The Apple bigwigs have been on a bit of an interview tear in the past week, building up the hype in the lead up to the iPhone launch on September 7.
The interviews (Tim Cook with the Washington Post, and Eddy Cue/Craig Federighi with Fast Company) have taken an interesting approach, pushing the humanity of their leaders through some insightful interviews that reveal just enough about new technology but concentrate on success, failure and business vision. What I think that they’re doing is really laying the groundwork for the next phase of Apple’s shift from a product focused company into a services driven company.
With smartphone sales stalling as we approach market saturation, struggles for maket relevance in China, and an increasing spotlight on Apple’s slowing product roadmap, there are increasing questions about whether Apple has peaked as a product leader. Apple has approached this with some measure of openness, talking about their feature pipeline in longer terms than the next device. Recent comments from Tim Cook in his interview with the Washington Post are similarly subdued as he alludes to an acceptance that the market is achieving saturation, and one that is most definitely shared with others.
These are solid leadership comments – conservative as he defends slowing growth, and laying the groundwork as he prepares Apple for the inevitable transition away from a hard nosed consumer product company into a mature global business that has to face real world problems of marketplace diversity, regulation and fragmented consumer trust.
It’s a great interview, more so for his strategic and vision comments around AI, sexuality and most importantly (for my purposes) the transition to services. He’s keen to emphasise the idea that their services business is basically a Fortune 100 company in itself, with a further push to enterprise and other features.
Obviously this is where I see their strength. I’ve said it before, and see it continuing with the fantastic work that Apple has done in security. We’ll see that continue, and one of the big challenges they’ll have is bringing that vision into being across their entire services offering, which has bloated since the App Store launched, and discovered that diversity makes it difficult to maintain a neat walled garden. A cumbersome iTunes has been resistant to improvement, iMessage under some fire for security holes, and the AI market is getting constricted. And let’s not even get into their interest in AR and VR, an unproven market that’s already showing signs of being controlled by a limited few with the billions to spare.
Then there was Federighi and Cue in Fast Company
Prior to Tim Cook’s interview, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi sat down with Fast Company in a very interesting interview, mainly because they discussed failure, particularly spending time on Maps. The idea of Apple discussing ‘failure’ seems almost anathema to the mythos of Steve Jobs and his air of invulnerability. And yet here they are, accepting they they had made some pretty big, visible mistakes. Cook even mentions some in his interview.
It’s both great reading and one gets the sense extremely timely to prove a point. Apple is a human company. This is a very important point when we look at the future of a services business and the experience of trust. Acceptance of, and the ability to overcome, failure engenders a feeling of leadership and vision, to build trust. Impenetrable hyperbole can help us believe our devices are perfect, but that time has past.
This is an extremely strategic move in a year that seen Apple fight the FBI, battle the big banks in Australia over control of Apple Pay, seen product driven revenue fall and many other things. Human leadership is planned to lead us to believe that Apple has all our best interests at heart – it’s Customer Experience from the top down – establishing their most visible leaders as icons of humanity. Compare this to the legendary Microsoft Internet Explorer antitrust case, where Microsoft tried to bundle and steer users to Internet Explorer on Windows, and ended up in courts around the globe for unsavoury business practice, with Bill Gates taking a hard nosed line of defence.
It took them years to overcome this brand perception, a lot of this led by Bill Gates’ own humanities work as he scaled his responsibilities back at Microsoft.
Are we seeing the modern equivalent, as Apple gears up for a business shift into a services business that could end up in a massive battle over data and user sovereignty enabled in large part by the intense work being invested in encryption. Or is Apple trying to bypass this danger by humanising their leadership?
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