Where Does Apple Go From Here?

Apple's got room for future triumphs -- but it also faces threats from a battered economy, rejuvenated competitors, and a leadership crisis precipitated by Steve Jobs' illness.
Jobs is irreplaceable, says Enderle. He gets his way by negotiating hard with partners, including music companies, and keeping Apple disciplined behind a few products.

"His hands are on every critical part of the company," Enderle said. "There are too many stories of Steve Jobs getting personally involved and making things happen." Moreover, Jobs is a brilliant pitchman, able to sell Apple's products like nobody else.

Right now, Apple produces only a few, brilliant products. Without Jobs, Apple will likely become like most other companies, producing a broad and confusing array of products, most of which will fail and some of which will succeed. "It would be less fun that way," Enderle said.

But Von Rospach said he expects Jobs to return. "It's my feeling he would not have re-stood for the Disney board of directors if he was dying or seriously ill," he said. After Jobs announced last month that he was stepping back from Apple, he said he plans to stay on the board of directors of Disney, where he is a major stockholder.

"It's an indication that Apple isn't lying when they say he's going to take six months and then come back. But since Apple got itself into lies early in this process, nobody believes them even when they're telling the truth. I think the board has realized now, though, that they have got to deal with this in an upfront manner," said Von Rospach.

Moreover, even if Jobs doesn't come back, the company can continue as it has, Von Rospach said, because Jobs has infused the organization with his vision and personality. In particular, chief operating officer Tim Cook, who is running daily operations at Apple in Jobs' absence, and Jonathan Ive, senior VP of industrial design, are well suited to lead.

"Steve has put out a bunch of people that understand what he expects, and can pull it off and carry it forward," Von Rospach said.

However, Jobs' successors need to stay creative; they can't afford to petrify and institutionalize Jobs' mindset.

He compares Apple after Steve Jobs to Disney after Walt Disney.

"Disney got into the mindset of 'what would Walt do,' and kept reinventing the things Walt did, even though the market changed under them," Von Rospach said. That attitude hamstrung Disney for years after Walt Disney's departure, until Michael Eisner took the helm and provided his own leadership vision. "What Walt did was a lot of what Steve does, which was to fly in the face of the market and take the radical decision instead of the safe one."

With or without Jobs, Apple has a potentially bright future ahead, extending its mission simplifying the computing experience into netbooks and the digital living room. But first, it must navigate short-term threats from the economy, competitors, and Steve Jobs' health.

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