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Apple: Rotting At The Core?

By Drew Letendre

While a new batter shouldn’t be judged on his first at-bat, nor a storied franchise immediately second-guessed by fans after a change in leadership, in my opinion, the new chairman of Apple – Tim Cook – successor to the immortal Steve Jobs, whiffed at three pitches in his first time up to the plate, in his recent matriculation speech.

Pacing, gesticulating, articulating and to a point, grooming in a similar fashion to channel his predecessor, Tim Cook committed three no-no’s that probably caused Steve Jobs to turn over in his grave.

  1. Cook addressed the assembled audience (and the much greater virtual audience) as if they were a bunch of investors, rather than the global parish of ardent devotees that they are.
  2. Cook made no mention of Jobs who was not only in a dull technical sense his recently departed predecessor and colleague, but arguably a bona fide visionary of the 20th and 21st centuries.
  3. Cook presided over the lamest, dull-as-dishwater naming of the company’s most recent, brilliant, and wildly successful innovation – the iPad – as (drum roll), the ‘new iPad.’

How did Apple fall so far from the tree so fast? Does Steve Jobs’ hand-picked successor prefigure the downfall of a giant? Those without its one, true captain at the helm, Apple will soon falter? Or am I just one of the Apple faithful, predicting a more modest apocalypse in 2012? How could – again, arguably – the most famous, ubiquitous, remarked upon – even hallowed – brand in the world, be so clumsily bobbled in its first, crucial public moments PJ (post-Jobs)? I don’t know, but these three mishaps were all brand occasions so to speak, and they did not seem to me to bode well for Apple.

In fairness to Tim Cook, Steve Jobs is a tough act to follow (and that is dramatically understating the case). That said, if Cook could do so much, so successfully to ape parts of Jobs act (wardrobe, phrasing, pacing), why couldn’t he have observed the brand fundamentals? A mention of Jobs, if nothing else, would’ve been ‘proper etiquette’ for the occasion. But, beyond that—and as morbid as it may sound—Jobs, though gone, persists as part and parcel of the brand identity he created. His passing was a global event and while it worried many like myself, it threw massive publicity attention on Apple.

You could also argue, in fairness to Cook, that ‘the new iPad’ as a ‘name’ isn’t much worse than iPad 2. Press reports claimed that ‘iPad HD’ was kicked around. That too, would’ve been lackluster and might’ve confused some (does HD stand for Hard Drive and say something about performance or High Definition and say something about resolution?). But ‘the new iPad’ has problems of its own, which are so obvious I’m not going to mention them. Certainly, a brand/brand name with the equity of ‘iPad’ is probably thought better off without a sexy appendage that would draw attention and distract. Still, this feels like a renaming opportunity squandered, even if the alternative might not be much sexier (and with good reason).

Then there was all the talk around how ‘any company would be happy to have just one of these products (iPod, iPhone, iPad), but Apple has all three and recently announced the download of the gazillionith app. Suddenly, the spotlight was turned back inwardly and we got autobiographical branding – me, me, me; us, us, us; we, we, we. This is a new/old script and not one that draws its inspiration or authority from Steve Jobs.

It may be time for Apple to take a dose of their own medicine and Think different. Think new… and think again.