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A tale of two Apples

Jason Snell | May 30, 2014
Tim Cook's instruction from Steve Jobs was clear: Don't let Apple become paralyzed like Disney did in the wake of Walt Disney's death, endlessly asking what the esteemed founder would do in any given situation. The only directive from Jobs's tenure that mattered after his death was the one that freed Cook and everyone else at Apple from playing "What Would Steve Do?"

Really, the Beats acquisition is just the latest sign that this is not Steve's Apple, but rather the post-Steve Apple that Steve himself demanded that Cook create. Cook has also added a charity matching program, began buying back Apple shares, and offered shareholders a dividend.

Apple's PR and product approach and schedule, once predictable, are now in anything-can-happen mode. The general public can beta-test versions of OS X. Mountain Lion's roll-out was different. Mavericks was free. Apple execs embraced the 30th anniversary of the Mac in a way Jobs wouldn't have. Last year's iPhone was replaced by a new model rather than simply being dropped in price.

I might even argue that in some ways, Apple executives have been able to unmake some decisions that Jobs himself — perhaps unwisely — insisted on. The "thermonuclear" patent war Jobs started with Google shows signs of abating, since it's clear now that the results of those trials are embarrassing disclosures, huge legal fees, and slight slaps on the wrist to the infringers.

The evidence is clear: Apple is taking Steve Jobs's advice to heart and not remaining static in the wake of his death. I have no idea if Apple and Beats will end up being a good match — I'm interested to see if Apple truly embraces music subscriptions, or keeps Beats Music at arm's length from iTunes. What I'm excited by is the fact that the Beats acquisition is not a move that Apple would have made a few years ago.

I believe that if Apple stuck by the What Would Steve Do playbook, it would truly be doomed — by looking backward and second-guessing key decisions based on strategies that are increasingly out of date. Steve Jobs famously changed his mind all the time, but his posthumous wisdom doesn't have that capability. Instead, Apple executives are making interesting and risky decisions — just as Steve Jobs once did. Whether the Beats acquisition ultimately succeeds or fails, the fact that it happened at all is a good sign for Apple's future.


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