Apple Without Steve Jobs, One Year Later: Where’s The Magic?

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By Dave Smith | October 5, 2012 5:36 AM EST

It’s not easy to replace a genius. Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death, a result of a years-long battle with a rare form of cancer caused by a metastatic neuroendocrine tumor in his pancreas. Jobs was 56.

Jobs was a force of nature to nearly everyone who had the chance to meet him. Many revered the man, some feared him, and some loathed his abrasive form of management. But no matter what you thought of Jobs, the man was responsible for some of the most important technologies we currently use today; in fact, it’s difficult to imagine a world without Apple products, especially the revolutionary devices like the iPod, iPhone and iPad that we never knew we needed until Jobs sold them to us.

Jobs’ life was the subject of a bestselling biography by Walter Isaacson in late 2011, and his incredible story of abandonment, tribulation and wild success continues to be a guiding force for the company he left behind.

If Jobs were alive today, he would be very happy with Apple right now. In the year since his death, Jobs’ former company has achieved unprecedented success, breaking records for quarterly revenue and device sales with each new product, from the new iPad to the iPhone 5.

It’d be naïve to think Apple would be the same company it was when Jobs was alive; in his first year behind the desk, CEO Tim Cook has done an excellent job to keep fans and employees happy while finally addressing longstanding questions posed by labor and environmental rights groups. The company is less secretive now than it was when Jobs was iCEO – Cook leveraged transparency to keep investors and customers happy, and rightfully so – but the lack of secrecy has had an unintended consequence: The magic is fading.

Where Has The Magic Gone?

Apple hasn’t lost its magic entirely, but much of what made Steve Jobs’ company so enchanting was the mystery surrounding its products and its secret promise to fans that whatever they would see under that black veil, they would absolutely love.

Unfortunately, in the first year of Apple under Tim Cook, that black veil that once promised surprises and “one more thing” is all but gone.

The black veil is slowly getting switched out for the see-through white cloth. For the last few product unveilings, we’ve known exactly what Apple was going to unveil before they unveiled it, with the exception of the device’s formal name. We may have believed the “new iPad” would be called the “iPad HD” or “iPad 3,” but nomenclature aside, we knew everything about the device months in advance, including its size and screen resolution.

Similarly, we knew exactly what Apple would unveil in the iPhone 5 months before its debut on Sept. 12; in the last month in particular, we knew everything about this device’s size, shape, appearance, and even internal processors and features.

It’s difficult to blame Apple for all these leaks – with millions of people manufacturing these secret devices, it’s borderline impossible to keep information airtight, especially since news sites are willing to pay an absurd amount of money to learn anything they can about these highly sought-after gadgets. Nevertheless, with the amount of capital Apple has, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company could choose to build all of its products in an underground bunker from now on; unlike Jobs, however, Cook as CEO is completely willing to sacrifice style for pragmatism. It’s not a knock against Cook, it’s just who he is.

Cook doesn’t push the envelope with Apple in other ways, too. The company seems to have lost its marketing touch. The last few devices and computers have included features almost everyone expected: Thinner, lighter designs with few “groundbreaking” new features. They work incredibly well and they are wonderfully solid devices, but the iPhone 5 and new iPad lacked truly “killer” software features -- nothing like Siri, and nothing that nobody else has. There were rumors that Apple was planning to include NFC in the iPhone 5 and advanced haptics in the new iPad, but those features were left out. One has to wonder if Jobs were alive, would we see Apple invest in these new technologies to stay ahead of the pack?

And that’s the unfortunate truth about Apple; without Steve Jobs’s direct guidance, the company is simply less magical than it was. That’s not to say it isn’t magical at all; clearly, investors and customers see the value of Apple, as the company is currently the most valuable in the world. But there is most definitely a line between satisfied customers and ecstatic customers, and unfortunately, without the element of surprise and the charisma it takes to continually push the envelope and take chances, Apple’s leaving customers happy, but wanting more.

Apple will never be the same without Steve Jobs, and given that it’s only been a year since he left this earth and his precious Apple behind, the company is likely still reeling from his departure. With any luck, Apple will be able to find ways to consistently inject new life and energy into its projects until we see another “insanely great” product that completely takes us by surprise, and changes our lives for the better.

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