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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CEO Cook Kicks Off Apple's Next Act


The launch of Apple Inc's iPhone 4S showed just how much fans miss the showmanship of Steve Jobs. But it also gave observers a hint as to how new helmsman Tim Cook might prefer to do things.
CEO Cook ably directed the proceedings but unlike his long-time boss and master showman, quickly handed over the reins to his executive team for the actual unveiling of the new phone.
"What he did is let the team shine through," said Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett. "What we may see is a somewhat different style, and frankly a healthy style that says: Look, this is a team that works together, there's a deep bench; it's not just one person."
The event, though as usual choreographed to a tee, lacked the oomph and pizazz of Apple events in years past and sorely missed the star power that Jobs brought to the unveilings.
And it did little to alleviate concerns about whether the company would stay a creative force to be reckoned with beyond the next year or so without its founder and visionary at the helm.
"There is every reason to be confident the company will not miss a beat operationally," said John Jackson, analyst with CCS Insight, after attending the event. "In terms of product execution and in terms of vision, it's fair to wonder out aloud if Apple is going to maintain its pace of innovation in terms of products and business model."
In the intensely competitive mobile arena, branding and marketing play critical roles. Part of Apple's mystique came from Jobs, a Silicon Valley icon who infused Apple launch events with his charisma, turning them into some of the hottest dates on the tech calendar.
The widespread disappointment with the new iPhone 4S had little to do with the device itself or the presentations but more to do with the fact that expectations had run high for a completely new phone leading up to the event, analysts said.
"Tim Cook did fine," Jackson said. "It wasn't one of these things where he set the world on fire. He held up his end of the bargain."
"What is striking about this is that this is the beginning of a new era at Apple and today's event brought that home," he added. "The bench picks up where Steve lets off."
WINNING FORMULA
Jobs has long been a larger than life figure inside and outside the company he co-founded.
Famous for his "one more thing" mantra to introduce the show-stopper, Jobs' showmanship captivated the audience. His product unveilings were watched by millions of fans and dissected by Wall Street analysts.
Expecting Cook to replicate Jobs' on-stage presence is unfair to the operations maven, perhaps even unwise, analysts said.
"I see nothing here that says the formula's not working," said Gillett. "It's certainly different characters running the game. It will be most interesting to see how it plays out in the market, when the products ship."
Instead, Apple's new product-reveal strategy appears to be to highlight the team. And few felt Apple needed to tweak its winning formula for product launches in the absence of Jobs, including conveying ahead of time what to expect at the event.
Cook, who strode onstage from the get-go, outlined a brief introduction to the company's achievements and its momentum in a conversational tone and seemed at ease.
The iPhone 4S itself was unveiled by Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller, while software head Scott Forstall and Apple veteran Eddy Cue talked about the updates to the operating system and iTunes.
The iPhone's launch took place for the first time in years at Apple central on 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California. This kept at bay many of the Apple faithful who typically turn up in droves and eliminated the carnival-like atmosphere that often surrounds its product introductions.
Access to the event itself was limited to the number of people they could squeeze into Apple's on-campus auditorium.
Some observers had already remarked that Apple's invitation to the event lacked the typical suspense -- the invite clearly stated "Let's talk iPhone" -- as opposed to the cryptic one-liners that had accompanied past missives.
"Steve has a charisma and a stage presence that's unmatched," said Tim Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies. "But having said that, in the end, even though Steve's stage presence is important, what you really care about is what he said."
"And in that context, they nailed it" on Tuesday, he added. "They communicated well not only the vision and the direction, but what they've got in the way of new products and why the consumer would want it."

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