Will Apple Still Be Apple Without Steve Jobs?

We knew this day was coming. Now that Steve Jobs is leaving, Apple will change. Apple has stood out during the last decade or more as an incredible growth engine for customers, investors, workers and partners. However, it wasn’t just Apple. If Apple is the steak, then Steve Jobs is the sizzle.

How important is the sizzle? Will Apple still be Apple? Without Steve, has Apple lost its mojo? Will growth slow? Will innovation decrease? I’ll share my thoughts on some of these important questions and what they mean, because the Apple we all know and love is going to change.

Then, as my Pick of the Week, I’ll review several next-generation smartphones.

The Master Brand Behind Apple

The short answer is yes, Apple will change. So much of its unique qualities came from the sizzle that was Steve Jobs as CEO. There’s history there. We grew up with Steve and watched his successes and failures and his company’s incredible growth during the last few decades. And we wanted to be part of it.

Even if Apple could find another iconic figure to lead, that person could not just jump in and take the place of Jobs. It would take time. So it’s simply not possible for the company to remain unchanged. Perhaps over time, Tim Cook can develop his own winning persona. The marketplace hopes that happens. However, repeating the story of Steve Jobs is impossible.

The real question is what is at the heart of Apple’s success, and can that be duplicated? What makes customers line up the night before a product launch to be the first to buy? In other words, what makes Apple Apple?

I think it’s the same mystery shared by the Harry Potter stories and author J.K. Rowlings, or Bill Gates and Microsoft.

Remember when Steve Ballmer moved into the CEO post? Microsoft was still a successful company, but something special was lost when Gates left. It lost much of its unique flavor and incredible story. It became just an ordinary company. Still large, still successful, but ordinary.

Sometimes a CEO leaps past the position and becomes, in essense, the master brand.

Gates, Rowlings and Jobs are a key part of the incredible success of these endeavors. They are people. Individuals. They are the master brand behind the brand names. Without them, these would just be ordinary companies. With them these companies excel.

I am so convinced of this that I think we should create an award like the Academy Awards to recognize these excetional corporate leaders. Unlike stars, with whom we have no real connection, these are the real champions who reward investors, workers, customers and partners.

I have worked with every major competitor in the space over the last 25 years. As much as their plans and strategies seem rock solid, the industry shifts and everything changes every few years. It has always been that way and will always be that way.

With that said, I think Apple will lose its luster and become just another company in the mind of the marketplace. However, I also think it will remain strong and viable and at the top of the list, at least for several more years. It will lose an important something since Steve Jobs will not be there feeding the fire as the master brand.

The Next Big Thrill Ride

This opens plenty of questions going forward. Will Apple have another personal master brand? What will Apple look like a year from now, two years from now, five years from now? What about competitors? Does this open the door for another company to win the hearts of the marketplace? If so, which is the next Apple?

Remember when Google entered the marketplace? At that inflection point, companies like AOL and Yahoo led the way. Now Google leads on every front.

The same kind of opportunity is here, right now, in this space. So will there be another great company that will rise when Apple fades? Perhaps. Which company will that be?

As for Apple, I still think it will remain a leader, at least for a while. It currently has loads of happy customers, and it still has another year or two of innovations in the pipeline. It will continue to amaze us for a while.

It is impossible to predict what this marketplace will look like beyond a few short years. Don’t forget, the Apple iPhone began the transformation of the wireless industry only four years ago.

Since he got sick several years ago, we all knew Steve Jobs’ days at Apple were numbered. We all expected and hoped the company had plans to hand off the leadership role. Those plans are in play now.

Apple has done everything it could do. Now the rest of the story has to be written. So what is the future of Apple?

No one predicted the changes that have happened in the past. No one predicted the iPhone or the transformation of the industry.

Today the same opportunity and challenge exists.

So what is the next big wave of innovation for Apple? It transformed the industy it played in — from music, to smartphones to tablet computers. Will Apple continue to transform industries going forward? If so, which is next?

The story is not over at Apple. We have just finished a chapter and are beginning the next. It is still a gigantic and very successful company and will remain that way, at least over the next couple years. After that, well, we will just have to wait and see.

To Steve Jobs: You have earned the respect, admiration and friendship of the world during your journey. You have inspired each of us to stretch into the beyond. You are a real inspiration and have become the sunshine in our industry.

Jeff Kagan's Pick of the Week

For my Pick of the Week, I’ll share some initial thoughts on several next-generation smartphones that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks.

I am impressed with RIM’s new BlackBerry models. I have a few BlackBerry phones that use different carriers. They are available on all the majors — Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile.

So far I have to say I am impressed with the new BlackBerry 7 OS. The features you have grown to love are all still there. Some have larger touchscreens and others have smaller screens, but with a combined touch and keypad. Remember when a BlackBerry was just a BlackBerry, and they were all the same? Things are changing fast, and for the better.

Verizon Wireless sent me a new BlackBerry Bold, which is an incredible device. This newly upgraded Bold is a regular looking BlackBerry with both a touchscreen and a keypad. It is thin and light, and I like it a lot.

I also like the BlackBerry Torch from AT&T Mobility. I do not yet have the new 4G version; however, my understanding is that it’s the same device with a faster browser. The big screen is still easy to see and use, and it has a slide-out keyboard.

The Torch on AT&T has a bigger screen then the Bold on Verizon, but it is also larger and heavier. Take your your choice.

They say the new version of BlackBerry 7 OS provides a faster Internet connection. I will test, but I did not see the dramatic difference I expected.

While it is an improvement, the problem is that the Web browsing still falls flat compared to Apple’s iPhone. It simply transfers your Favorites to your smartphone, making it easier to find what you want.

Hopefully the next version of BlackBerry software will offer an improvement on using the Web.

The next Apple iPhone should be coming out soon as well. This year, it is available on two networks — Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility — and it’s rumored to be coming soon to Sprint Nextel. How about that! One year ago, it was only available on one. Which carriers will the iPhone be with next year?

The wireless industry and the smartphone sector have been changing. Over the last four years, it has become a completely new place. Unlike a few short years ago, when the iPhone was it, today there are countless devices including an assortment of Google Androids from just about every handset maker.

As exciting as these devices are today, they will be old news by next year in this fast-changing industry. More to come.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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