It's been a year since Steve Jobs found out that death doesn't recognize a Reality Distortion Field. The overarching question in that time would be whether Apple would survive long term after the passing of its creator. Would there be a CEO capable of leading Apple not named Jobs?
It's still too soon in Tim Cook's tenure to make a firm declaration in either direction, in my opinion. Jobs did run the company for 22 years over the course of two terms, after all. It was said when he died, Jobs had reviewed all product plans for the next four years, so his stamp will be on Apple for a little longer.
That said, if he was involved in what we've seen over the last year, his illness might have clouded his vision. Apple made a few horrendous mistakes in his final years -- from the Final Cut disaster to the Mac Pro neglect -- which I had long attributed to the company being devoid of leadership at the top since he was sick but would not relinquish power.
The iOS 5 Maps fiasco is definitely the most critical problem to happen to the post-Jobs Apple, and the fallout has been remarkable to watch. Fortunately for Apple, most consumers are not concerned with the maps problem or letting it discourage them from buying the iPhone 5.
What I did notice is that people are ridiculing the once-untouchable Apple in a way that was unthinkable in 2009, especially the press. Apple was notoriously petulant toward the press who did not prostate themselves before the almighty fruit and many members of the press were left out of Apple events if they were even the least bit critical of the company.
ZDNet asked if Apple "had jumped the shark." Forbes said Jobs "would have never released iOS 6 like this" (true) and Computerworld quoted a PR specialist who compared the blunder with 2010's "Antennagate" brouhaha over the iPhone 4 antenna.
But the one that really shocked me was a CNN/Fortune article that questioned whether iOS chief (and rumored heir to the throne) Scott Forstall should be fired for the Maps and the Siri mess prior.
Siri was arguably another Apple embarrassment, because the voice activated system proved rather easy to confuse unless you just needed to ask about the weather and couldn't bother to see if it was raining outside your window. (Although there were rumors Siri actually knew better.)
True, both Siri and Maps fall at Forstall's feet, but the idea of people calling for his head is remarkable. Contrast that with the MobileMe mess, where the manager was fired in front of the group and the press dutifully reported on it. None of them called for his termination. Now you've got CNN/Fortune and a few others quoted in the story calling for the resignation or firing of the most likely next CEO of the company?
It shows the reality distortion field is gone, and with it, the hypnotic effect it seemed to have on the press. Either that or they just don't fear Apple any more.
And there is likely less fear on the inside. Jobs was a notorious tyrant and brooked no leaks. But look at the iPhone 5 vs. every other product launch. Prior product launches had all kinds of wild rumors (guesses, I'd venture to say). But in the case of the iPhone 5, there were no surprises when Tim Cook showed it off on stage. Every last detail had leaked and he had no opportunities for a "One more thing" moment that wowed the audience. It's safe to say Apple and its overseas supply chain are leakier than they ever have been.
While some may point to the $1 billion verdict against Samsung as a sign of victory, others have noted on message boards that what Apple is basically doing is suing every significant competitor for using a basic interface it came up with in 2007 and has yet to offer any major innovation.
Think about it. The iPhone 5, with iOS 6, is cosmetically the same as the original iPhone. It has one more row of icons but still has four columns and the screen is a little sharper. This is Apple's innovation over the past five years.
I used to call Apple "The Great Validator," because it took ideas that had previously bombed in the marketplace and proved they could be done. The iPad was the greatest example. As of now, I'm waiting for something else.
This was unique to Jobs, who reportedly made suggestions to hospital staff on how to improve the equipment that was keeping him alive. The man was fighting for his life and yet he still looked at a heart monitor and found a way to improve on it. You can't clone that, and it doesn't seem to me that Cook, Forstall or even Johnny Ive have that nature.
I'm not at all predicting a Research in Motion-like implosion for Apple. Merely that finally, the Reality Distortion Field has dropped, and the tech press has blinked its eyes a few times and rubbed them to clear its vision. Apple is on its way down from Olympus to just being another Silicon Valley company.