Apple is pronounced dead every 10 years or so, inevitably before another miraculous revival. Although Steve Jobs’s recent resignation as CEO didn’t provoke the same gloomy predictions as the company’s previous setbacks, there was widespread moaning about Apple’s future. Conspicuously missing was speculation about the ways in which Jobs’s diminished role might improve Apple.
To some, any such speculation is heresy. So first, let me affirm that Jobs was perhaps our brightest entrepreneur. His marketing savvy was uncanny. His standards were extraordinarily high, and he attracted some of the best talent on the planet.
Like everyone, however, Jobs was flawed. One flaw was well known but was mainly an internal company matter. Another was less recognized but eventually will harm Apple’s competitiveness.
The famous flaw was that Jobs was a hothead. At times, his behavior exceeded the allowances made for a “tough boss.” His abuse could become unprofessional and wouldn’t be tolerated at most companies if he were a middle manager. But this character flaw mainly affected the relatively few people immediately around him, so it was tolerable—unless his successors believe it was a key to his success.
His more relevant shortcoming was a blind spot for software development. Unlike, say, Bill Gates, Jobs never made his mark as a programmer. Apple’s iOS is a restrictive platform that requires Objective-C, a programming language rarely used elsewhere. Mac OS is more open but heavily favors the same nonstandard language. This complaint may seem trifling now, because Apple’s products are wildly popular. Over time, however, Apple’s captive developers will defect to platforms offering more choices.
Apple executives proclaim that they will follow in Jobs’s footsteps because his DNA is woven into the company. For the most part, I hope they are right. But there is always room for improvement.