New Apple

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Tim Cook becoming CEO of Apple. There’s a lot of coverage today, following Cook’s big interview 10 days ago.

There’s a phrase that’s been thrown around a lot in the years since Steve Jobs died.

The New Apple.

In different contexts, it means different things: the more open nature of the company and its executive team, the dedicated focus to advancing human rights, the push into mobile computing or China or India.

On Episode 124 of The Talk Show, both Jason Snell and John Gruber remarked that they liked “Old Apple” better. The smaller, leaner company that was encouraging people to Think Different about computers. When I heard the comment, I nodded along in agreement.

It’s easy to see the past with rose-colored glasses, especially when you spend so much time writing about it.

I first used a Mac in 2001, my sophomore year of high school. In 2001, Apple was crawling out of the pit it found itself in during the 1990s. I was able to watch the company bring the iPod to market, and begin to make the transition from a computer to a consumer electronics company.

To some of you reading this, the early 2000s feel like New Apple, and that’s completely fair. However, there’s no doubt the Apple we see now is different then it was when Jobs was in his heyday.1

Whatever era Apple was in when you first showed up, the Apple of today is different. It’s not only one of the world’s largest companies, it’s been that way for some time. Employee head count has swelled and the company is pushing into services more than ever before, all while juggling more products than ever.

There have been growing pains in New Apple. Maps sucked at launch. iOS 7 had stability issues. The iPhone 5c didn’t perform as well in the market as hoped. The iPad market is still struggling to find level ground. The App Store has a laundry list of issues. Professionals who rely on the Mac have been frustrated by the lack of updated hardware at times.

At times, I think Cook and his team put too strong of an emphasis on hitting price points. Sometimes, they put design — and even manufacturing — higher on the list of priorities than they should be. I question several of (seemingly all-powerful) Jony Ive’s decisions, especially in terms of user interface.

It’s easy to forget the complaints we had about 2000s Apple. People wanted the iPod to be more user serviceable. Early versions of OS X were plagued with performance issues, and some G3 and G4-era Macs had mind-boggling limitations.2

(Go back even further and this entire blog post would be a rant about the Performa line of Macs.)

Five years in, New Apple is here to stay. It’s traded some of the old problems for new ones, and while I may personally identify more with a smaller company with more fight in it, it’s impossible to deny that New Apple is a greater force for good in the world. We have Tim Cook to thank for that. His unwillingness to conform to Jobs’ image has proven to be his greatest strength, and one that I think Steve himself saw and appreciated.

Cook was a good choice. He’s no bozo.

  1. I’ve been watching a lot of old keynotes in completing research for a book I’m writing. No one has the stage presence Jobs had, and I miss seeing him announce products. Also, I think I just announced a book in a footnote… 
  2. My favorite is that the iBook G4 was limited to mirroring to an external display only. A third-party hack was required to enable extending to a second display, and it worked just fine. The PowerBook G4 (even the 12-inch model) didn’t ship with this limitation.