Under Chief Executive Tim Cook, Apple has continued to be successful, while becoming more open and compassionate to social causes. At the same time, the company's once-cool image has turned dorky.
Cook took over as CEO one year ago Friday when Apple's (AAPL) iconic co-founder, Steve Jobs, stepped down due to his failing health. Cook, formerly chief operating officer, had experience running the company during Jobs' three medical leaves. Jobs died from pancreatic cancer on Oct. 5, 2011, at age 56.
Cook always has gotten high marks for his operational skills. He's a tough negotiator with suppliers, keeps a lean inventory and manages cash and expenses well.
But Jobs was known for his artistic taste and attention to detail when it came to products, marketing and advertising. And that's where Apple is showing worrying signs of losing its way.
In the authorized biography "Steve Jobs," Walter Isaacson details how Jobs was intimately involved in the company's advertising campaigns.
Cook's Ads Half-Baked One has to wonder whether Apple's recent ad campaigns involving Siri and retail store "Genius Bar" employees would have been approved by Jobs.
Those ads received heavy criticism in the press and made the company appear more dorky than cool. The "Genius" commercials ran for a brief time during the summer Olympics and were quickly pulled.
"Those Olympic ads were horrible," said ISI Group analyst Brian Marshall. "If Steve were still around, those Olympic ads probably would never have seen the light of day.
The commercials showed a blue-shirted Apple retail employee helping people in everyday situations. The ads insulted Apple's customers, portraying them as clueless, critics said.
"That campaign made the users look stupid," said Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle. "You want to convey the impression that smart people buy Apple products. People like to identify with smart people.
The Siri ads show celebrities like Zooey Deschanel, Samuel Jackson and John Malkovich interacting with the voice-recognition software on the iPhone 4S. Unfortunately those ads made the actors look foolish and not entirely sane, Enderle says.
While the ads were produced by an outside advertising agency, Cook should have used his veto power to spike them, he says.
Another potential problem at Apple is product delays. The next-generation iPhone, expected to be released in September, should have been on the market by now, Enderle says. Apple's iPhone line needed to be refreshed sooner to compete with more advanced handsets from rival Samsung.
Jobs had the ability to set aggressive deadlines and push products through with his fiery, charismat ic personality. Cook likely will need to micromanage more and roll heads if goals aren't met, Enderle says.
Most analysts give Cook high marks overall for managing Apple so far.
"He's done an outstanding job," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu. "He was handpicked by Steve to succeed him and he's proven to be the right choice. The company continues to execute well.
Apple's stock price is near record highs, showing investors have confidence in the company's performance and road map, says Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin.
"From an operations standpoint, Tim didn't skip a beat," Bajarin said.
In his first year as CEO, Cook has shown himself to be differ ent from Jobs in a couple of ways.
First, he's been more open and transparent about Apple's operations than his predecessor, Marshall says. "He definitely offers up more insights into what he's thinking and how Apple is operating," Marshall says.
Another area where Cook has made his mark is in social causes. He has strived to improve conditions for workers at the company's contract manufacturers in China. He has focused on improving Apple's environmental policies. And Cook also recently vowed to avoid purchasing minerals that fund violent armed groups in Central Africa.
The kinder, gentler Apple under Cook has stepped up its philanthropy efforts and instituted a program to match employees' charitable contributions.
Plus, Apple this month started paying quarterly dividends to shareholders. Payouts had been stopped in December 1995.
Jobs instilled his philosophies into the culture of Apple, so his presence will be felt for a long time, Wu says. Apple will go on just as Disney (DIS) did after the death of founder Walt Disney, he says.
"Apple is still surviving to a large extent on the mammoth momentum that Steve Jobs put in there," Enderle said. "And the good news is that Tim Cook hasn't broken anything.
Next up for Cook are the introduction of the iPhone 5 and perhaps a smaller-screen tablet known as the iPad Mini. Also rumored to be on the horizon is an Apple television, referred to as the iTV.
When Jobs died, he left behind a three-year product development plan. So the the real test for Cook won't be until he has to oversee the creation of new products not on that road map.
Jobs expressed that concern in an interview with Isaacson published in his 2011 biography. Jobs praised Cook, but "he quietly added a reservation, one that was serious if rarely spoken: 'But Tim's not a product person, per se.'
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