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Tuesday January 18 2011

Indeed.

Early last year, in connection with my (still totally excellent) Apple keyboard, I wrote this:

My utterly casual and probably quite worthless opinion of Apple is that as soon Steve Jobs stops being their boss, they’re doomed.  While Jobs sticks around, everything they make will look and feel great, because this is what Jobs does insist on and can insist on.  He has total power and impeccable taste, which is, if you think about it, an extraordinarily rare combination of circumstances.  He knows exactly what we all want, years before we do, and he screams like a horrifically spoilt child until he gets it.  A few years back, Jobs did abandon Apple, or maybe it was vice versa (what with all the horrific spoilt child screaming), and Apple did then nosedive towards inevitable doom.  Only when Jobs returned did the Apple glory days resume.  Without Jobs, Apple will become just another clunky computer company with a glorious past and a ton of money to waste that they made in the glory days.  Which they will waste and that will be that.  Apple keyboards will duly degenerate into being no better than any other kind of keyboard.

Which in my opinion is the single big reason not to buy, which means to commit to, Macs.

Later, Michael Jennings wrote more optimistically (in a comment on this) about what a Jobsless Apple might be like:

Steve Jobs was not in charge of Apple in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the co-founder, but outside management was brought in to actually run the company. ("Adult supervision”, as it is often called in Silicon Valley). He did have a big hand in product development, but he fell out with management and was fired in 1985. However, a lot of the technical and product development people he had worked with stayed for a time and kept the company culture for a time, and Apple were still producing good products for quite some time after that. (System 7 of the Mac operating system was probably the last really good version before Jobs came back and Apple produced OS-X, and Apple more or less invented the laptop in its present form with the first Powerbooks. Both these things happened in 1991). After that, management completely lost the plot and most of the good people left, but with Jobs not there and people who had been opposed to Jobs in charge, it took five or six years for things to go wrong completely.

These days, Jobs is CEO and the management team consists completely of people he has put there. If he died, my hunch is the company would keep its culture longer this time. It would probably produce fewer innovative new products, but existing products would be improved and refined well for quite a long time. In short, I think the company would continue to be run at least as well as most other companies are run, even if it did lose some of the things that make it unique.

Jobs had not died yet, and here’s hoping he doesn’t any time soon.  But he has stepped down, for medical reasons.  So now, we may see.

Much as I share your worries about Apple in the future I am not sure that is a reason not to buy one of their computers right now.  I bought one about a year ago and I have to say it’s very good.  In much the same way that Vista was very bad.  If Apple goes downhill that’s fine I can always change back if needs be.  But that’ll be in four or five years’ time.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on 18 January 2011

Apple certainly went to some trouble to time this announcement: they made it on a public holiday (so that investors would have time to think about it before stock trading resumed), and the day before Apple announced truly dazzling results. At one point yesterday Apple was trading at an all time high stock price. Investors seem to think that the company growth will continue for a while, even without Jobs.

My view on Jobs (as I said in those comments you reference) is that I could not see him leaving Apple voluntarily. The company is his life and by all reports he has few other interests. So, this is clearly very bad news. Whispers over the last couple of days are that he has been only working two days a week recently, he has been looking “increasingly emaciated”, he has been eating lunch in his office rather than in the company cafeteria as was his normal practice, and that he has possibly been requiring assistance walking. So, it sounds really bad. I hope it is not.

As for whether people who want to switch to a Mac should do so, I would say yes, of course. However things go at Apple in the next few years, they couldn’t possibly make as big a mess as Microsoft did with Vista. Apple’s computers are presently very good, and will continue to be for some time. I suspect they will up until the death of the PC, which isn’t really far off now. We have had a period in which you had one large device that you used for connecting to the internet and writing and calculating and the like, and this is rapidly changing to a world in which you have lots of different devices that all have computation and internet built into them. Everything in your house will be a computer disguised as something else, and the need for a “computer” as a specific gadget is going away.

Of course, the company that has led this trend has been Apple. Interestingly enough, in their results that they announced yesterday, only 20% of their revenues came from PCs (which they have been selling since 1977). Revenues from iPhones (that they have been selling for three and a half years) were twice that. Revenues from iPads (which they have been selling for nine months) were 85% of their revenues from PCs, which is pretty amazing.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 19 January 2011

> the need for a “computer” as a specific gadget is going away.

Hmm. Depends what for. If I look at my activities: I do a lot of my everyday web surfing and mail-reading activities on my (android) phone. But if you’re actually *constructing* anything - well, then both progamming and photo editing on any serious scale absolutely require bigger and better screens, and more ergonomic input devices, than can be squeezed into a phone or a sensibly portable laptop. (17 inch monster laptops are not “sensibly portable")

Of course there’s no reason, in a few years’ time, why my phone might not be the “computer” to which my 30-inch monitor(s), full size keyboard, drawing tablet etc. are attached. Clunky prototypes of such devices are starting to appear, but their time is not yet.

Posted by Alan Little on 20 January 2011

Jobs was recently gone for quite some time for medical reasons… and Apple was not obviously affected.

As long as the Board makes sure there’s someone (or several someones acting as a single entity) demanding both top quality UX and tight focus, they shouldn’t do too badly.

Contra Michael I don’t see “computer as specific device” going away so much.

In the Apple ecosystem alone, you really want a Mac to go with, say, an Apple TV.

And an iPhone or iPad is much less useful without a computer to connect it to - an iPod remains completely useless without one, unless it’s an iPod Touch.

(Outside of the Apple ecosystem, many “media center” devices still require a computer to serve or populate or control them, as well, likewise say an Android phone really still wants a computer for piling on media and the like.)

The point about computing being ubiquitous is completely correct - I just don’t see the dedicated computing device with immense flexibility going away. It’s too useful, and the cloud of little computers isn’t, yet, and shows no signs of becoming so soon.

Someday, perhaps.

Even now, everyone I know has “a computer”. The difference between now and a decade ago is that now the computer is more likely a laptop than a desktop.

Alan: The reason your phone won’t be The Computer for real powerhouse tasks even in a few years is that unless there’s battery and CPU improvements beyond even the prototype speculations of today, there won’t be enough power to satisfy combined with enough battery life [and little enough heat] in such a package.

A heavy-duty desktop CPU still draws out on the order of 100-130 watts, after all. Not everyone remotely needs that level of power, but for “heavy work” as in your example, well… I wouldn’t go with anything less than an i7 or equivalent.

A small box, perhaps even phone sized and with a phone component, able to do *light* general computing tasks, is well within reach.

Being able to do heavy computing? Very hard. Stupid thermodynamics.

Posted by Sigivald on 20 January 2011
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