The Death of Steve Jobs Means the Rebirth of Apple

| Particle Debris

Events in human history seldom repeat exactly. The forces are too complex. What is certain, however, is that new stars in the human heavens are always bursting forth. We can't yet judge the current Apple CEO, Mr. Tim Cook, but we can be assured that new talents, new leaders are destined to emerge. That's just the way it is with human beings. We should be optimistic.

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One of the fundamentals of human life is that we mourn the loss of great individuals -- in any field of human endeavor -- for a long time after their death. We do so, believing that no one can replace that person, partly out of homage and obligation and partly because we cannot conceive of anyone better, bound as we are in our life and times.

When the great physicist Albert Einstein died in 1955, the whole world mourned. He had the best scientific mind of his time, and I am sure there were plenty of people who felt we had reached the peak, the end of physics with Einstein's brilliant development of special and general relativity.

Albert Einstain (1879-1955)

In time, however, other great scientific minds came along. We saw that Einstein was at his limits, back the 1950s, trying to reconcile gravity with the other forces of nature. He was bounded in his work and his abilities because of the limits of all who came before him.

Today, standing on the shoulders of giants before them, I can name a few great physicists of our recent times who are more or less on the same level as Einstein was. (Some are no longer with us.) These are a few of my favorites, not an official ranking: Peter Higgs, Steven Weinberg, Richard Feynman, Paul Dirac, Stephen Hawking, John Wheeler and Edward Witten.

The successor: Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

The point is that Albert Einstein is a physicist who, today, is included in the list of all time greats, but the history of science didn't end with him. Instead, scientists built on his vision and moved forward from there. And for those who forget that humans evolve and build, we have the great science fiction writers who remind us what the future of humanity could be, sometimes a disaster, sometimes glorious. Or both.

I am not saying that Mr. Tim Cook will or will not be the next great Apple CEO. The verdict of history is a decade in the future. What I am saying, however, is that we often forget how science and technology develop. Extreme genius in any field only comes along every few decades. Accordingly, when we're in that lull of despair, post mortem, we can only look back and revel in the glory of the leaders of old. It seems to us now that no one will ever be able to replace Mr. Steven P. Jobs.

In time, as we all grow older, we'll see a renewal, and our faith will be restored. Another group of geniuses, able to build on all that has come before, will bust out. How long it will take, we don't know. They won't all come at once. Some may be here now. But I do know this: long after many of us are gone, a new generation of technical leaders, high geniuses, will emerge to take us to the next technical level, building on all that went before. That's how it is.

This week, Ben Bajarin explored some of those themes as well. First, nothing happens in pure historical cycles. His 2011 piece points out that "History Will Not Repeat Itself". That means in terms of events, not the continual refresh of the human mind and technology I addressed above. Then, referring back to that article as a foundation, Mr. Bajarin goes on to assert "Why Larry Ellison is wrong about Apple."

Mr. Ellison is a smart, wealthy man who was a good friend of Steve Jobs. However, when he suggests, with some bias, that Apple will decline in the Post-Jobs era, he's only half right. Many so-so companies with a so-so product and amazingly incompetent leadership die. But Apple isn't just a company. It's a human state of mind. It's a vision, developed by its founders, that will live forever. The reason Apple as a company creates so much passion in us is precisely because of the vision and passion of Steven P. Jobs. That spirit will never die, just as our thirst for the frontiers of astronomy and physics is never quenched.

Like Albert Einstein, Mr. Jobs was a man born of his day, his technology, his life and times. Both men created an awesome modern foundation, one in physics, the other in personal computing. In time, as we've seen in physics after the death of a great one, new minds arise, build on the past, and take us where we never could have imagined. Even the dreadful death of a star as a supernova seeds the galaxy with the raw materials for the birth of new solar systems.  Like our own.

Tim Cook may or may not turn out to be that ultimate apprentice. That's not the point. The theme here is that even if he's just a very competent caretaker CEO, soon another star will come forth from the heavens to lead us forward in the Apple way. Mr. Cook's task, as a caretaker, is to navigate the ship competently forward until that happens, not to compete against the specific achievements of Mr. Jobs. Alternatively, history could record that he was right up there with the great Apple CEOs. I'd give it another decade for history to weigh in.

In any case, Apple, sans Mr. Jobs, is hardly doomed. That's the mantra of people who, drowning in their grief, have no understanding of the past or vision for our future.

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Tech News Debris for the Week of Aug 19

I have been allergic to the cloud technology for a long time. It's oh-so seductive, and it has many benefits. But, by and large, I have avoided it except for syncing my contacts and calendars amongst the family iOS and Mac devices. As if you needed to be reminded, "No, your data isn't secure in the cloud." Subtext: "In 2012, Google alone received 21,389 government requests for information affecting 33,634 user accounts."

In case you missed my reference earlier this week to it, I want to draw your attention to this excellent analysis by Steve Cheney: "On The Future of iOS and Android."

Here's a nifty article over at Tom's hardware that provides a glimpse of how fast Apple's new Mac Pro might be. "Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU?"

My favorite article of the week is by the inestimable John Kirk. It's must reading, not because Microsoft hosed up the Surface tablet. We know that already.  Rather, it was Kirk's charming perspective, humor, analysis and awesome quotes. "The Microsoft Surface is (French) Toast." This is must reading for Particle Debris regulars.

Finally, just in case you're not following Jonny Evans on Twitter (@jonnyevans_cw), here's a nicely researched article about "Why Apple iPads in your schools are essential learning tools."

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Supernova via Shutterstock. Einstein credit: Wikipedia.  Feynman poster from personal collection. Credit: TWBA Chiat/Day, Inc.

Particle Debris is generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.

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12 Comments Leave Your Own

geoduck

Henry Ford did not design the Mustang. There are many companies that outlive their creator and go on to make wonderful things.

Lee Dronick

Yes, it could get better, if not insanely great, under Tim Cook. And if it does not remember that CEO of Apple is not a lifetime appointment, they could replace him.

In my shirt pocket I have two tickets to see the Jobs movie. I will let you know what I think of it sometime this evening.

xmattingly

geoduck: Henry Ford didn’t design the Edsel, either. smile

Regarding Tim Cook: He’s forever going to be in the shadow of Jobs, simply because what Cook excels at is not glamorous. As we all know, Apple’s meteoric rise over the past decade wasn’t about any one executive’s initiative, but a perfect storm of top-notch rainmakers. I don’t think most people will really ever understand how important Cook was to that, or that his keen capability at negotiations & product management is a large part of what’s going to keep Apple profitable for years to come. And while detractors tend to accuse him of being unimaginative, I think he’s too pragmatic to churn out a Newton or G4 Cube.

Lee Dronick

Henry Ford didn’t design the assembly line either, it has been around for a very long time, as John mentioned about standing on the shoulders of giants.

Anyway, we just returned from seeing the movie Jobs. It was excellent, I highly recommend it. Ashton Kutcher nailed the character of Steve Jobs, jerk, genius, tyrant, visionary and all. I believe that this film is major change in Ashton’s career, an award nomination if not the award. I also very much liked Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula, a strong performance. Very good performances by Mathew Modine as John Scully and J.K. Simmons (he does the Farmer Insurance ads) as Arthur Rock. There was a lot of the politics of the boardroom, and that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is the real world. Poignant at times and my wife cried a bit and I too was very much tearing up.

Lee Dronick

I forgot to include an interesting note about the movie experience. When the lights went down the first thing on the screen was an advertisement for the MicroSoft Surface. Then mixed in with the previews and public service annpuncements were ads for Toshiba Touch Tablets, HTC phones, Samsung Galaxy, and another ad for Toshiba, but no Apple ads.

wab95

John:

Another strong writeup on your part of the week’s debris.

Regarding your opener about the continual rollout of genius, the supernova is an apposite example in every way, in that the seeds from which that next creative surge will take place are left by not simply the life’s work of the former creative soul, but their departure, which creates a void. That void represents both crisis and opportunity, the tension between the two of which impels a new hero, meaning not only a brave soul, but a capable one as well.

This is inevitable. Why so? Because kneaded into our DNA is irrepressible imperative to survive, and nothing so impels and inspires creativity as a crisis in the form of a threat to our survival - even if figuratively or in a specific field of vital endeavour. The tech world, through which we as a species are for the first time in our collective existence, being brought together with the capacity to communicate across the planet and stay abreast of all developments in real time, and move that capacity forward to yet greater capacity, is one such vital endeavour; and the loss of a champion, indeed one of its leading lights, is its crisis.

And no crisis exists but that it creates an opportunity for that prepared mind that is equal to the task. No one will need to anoint that soul, or the cohort of new talent that will both aid and compete with him or her. The interplay between crisis and opportunity will be the light and water, the nourishment if you will, that will germinate that genius into being and speed it on its way. Such has been humanity’s response in the past, and such will it remain into the future beyond sight.

Regarding Bajarin’s comments about marketshare, this is spot on. Having stated this a number of times, forgive the repetition, but in no other industry is a zero sum game considered the standard by which to assess the success of the competitors in that industry. We do not judge the success of General Motors, Toyota or Ford on their having eliminated the competition and being the de facto monopoly automaker available. Indeed, that would be unwelcome. Our concept of the computer tech world has been adversely moulded, indeed sadly warped, by the dominance of one company during the emergence of the computer tech era during just one epoch - that of the PC - when the word ‘PC’ and the word ‘computer’ were synonymous (to some, amazingly, they still are). Although the PC is still with us, it has emerged into a new epoch, that of the post-PC era, in which it plays a supportive role to other devices and a subordinate role to the ecosystem, which is itself linked by a service known as the cloud. Already in this new epoch we can discern a change in the fortunes of that once dominant company, MS, not only in the new era of post-PC devices, but even over the platform over which it has maintained a stranglehold for nearly two decades. Its grip is loosening. Precipitously.

About absolute marketshare, however, this is not the metric by which we judge success in most mature markets, but by a number of indicators that suggest growth potential for that manufacturer and their products and services. A healthy market is one in which there is competition, and this is something that we should embrace with the computer tech industry.

TMO, in my opinion, can assist with educating the tech-literate public by discussing market share, to the extent that it does, in this broader context, in my view, and downplaying the importance of absolute marketshare as a sole indicator of Apple’s (or anyone else’s) health and performance.

If time permits, I’ll come back and comment on Steve Cheney’s piece.

Bob Forsberg

Ives’ designs hand held iMacs, software has been released unfinished and the stock dropped 50%.

Rebirth?...more like afterbirth!

Jim Gramze

I think Jonny Ive has taken the mantle that people most remember Jobs for, outside of keynote presenter. Tim Cook fired Forstall for the maps fiasco, and Cook has positioned himself as the guy who takes the heat so the real designers and engineers can get to the task of innovating the beautiful and elegant as technology emerges and becomes possible. I see mainly good things ahead. Not everything Jobs did was golden, but his greatest accomplishment is the company he left in place to carry on.

geoduck

Bob Forsberg:
Not sure what you mean about handheld iMacs. I would agree though that there has been a disturbing number of errors and omissions on the software side.
I do however, completely reject the “stock dropped 50%” meme that’s continually drug out. Yes it was over $700/share than took a dive. But that price level was unwarranted, and unsupportable. It was fuelled by a speculative feeding frenzy that had nothing to do with Apple’s fundamentals. Some analysts were predicting it would go as high as $1100, $1200, I even remember one saying $1500/share. It was an irresponsible speculative bubble that burst as they all do. It reminded me a lot of the DotCom bubble where people were irrationally throwing money at anything with “internet” in the name. This time there were a bunch of investors who were not looking at the market and what was on the horizon from the competition. After the bubble burst APPL got oversold and dropped to ~$400/share which Icahn and other are saying is as undervalued as $700 was overvalued. It is BTW also not 50% of $700. Their target is $500-$600/share which is a justifiable price.
I was just looking at Google Finance for AAPL. Take a look at the last 5 years. It shows AAPL climbing steadily and smoothly from 2009 until 2012. Then for the first nine months of 2012 it went insane. Now after recovering for the first half of 2013 it’s settling back onto the same slope it was before the speculators freaked out. That interlude had nothing to do with Apple’s fundamentals, it’s design team, it’s executives, or its products.

robyn007

Solid column; interesting idea.  Sorry to be a pedant, but it’s important that we get history right!  The observations about Einstein are a nice try, but historically off.  You wrote,

“When the great physicist Albert Einstein died in 1955, the whole world mourned. He had the best scientific mind of his time, and I am sure there were plenty of people who felt we had reached the peak, the end of physics with Einstein’s brilliant development of special and general relativity”

“best scientific mind of his time” insults other greater thinkers; but only applies if you’re referring to very early in the century.  By the time of his death, it was clear that he was no longer the “best scientific mind of his time”.  In fact, Einstein’s intellectual accomplishments largely peaked in the * 1910s *; quantum mechanics soon eclipsed him and relativity as the new frontier; and he never could understand it or accept its premises.  I’m sure that practically no one; in fact, no reputable physicist or intellectual thought in 1955 that his passing meant anything for the field, save a nostalgic lament for what might have been.

The notion of the “end of physics” comes *before* Einstein, in fact, at the turn of the 19th/20th century, when Lord Kelvin pronounces it.  He was wrong, of course, dreadfully wrong, as are the Apple bashers or hand-wringers.

As many have observed, the much closer parallel with Jobs is Edison.

Still, pedantry aside, your argument is well taken.  “Apple is a state of mind” and there is a culture at the company that breeds brilliant, imaginative design.  What we will discover going forward is how much of that depended upon Jobs (how much—not on/off, yes/no, have it/don’t—but degree that Jobs mattered).  To the doomsayers and Cook naysayers—and to Apple’s board members—it was several years between innovations under Jobs; there were failures and embarrassments, too; and the revolutionized iPod Touch and iPad Mini would have been treated as innovations had Jobs been introducing them, so….  be patient and let’s all see how it plays out!

aardman

Robyn007, pretty unfair appraisal of Einstein to judge him by his standing towards the end of his life.  And to judge him by his absolute standing (i.e. the significance of his contribution compared to the accumulated physics knowledge at the time of his death) as opposed to his relative standing (the significance of his contribution compared to the state of physics at the time he made those contributions.)

Physics has been described as a young man’s game, and so by this criterion, Einstein should be evaluated based on the years of maximum productivity.  If you hold up a physicist’s accomplishments in his 8th decade of life to the contemporaneous young lions who are in their 3rd decade, it should be no surprise that the septuagenarian will pale in the comparison.

I daresay that no physicist in recent memory has had a year like Einstein’s 1905, and from there to the publication and further elaboration of general relativity I would describe to roughly coincide as Einstein’s most productive era.  Comparing the state of physics right before this era, and the changed landscape that emerged at its end, I would say it is no disrespect to other physicists to say that Einstein truly is ‘the best scientific mind of his time’ and yes beyond.

John Martellaro

Robyn007 & aardman.  I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here, but the point is that Einstein was highly revered up until his death by the lay people. I was using some literary license to overlook the evolution of his career, and that’s all that was necessary for the comparison to Mr. Jobs.

Insiders and physicists, with 20-20 hindsight, know that Einstein was flailing at the end of his career with the Unified Field Theory.  He didn’t have the necessary mathematical tools and insights in the 1940s and 1950s. As aardman pointed out, most physicists do their best work before age 30.

String Theory,  which may *still* not be the final answer, would be 30 years in the future. The 1980s.

Also, by employing the “end of physics” term, I never intended to overlook the disaster at the turn of the 19/20th century when some notable scientists thought there was nothing else new to learn in physics. Again, that’s a story that, generally, physics insiders tell over and over! Even so, sometimes, somewhere, someone is always thinking that.

And that was the point of the article. I wanted to undermine the simple-minded idea that, with Mr. Jobs gone, Apple is therefore doomed for all time.

What a wonderful dialog.  I have the *best* readers!

 

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