Op-Ed: Five years in, Tim Cook has proven he's the man to be Apple's CEO

Posted Aug 25, 2016 by James Walker
Five years ago today, Tim Cook became the permanent CEO of Apple as co-founder Steve Jobs stood down due to ill health. The news prompted concerns that Apple would never be the same. While the company has changed, it's still the same at heart though.
Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Apple Inc
Cook's tenure at Apple came about as a consequence of Jobs' poor health. He had previously led the company for six months during 2009, when Jobs temporarily stepped down. When the co-founder announced his intention to leave his position for good on August 24th, 2011, Cook was the natural choice to become Apple's new CEO.
For a company defined by its co-founder's involvement, this was an undeniably significant move. It raised questions at all levels. Would Apple stop innovating? Would its appeal be lost with Jobs no longer in control? People speculated that an Apple without Jobs would never be the same. While the last statement is certainly true, the worst fears of Apple supporters haven’t yet been borne out.
Apple is still a highly secretive company that isn't afraid to do its own thing. Cook runs the business differently to Jobs and places values on different elements. At heart, Apple is still based on the same principles though and Cook has done his best not to tamper with the winning formula. That means quiet and considered innovation that isn't revealed to the public until it's ready for prime time.
From left to right: the 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus  4.7-inch iPhone 6s and 4.0-inch iPhone SE
From left to right: the 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus, 4.7-inch iPhone 6s and 4.0-inch iPhone SE
Cook approaches new product launches with a different mind-set to Jobs. Jobs was famous for taking risks when unveiling something new, launching a radically different device with immediate mass appeal. Launches like the iPhone and the iPad are a testament to this. Both had consumers flocking to buy reimaginings of devices that competitors had built years before.
The iPhone is far from the first smartphone ever built. If you asked somebody what the first smartphone was, they're likely to say the original iPhone though. This unique ability of Apple, to drive established, market-leading competitors such as BlackBerry and Windows Mobile into the dust with a single launch, seems to have been forgotten under Cook.
Cook is less of a risk-taker than Jobs. He's proven he's more content to iterate on existing ideas than disrupt markets altogether. Under Cook, Apple's product range has diversified, adding several different models of iPhone, iPad and Mac, but hasn't been extended with anything possessing the same mass appeal as Jobs' launches.
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling the Apple Watch on March 9  2015
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling the Apple Watch on March 9, 2015
Livecast screenshot
The Apple Watch is a distinctive new product from Apple but it lacks a crucial element that it would have included had Jobs overseen its development. The Apple Watch doesn't have a large audience. It's restricted to owners of the current iPhone and it has no standout feature. While it has dramatically increased the uptake of smartwatches, it hasn't managed to entirely eradicate the likes of Pebble in the way the iPhone did.
Cook makes up for this by offering consumers choice. Jobs was happy to have the iPhone available in a single colour for several years. Later, the range was expanded with the option of a white model. The iPhone, iPad and MacBook are now available in four colours each. The Apple Watch comes in a dizzying array of styles and colours, giving you the freedom to express yourself.
Cook's Apple is a brighter and more open one. This shows in more than just its product line-up. Cook has been a vocal member of society, tackling important causes and becoming a public voice for minority communities. As leader of the world's most valuable company, Cook has spoken out on a wide variety of issues and demonstrated he's not afraid to tackle complex causes.
Jobs possessed similar abilities but expressed them in a different way. Known for a more volatile and abrupt personality, it's difficult to see him approaching the same breadth of issues with Cook's cool and considered calm.
Throughout Apple's highly public battle with the FBI earlier this year, Cook managed to keep the conversation measured and controlled. Like his predecessor, he remained tough and did not concede the Apple principle at stake. He proved that his patient, conversational approach works just as well as Jobs' public appeal and far-reaching messages.
Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York
Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York
Kena Betancur, AFP
Cook has also engaged with competitors in a way it's difficult to see Jobs doing. Jobs kept third-party involvement with Apple services to a minimum, preferring to build things in-house if they were required. Adobe Flash has never been present on the iPhone because Jobs feared developers would keep building Flash apps, instead of native iOS ones for the App Store. While this has proven positive in the long-term, it is indicative of Jobs' desire for Apple to take an almost selfish approach towards new ventures.
This fierce independence lives on in Apple but manifests itself in less aggressive ways. With Cook as its leader, the company has come to recognise its weaknesses as well as the strengths of its competitors. This became evident last fall when the company made a surprise announcement during the launch of the iPad Pro, its professional tablet to compete with Microsoft's Surface.
The iPad Pro
The iPad Pro
During the demo, it invited Microsoft representatives onstage to demonstrate a new version of Microsoft Office built especially for iOS. Cook appeared to accept that Apple doesn't have the ability to build productivity software with the same depth as Microsoft. Instead of shipping an inferior product, it recognised that asking for help would be the best solution. Effectively, Apple endorsed a competitor product as the best iOS app for serious work.
It's hard to see Jobs doing a similar demonstration. Apple has united with its competitors in other ways too. Recently, it launched Apple Music on Android and there are rumours that other services could make the switch in the future. It has taken a while since Cook became leader but the company looks to be gradually opening up.
Official press images of Apple s iOS 10  announced 13/06/2016
Official press images of Apple's iOS 10, announced 13/06/2016
Despite the progress, concerns persist around Cook's ability to launch innovative new products. Apple remains largely dependent on the iPhone for sustained revenue, a device that in recent quarters has begun to decline for the first time. The upcoming iPhone 7 is widely expected to be another iteration over the current model, indicating the company is running out of ideas.
Apple is yet to replicate the success of the iPhone and iPad under Cook's leadership. It could be argued it's simply harder to create innovative products in today's saturated mobile landscape, although that hasn't previously proved a problem for Apple. It is again coming late to the game with emerging technologies like augmented reality, confirming it's working on building this kind of product but still not publicly revealing any progress.
For better or worse, an Apple without Tim Cook seems unimaginable now though. For a leader judged by the success of a single product, it's easy to ignore the other achievements Cook has made in his time as CEO.
Hopelessly inaccurate Apple Maps directions to the Fairbanks Airport carpark took users along a taxi...
Hopelessly inaccurate Apple Maps directions to the Fairbanks Airport carpark took users along a taxiway used by aircraft and leading to the main runway - on the opposite side to the terminal
The Telegraph
Perhaps most importantly, Apple has demonstrated it can learn from mistakes. While jokes about Apple Maps are likely to persist for years, Cook managed to face a public statement in which he admitted the initial service didn't fit into Apple's "world-class" portfolio.
Jobs probably wouldn’t have launched a product in such a diabolical state, but the misstep gave Apple the chance to the realise the power of failure and subsequent recovery, events that every company should have a chance to experience.
With Maps, Apple made a huge mistake, admitted it and then recovered from it. It may still be viewed negatively by many but the Maps of today is a much improved service, with tens of thousands of changes made each year. Apple learnt from its mistake, gaining new insights for the future.
Apple CEO Tim Cook holding up the one billionth iPhone at an employee meeting in Cupertino on 27/07/...
Apple CEO Tim Cook holding up the one billionth iPhone at an employee meeting in Cupertino on 27/07/2016
Learning seems to have been a common theme throughout Cook's first five years as CEO. Cook has evidently realised the challenge of leading one of the world's most powerful and influential companies but hasn't shied away from it. The company may operate a little differently but it's still the same at heart. The one billionth iPhone recently rolled off the production line, a recognition of Apple's ability to gain crowd support in a way few other firms can.