If Steve Jobs were alive, he'd fire Tim Cook

Beyond MappleGate, Apple is mired in an impossible situation.

By TheStreet Staff Oct 1, 2012 11:31AM

TheStreet.com logoBy Rocco Pendola

 

The level of delusion among Apple (AAPL) bulls reached unprecedented levels Friday morning.

 

Of course, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized for MappleGate just days after the company referred to the application as possibly "the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever." (Apple has since changed the language on its website to read: "All in a beautiful vector-based interface that scales and zooms with ease").

 

I have been using Apple's Maps app on my iPhone 5. While it was certainly a mistake to release an unrefined product to replace the solid Google (GOOG) Maps, it's not that bad.

 

Everything works fine, particularly the turn-by-turn directions. No doubt it's an absolute joke to launch without public transit, with incomplete location data and a design that leaves quite a bit, relatively speaking, to be desired.

 

If, for whatever reason, he felt the need to release something inferior, all Cook needed to do was to slap a "beta" tag on the product, just as Apple did with Siri. Beta simply lowers customer expectations.

 

Apple probably did not "beta" Maps because, unlike with Siri, many users expected a reliable and fully functioning mapping application. So you can't say it's not there yet, which, as Cook learned the hard way, only supports not releasing it in the first place.

 

The prudent choice would have been to release a beta version and keep Google Maps around.

 

But hindsight is 20/20. For better or worse, it's out there.

 

I view Apple the same way I do pizza and sex. There's no such thing as a bad Apple product.

 

Steve Jobs set the bar so ridiculously high that it's almost unfair to criticize what happens on Cook's watch. It's like ridiculing David Lee Roth for not being able to successfully replace Howard Stern in morning drive radio. Roth was out of his league.

 

The real issue here -- as usual -- does not deal with the short-term noise the media likes to focus on. Sure, relatively speaking, Apple's Maps app stinks.

 

But so what? It will not have a material impact on Apple's quarterly results. They set opening weekend records with iPhone 5. Apple will sell tens of millions of easily the best smartphone on the market. Nobody or nothing else even comes close.

 

As I have riffed since Jobs' death, Apple's future, not its present, is what should worry people who care one way or another about this stuff.

 

I observe Apple fanboys and fangirls with pity as they defend Tim Cook. He is the kind of guy Jobs would have fired.

 

And, yes, I know Jobs hired him. Cook was a good solider. He's a master of the supply chain. On his death bed, Jobs apparently told Tim Cook something like "Don't ask what I would do, just do what's right." I know all of this.

 

I believe every bit of it.

 

But you ride an incredibly slippery slope when you use these facts to argue that (a) Jobs would not be furious right now (a) the above-mentioned details exonerate Cook from real consequences for the types of horrendous missteps Jobs never would have made and (c) There's no difference between how Cook errs and responds to mistakes and how Jobs did.

 

As I explained Friday in Apple Bull Case Laced With Sloppy, Bearish Holes, there's a difference between errors made during a time of revolutionary innovation and errors made while you're merely bringing along somebody else's inventions.

 

Not to mention what I thought were obvious distinctions exist between how Jobs reacted and how Cook reacts.

 

Jobs did not "apologize" for iPhone 4 antenna issues as much as he chided the complainers. "Avoid holding it that way." Now run along with a free case for your phone.

 

And just think about how beside himself Jobs would be if he were around to see Cook offer Google and Nokia (NOK) Maps as alternatives while Apple gets its act together. Tim Cook actually told people that they might be better off with what Nokia produces than something designed by Apple in California.

 

I think I have a decent way with words. However, I cannot find any even close to appropriate to illustrate how flabbergasted I am right now. If Jobs were alive and just slid into a chairman or director role, Cook would have been writing his resignation letter Friday, not a sappy apology.

 

It all comes down to talking the talk and walking the walk. Cook simply does not have the ability to do the latter. Therefore, if he does anything to remake Apple in his own image, he should throttle back on the former.

 

It's not just that he cannot walk the walk. He cannot clean up mistakes like Jobs could. Everybody makes mistakes. Even Jobs made them. The recovery process is what matters. Cook butchered this one.

 

Just as he has no clue how to move forward with old-guard media firms vis-a-vis Apple TV, Cook pokes in the dark on MappleGate. If Cook were Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh would say he's in over his head in the Oval Office.

 

Together, Cook and Ron Johnson at J.C. Penney (JCP) prove that it's much easier to do great work when you're taking orders from and riding shotgun with Steve Jobs. Leave them to their own devices and you see what happens.

 

There's no sign of anything resembling a turnaround happening at JCP. And while Apple continues to dominate, the not-so-slow erosion of its culture under Cook rolls on.

 

As competent as they might be as executives, Johnson and Cook are both classic characters out of an MBA textbook. They have no business leading companies like Apple or orchestrating wholesale transformations that require otherworldly vision.

 

Ultimately, this is an incredibly sad story.

 

Most of all, Steve Jobs left his family and friends (and the rest of us) way too soon. Secondary to that, Apple's supreme reign will end prematurely. I'm not sure it's possible for it to have gone any other way, no matter who got the gig.

 

More from TheStreet.com

11Comments
Oct 1, 2012 2:38PM
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"easily the best smartphone on the market. Nobody or nothing else even comes close."

 

Uh, wrong and wrong. 

 

The iPhone 5 is not the best smartphone on the market, and not only does something else come close, it surpasses the iPhone 5.  Take off your blinders.  If you'd like to try and explain why it is better go for it.  God luck.

Oct 1, 2012 12:44PM
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Cook and his buttboys not cutting it? Big surprise. 
Oct 2, 2012 11:00AM
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you claim siri was beta,but in every ad and commercial beta was nowhere to be seen,steve could sell the inferior product,tim unfortuneately cannot....first iphone,no 3g bad wifi and call experience,same issues on every iphone thru 4s,no lte,in 4s.......and now we have mapplegate,and what passes for iphone5,whicj i personnaly experienced over the weekend and was thoroughly unimpressed with design and what shape that seemingly,still small screen....
Oct 1, 2012 11:45AM
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Steve Jobs succumbed to his arrogance and hubris plain and simple.
Oct 1, 2012 3:18PM
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Steve's working a FoxConn job in hell 24/7 and the devil doesn't need an opinion just like Steve didn't when he was 666'ing here on earth..  Even Tim doesn't have to worry about that and I am certain he doesn't care what the devil Jobs thinks.
Oct 1, 2012 12:46PM
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"the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever" That is 100% correct. Have you actually looked yourself? Do a side by side with Google. Their images are ****. Cook is an idiot for apologizing. There is nothing wrong with the program. And I'm not going to waste my time explaining why.
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