Since Tim Cook became chief executive of Apple back in August 2011, his every move (and non-move) has been subjected to intense second-guessing and scrutiny.
Floating above all this has been the big question: How will he measure up to the man he succeeded, Steve Jobs?
Here’s your answer: Who cares?
Following the staggering quarter that Apple reported yesterday, it’s time to give Cook his due. This is Cook’s company now, and Apple just sold almost 75 million iPhones in a single quarter. That is a mind-blowing number that shot past even the most fantastical whisper numbers of the most Apple-loving analysts and resulted in the most profitable quarter in corporate history.
Apple’s business starts and ends with the iPhone. And in 3.5 years, Cook has nailed almost every strategic decision he’s made about the iPhone, particularly ones that flew in the face of what the majority of pundits (including me at times) and analysts told him to do.
He chucked aside original iOS architect Scott Forstall and gave the iOS reins to Jony Ive and Craig Federighi, who rebooted the whole look and feel. When everyone freaked out about Apple’s declining market share against Android, Cook stuck to his well-honed line about caring about making great products and not making the most.
He was right. Everyone else was wrong.
Now, hated rival and market-share leader Samsung is imploding and Apple is more of a juggernaut than ever. After getting a late start in China, Apple is killing it there. China will probably become Apple’s second largest market, moving past Europe, this year. (Yes, in part because the euro is crashing, but still…) Apple is surging in China even though its phones are still crazy expensive there.
Remember the drumbeat for a cheap iPhone to compete in emerging markets? Pretty much gone now.
Instead, Apple went bigger with the latest iPhones, much later than everyone else told them they should. And you know what? Didn’t matter. People around the world are still eating them up.
Cook has even fixed the logistical and operational problems that plagued Apple for his first couple of years as CEO, when supplies of new iPhones couldn’t keep up with demand. This quarter, there were no caveats about how Apple could have sold more iPhones if it could have made more.
About the only apparent misstep along the way was the iPhone 5c, the “unapologetically plastic” version. And really, about the worst thing you could say about the iPhone 5c is that it didn’t have gangbuster sales like every other version of the iPhone.
The iPhone has become such a monster under Cook that it doesn’t even matter that the iPad is totally in the tank. The main body of the press release Apple issued yesterday makes no mention of the iPad. None. Apple sold 21 percent fewer iPads during a holiday quarter. The iPad is a drag on earnings.
During the call, Cook said the iPad is what it is. No big turnaround expected. None promised.
And it doesn’t matter. Not a bit.
The iPad, the Mac, the App Store, iTunes, Apple TV. Some are up. Some are down. But they’re all just sideshows to the iPhone’s center stage.
Of course, as is the nature of business, all of this is subject to revision. The Apple Watch arrives in April, and it will bring a whole new round of assessments of Cook’s leadership because this will be his biggest new product launch. And the smartphone landscape remains full of new competitors, such as Xiaomi in China, which is enjoying its own success and is clearly gunning for Apple’s throne.
But as of this moment, right now, the iPhone appears to be unstoppable again. And Cook deserves acclaim for the calm and steady leadership that made that happen.