rights and civil liberties and, you know, sort of the values that are really meaningful for him. And he carried on Steve's, you know, fight for the right to privacy, all of those things, but in a way louder, way bigger stage.
So, I mean like there is, there are absolutely incredibly important discussions
to have around issues like search and advertisement and China, you know, for sure China, but in many real ways, Tim Cook brought a soul to Apple that they never had before. So I think at best you could argue that it is soul different and, yeah, I regretted phrasing it that way immediately after I did it but I said what I said, and, you know, as impressive as the trillions of dollars are and as meaningful as all of that is to the stock market and to Apple as a business, just completely discounting that, I think Apple has done amazing things over the last 10 years, incredible things, terrific things over the last 10 years that absolutely required not just the soul but the heart of Apple behind it. So I absolutely don't agree
with everything in this book, especially its conclusions but I LOVE THAT IT EXISTS.
Do purchase the book from here if interested: https://amzn.to/3B67poT (Affiliate Link)