In search of the lost soul of Apple

“After Steve: How Apple became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost its Soul”, by Tripp Mickle. Harper Collins, May 2022.

Express rating: 4/5

Some companies cannot resist the disappearance of their charismatic leader. Apple is quite the opposite. Since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, the firm’s market capitalization has grown from 300 to 2.5 trillion dollars, and even briefly crossed the 3 trillion mark in January. Two men have led Apple throughout this prodigious new decade: the British Jonathan Ive, the genius designer to whom we owe the MacBook Air, the Apple Watch, the iPad and of course the iPhone; and Alabama kid, supply chain and cost-cutting grandmaster, Tim Cook. On the surface, these two were the perfect couple for a company like Apple: artist and manager, visionary and bolt-tightener.

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Was it so perfect? That’s what Tripp Mickle, senior reporter at the Wall Street Journal, dedicated to Apple for several years (it now follows Google and its parent company Alphabet), which interviewed more than 200 people, inside and outside the company, and tells us about Apple “after Steve”. In particular, it focuses on documenting the profiles of Jonathan Ive and Tim Cook, the different stages of their rise within Apple and the part they played in rescuing the company in the 1990s. In 1998 , Steve Jobs unveils the IMac like a work of art. It must be said that the object creates a shock in the computer industry, with its round shapes, its pastel colors, its soft plastics. “It’s as if he came from another planet, a good planet with the best designers” explained Jobs then. This first version of the IMac has greatly contributed to restoring the image of Apple, to instilling confidence among employees and within the staff and to straighten the accounts. Apple was saved.

Artist Ive ended up bumping into manager Cook

That same year, Steve Jobs poached Tim Cook from Compaq to put him in charge of Apple’s notoriously disorganized manufacturing chain. He will apply his exacerbated sense of detail, his vision of the “fabless” company, (without a factory), his obsession with the profit margin, his hatred of stocks. While Ive and his teams will give birth to the iPad and especially the iPhone, Cook will make Apple a cash machine of formidable efficiency.

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Then in 2019, Jonathan Ive decided to leave the company. For several years, his head had been elsewhere, navigating between his many centers of interest. He remains on a great frustration: not having found a successor to the iPhone. The forays into the automobile were hardly convincing, the hopes placed in the Apple Watch fairly quickly disappointed. For Tripp Mickle, Jonathan Ive also came up against the difficult personality of Tim Cook, a secretive, almost unfathomable man, inflexible when it comes to defending the business model he himself put in place. Obviously, the two men did not know how to create between them the same intellectual and creative current that united Ive and Jobs. The fact is that under their leadership Apple did not invent anything revolutionary anymore. Has she lost her soul? The reader will judge.


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