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Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs Hardcover – March 18, 2014
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"Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)" by David Sedaris
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“This well-paced, vividly detailed narrative reveals the machine surrounding the Jobsian ghost at Apple and brings the company’s high-flying mythology down to earth.” (Publishers Weekly)
From the Back Cover
Former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane delves deep inside Apple in the two years since Steve Jobs's death, revealing the tensions and challenges CEO Tim Cook and his team face as they try to sustain Jobs's vision and keep the company moving forward.
Steve Jobs's death raised one of the most pressing questions in the tech and business worlds: Could Apple stay great without its iconic leader? Many inside the company were eager to prove that Apple could be just as innovative as it had been under Jobs. Others were painfully aware of the immense challenge ahead. As its business has become more complex and global, Apple has been subject to intense scrutiny, much of it critical. Maintaining market leadership is crucial as it tries to conquer new frontiers and satisfy the public's insatiable appetite for "insanely great" products.
Based on more than two hundred interviews with current and former executives, business partners, Apple watchers, and others, Haunted Empire is an illuminating portrait of Apple today that offers clues to its future. With nuanced insights and colorful details that only a seasoned journalist could glean, Kane goes beyond the myths and headlines. She explores Tim Cook's leadership and its impact on Jobs's loyal lieutenants, new product development, and Apple's relationships with Wall Street, the government, tech rivals, suppliers, the media, and consumers.
Hard-hitting yet fair, Haunted Empire reveals the perils and opportunities an iconic company faces when it loses its visionary leader.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you're interested in why she thinks what she does, go ahead and start the book. The first 2/3rds are worth the investment of time. Still, let me summarize what I believe the author is trying to suggest. She tries to make two key points: the first is that Apple is not innovating at the same rate as in the Jobs era and, therefore, is losing its cachet. The second point is that Tim Cook, because he's a more methodical kind of leader, will never be able to reignite the spark of innovation at Apple that has supposedly was extinguished with Jobs. There is just so much that's wrong with her theory that it would take an unreadably long review to go through all the points one by one. But let me hit on some of the big issues I have with her argument.
Let's start with her second point, that Tim Cook is not the right person to lead Apple if we're hoping for brilliant innovation. She basis this belief on a simplistic division of leaders into two buckets, the first being the dynamic innovator (i.e., Jobs) and the second being the competent technocrat (i.e., Cook). She asserts a sort of simplistic determinism about how companies perform based upon their leader type -- and what happens when those leaders change. With a Steve Jobs, you get brilliant disruptive innovation. With a Tim Cook, you get incremental improvements. So she says.
She uses, as a proof, the Walt Disney Company, holding up what happened after Walt Disney died as a parallel to Apple. But in this analysis she fundamentally gets the history of Disney wrong. Although Walt was the best known leader at Disney, up to the 60s Disney was, more than anything else, a partnership between brothers Walt and Roy: Walt handled the creative and Roy operations. The appropriate parallel to Apple is not simply that Walt = Steve, but that the successful partnership between the Walt and Roy was mirrored in Jobs and Cook. Apple would not have succeeded as well as it did without the incredible focus on execution that Cook brought.
It is true that after Walt Disney died his company lost its way, and this is certainly a cautionary tale for Apple. But where Disney went astray was that it did not restore a creative leadership after Walt's departure. Roy was left to complete Walt's projects, and a series of operational executives tried to run the company using "What would Walt do" as their rudder. Only when Roy's son, Roy E. Disney, forced out uninspired leadership and brought in Frank Wells and Michael Eisner to lead Disney did it restore the creative/operational pairing and kick off Disney's renaissance in the 1980s. That kind of successful pairing at Disney exists today in Bob Iger and John Lasseter. The valid example of Disney is there for the author to use, but she does not present it properly in her book.
The question the author should have asked about Apple, then, was not whether the company was led by a creative CEO, but whether it preserves the creative vs. operational balance that existed between Jobs and Cook. And, surprisingly, she gives the answer, skillfully telling the story of how Tim Cook has carefully consolidated creative leadership in Jony Ive. It is so disappointing, then, that even though she gives the answer she refuses to acknowledge the question. Either it is because she cherry picks an overly simplistic view supports her argument or it is because she fails to understand the more complex dynamics at work. Neither reason is reflects well on the work.
The second big disagreement I have with her is her claim the rate of innovation at Apple has slowed down. Although the author has extensive experience reporting on silicon valley, she seems to ignore the fundamental clock that gates innovation: the steady increase in computational power that is delivered via Moore's law. The original iPhone was a brilliant innovation, but its timing was controlled by the availability and affordability of the chips that went into it. The iPad could not have been delivered 3 years earlier than it was, even if the design and software was fully baked: In 2007 the chips that went into it would have been too expensive, too slow, and too power hungry. What is true for the the world of software, where you can deliver your ideas to market almost as quickly as you think of them, is not true of hardware: sometimes you have to wait for components to catch up to your ideas. Perhaps the author fails to see this difference.
Jobs died a year and a half after the introduction of the iPad, which was very close to the beginning of Apple's big innovation cycle. It's still a bit too soon for the author to expect Apple's next big innovation cycle to have arrived. As much as Cook and Ive would love to have proven the author wrong by already having shipped the next big thing, chances are that Moore's law has held them back from bringing it (whatever it is) to market quite yet. What the author does not know (and to be fair, neither do we) is whether there is that next big thing already sitting in the lab, waiting to come to market: the innovation that would totally eviscerate her thesis. If, in a couple years, Apple has still not introduced anything exciting, she will be right to wonder if it has lost its way. But it is just too soon now to tell.
The author has a very bad case of "what have you done for me lately" and finds Cook and Apple wanting. But that speaks more to the author's preconceived notions of how fast innovation happens and not to any change in the rate of innovation at Apple. The author is blinded by her own inability to see the future and wrongfully concludes that, for Apple, there is no future to predict.
If there is a common theme amongst reviews on this site, it is that the narrative focusing on Apple before the passing of Steve Jobs is the superior part of the book, and the author stretches the evidence in the second half where she argues that Apple's best days are passed it. Yet I couldn't help feeling that Kane goes out of her way to focus on the negative in the first half. Take for example the moment when Jobs is introducing the iPhone 4, and she claims that the tyrant came out as Jobs asked reporters to close their computers. Take a look for yourself at the readily-available YouTube video of the event. While it is clear that Jobs is actually mad and frustrated his product demo is not working, you can observe he remains cool enough to keep the audience laughing as he insists they shut their laptops. Having seen the video, a reader has to question the accuracy of Kane's account.
Furthermore, in this episode Kane gives no credit to Jobs for his gutsy demonstrations in front of crowds. He doesn't fake a conversation with SIRI like Pete Shiller does in the most recent iphone update. From the moment he released the iPhone, Jobs presented authentic demonstrations that showed great nerve; the rarely-finished products could very easily refuse to work.
For a more balance account of past Apple events, I suggest the excellent Becoming Steve Jobs, which focuses on both the legendary CEO's weaknesses and how he learns over time to overcome them. Kane does not give Job or the rest of Apple much credit. Is she correct that Tim Cook is too cautious, and Apple is doomed to slip into mediocrity? It is still too early to tell. And while she may eventually be proven right regarding her thesis that Apple has lost the ability to innovate, the fact of the matter is that reader can't help but question her far-reaching conclusions as being just as biased as her view of Apple's recent past,
As for the conclusions arrived at in the book regarding Apple’s future and Cook’s role in it, as with many things currently in Apple’s lifeline, the jury is still out.
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