How long can Apple emulate Steve Jobs?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: September 12, 2012

Anyone remember Fake Steve Jobs, the satirical blog created by Newsweek's Dan Lyons? How could we forget? Well, the site itself and the persona are long gone. Lyons had a moment of morality when the world learned of Steve Jobs' poor health and plunged the site into the depths of his brain and will continue to channel his comedy elsewhere.

This morning, however, in the calm before Apple's announcement, Lyons published a no holds barred view of how Apple has performed over the last year. Surprisingly, he has several very interesting points. There was also an air of naivety in parts, but after all, this is Apple. How much do we actually know?

On paper, Lyons notes that the company itself has done a great job. Apple's market cap is at an all-time high of $632 billion and it has $100 billion in cash, making it the largest company in the world and the largest in U.S. history. He also says with sights set on a $150 billion year with net profit margins up 30 percent, Tim Cook is doing "marvellously well."

But this is where the compliments stop. Lyons begins tearing into Apple and states many negatives that people seems to gloss over. First, he goes on about the next-generation iPhone that has allegedly shown its face countless times across the Internet over the last several months:

"Word is it will look a lot like the last two versions of the iPhone, except a bit thinner and a bit taller, with upgraded guts and a refreshed operating system.

If that's correct, I imagine Steve is not happy. First of all, he'd be furious about the leaks. Steve liked surprising people."

Then he tears into Apple's famed designer, Jonathan Ive:

"Now, having had two years to plot and scheme, Apple's renowned designer Jonathan Ive has replaced the tiny 3.5in (8.9cm) screen with a slightly-less-tiny 4in (10.2cm) screen? Wow. Knock me over with a feather. What do you do with the rest of your time, Jony?

This is what happens when a company is too cheap to invest in research and development. Did you know that Apple spends far less on R&D than any of its rivals - a paltry 2% of revenues, versus 14% for Google and Microsoft?"

He's following through with those punches, too. But he's basically saying what I've been saying since the very first iPhone 5 "leaked parts" made their way to the tech blogosphere. We expect innovation from Apple, not minuscule changes that will ultimately be pushed as "revolutionary" and "game-changing."

Then again, no matter how you look at it, Apple will never be the same company without Steve Jobs. Jobs, a "product visionary" says Lyons, was replaced with "number-cruncher" Tim Cook, who can shave costs and boost profits. But Jobs' knack for lovable, user-friendly products isn't something that can be taught … or transferred. Even on paper, others can only strive to match the attention to detail Jobs expressed with ease.

I will never forget an anecdote posted on Google+ by Google's Vic Gundotra last year. It's a story about Jobs that has greatly impacted my life and to this day is something that I think about constantly.

On a Sunday while Gundotra was in religious services, he received a call from Steve Jobs, but the caller ID was unknown and he ignored the call. After services, Gundotra checked his messages and one from Jobs read, "Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss." Gundotra called Jobs right away to learn that the urgent matter had to do with the Google logo in an icon on the iPhone. Jobs said:

"So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow."

"I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"

As Gundotra said, CEOs should care about details, even the most minute ones on a Sunday. And that's something I fear Apple will never be able to emulate, even if Jobs did leave behind a playbook for the company. Those insignificant details – the ones most people overlook – will be missed and, eventually, it will show.

Back to Lyons for a moment, though. He argues that not only did the victory over Samsung in court just make Apple appear to be a giant bully (I agree), but it has also stooped to copying its competitors. Making the iPhone larger, for instance, is a direct reaction to the popularity of gargantuan smartphones and phablets. And the success of 7-inch Android tablets have also made Apple reconsider smaller tablets. Jobs said 7-inch tablets should come with sandpaper so users can shave the ends of their fingers to a point so they can actually use it, yet now there is talk of an iPad Mini.

I don't agree with everything Lyons said. He briefly touches on at least a dozen different topics, each of which are deep, convoluted topics with multiple facets. As always, there are two sides to every story and many important details are dismissed by Lyons.

Through all of it, though, he makes one thing very clear. This is not the same Apple we were dealing with while Steve Jobs was around. Eventually, things are going to begin to unravel.

How long can Apple emulate Steve Jobs' attention to detail, innovative mind, knack for user-friendly consumer products? Anyone who is remotely related to the technology industry has been pondering this since before Jobs' passing. But now that we're on the eve of the first iPhone since his death, the very same question is entering our minds. Is this finally the post-Steve Apple?

Some believe Jobs was still involved in the making of the iPhone we will see later today. Yet we will never truly know how far Jobs was working into the future or how long his personal touch will remain in Apple products. Either way, at some point, Apple will be entirely on its own. When that will be and what will follow are still two very big unknowns.

Image via CBS News