Has Apple become a boring company?

One former engineer thinks that Tim Cook has made Apple a “boring operations company.” Is it time for Scott Forstall to return to Apple?

Apple had its share of problems in 2016. The company’s line of iMacs, laptops and even the iPhone 7 felt rather stale to many customers. The elimination of AirPort routers and lack of updates to the Mac mini and Mac Pro also contributed to the feeling that Apple had run out of gas. The Apple TV also lagged behind rivals that already offer 4K technology.

Now a former Apple engineer is laying some of the blame on Tim Cook.

Buster Hein reports for Cult of Mac:

Tim Cook’s kinder, gentler management style is the biggest reason why 2016 was one of the most boring years for Apple in recent memory, according to a former employee of the company.

Steve Jobs was notorious for inciting conflict and competition between top employees, which made him a controversial leader but also birthed some of the most iconic tech products ever (iMac, iPod and iPhone). After Cook took over, he worked to eliminate conflict within Cupertino’s walls and made employees less passionate, claims ex-Apple employee Bob Burrough.

In response to a tweet from Apple analyst Horrace Dediu, Burrough said the internal culture at Apple is vastly different today than it was five years ago when Jobs was at the helm. Burrough, whose LinkedIn profile notes that he worked as a software development manager at Apple from 2007 to 2014, says it’s a change outsiders can’t necessarily see.

@JohnKirk @asymco The very first thing Tim did as CEO was convert Apple from a dynamic change-maker into a boring operations company.

(@bob_burrough) January 16, 2017

More at Cult of Mac

The article at Cult of Mac caught the attention of folks in the Apple subreddit and they shared their thoughts:

SpeakerOfTheOutHouse: “Find me one of these "former Apple engineers" who contributes to a piece like this, without self-promoting where he/she has now gone, and I'll be interested to read it.

I have no doubt that things at Apple have changed, and there is reason why that has happened. You can't treat a $640 Billion company, with $215 billion in sales, like a startup. You need to make decisions that appeal to your investors, and you need to make products that appeal to your customers.

If you decided to leave Apple, good for you, move on. Why does every former Apple engineer need to voice their opinion of the company as-it-is, like they are owed something. I've worked in Silicon Valley for a while now, and I'm getting really tired of all these asshats thinking they need to be coddled because they used to work at "company x" during the "good times"”

Bicameral_mind: “The last five years have been boring for tech in general. Sure, we've gotten lots of cool products in that time, but all in mature categories. It's been a period of perfecting and democratizing what already exists. The only "new" consumer tech are smartwatches and VR; the former offering only marginal utility over existing products, and the latter still well in its infancy. Otherwise we've simply been drip fed hype for the next generation of consumer tech like AR which we're still waiting on. ”

Hozoh: “Apple is in operations mode because the next breakthroughs aren't ready. We've been hearing for years that Apple hasn't innovated recently, but those people set a fairly low bar when they call what other companies have done in that time "innovative". From smart home stuff to IoT, touch screen laptops to 3D to curved screens to VR. None of these fads have panned out yet. VR may someday, but I agree with Cook when he places his future bets on AR. It'll still be relatively niche.

The Watch, while being the most successful smart watch, is an indication that the wearables market was overstated. The Amazon Echo is a slightly better Siri. Evolutionary and hardly worth the hype. So Apple will probably have some kind of home speaker with Siri integration... great, but is this something to bring in the next billion?

We got to witness the birth of the smartphone and (many of us) the internet. That level of a new innovation may not happen again for decades. I think it'll be self driving cars, but widespread legislation and rules on liability will move slower than the tech.”

Lancaster61: “I think Apple Pencil and the W1 chip is about the most innovative thing Apple has made since the death of SJ.”

Nallvf: “Disgruntled former employee unhappy with former employer, what an insight. I'm sure this article will play very well with the popular circlejerk these days.”

Biker_roadkill_LOL: “I think "boring" is a pretty accurate way to describe Apple's 2016. Not expecting to be wowed at every corner, but I cant really think of a single product that made me want to extend my budget to buy.

They kind of remind me of Canon. They were once seriously innovative, leading their wheelhouse, but now release products that are fashionable, emphasize their logo, are well performing, though come with the minimum amount of technology prowess to attract customers at a healthy rate, while smaller competitors are pushing the technology by not only beating them outright, but reinventing the way we use the class of products.

It's easy for Apple to get back on track. All it takes is a very good iMac line and an actual reinvention of the iphone with something more exciting than the iP6 chassis and upgraded specs.”

Hardshnell: “I keep hearing criticism of Apple but I don't see people voting with their wallets. They're first to the market with everything: iPhone, iPad, AirPod's - what more do you want? You can't expect constant innovation.”

Trevors685: “Apple is, unfortunately, a very conservative company. I kinda cringe at their iPhone commercials these days. "Practically magic" Dual cameras, water resistance, and haptic feedback isn't magic.”

KittenSwagger: “Breaking News: Disgruntled former employee speaks ill of company C.E.O.

Shocking.”

Solvorn: “…I agree the press loves to…on Apple, but to deny that the last five years have been boring compared to the 5 before them is delusional.

Whether that's a permanent change or not no one can say yet. But I'm worried they don't realize post PC era or not everything they've done has flowed from the Mac.”

More at Reddit

Steve Jobs loved conflict at Apple

One of the more interesting angles to this issue is how different Tim Cook is from Steve Jobs when it comes to conflict. According to the engineer, Tim Cook does not like conflict and has changed Apple to push the conflict away from him and onto middle managers.

Jobs, on the other hand, seemed to appreciate the value of employees being in conflict with one another. He considered it to be a way to generate the best work from each individual.

Take a look at this video to see what I mean:

That’s a very different attitude than Tim Cook has and it could be one of the reasons why Apple lost some of its luster in 2016. The Apple of today is not the same company as when Jobs was CEO, and it remains to be seen if Tim Cook’s Apple can continue to thrive over the next five years.

Is it time for Scott Forstall to return to Apple?

One of Cook’s first acts to rid Apple of conflict was to fire Scott Forstall. Forstall was the person behind the choice of macOS as the foundation for iOS (and he was also responsible for the infamous Maps debacle), and he was known for not getting along well with Ive and other executives at Apple.

But perhaps its time for Tim Cook to reconsider his decision to remove Forstall. When Forstall was there Apple was still firing on all cylinders in a way that it is not doing today. Bringing him back might restore some of the creative conflict that existed at Apple before Cook became CEO.

I’m not the only one who has considered the idea of Forstall returning to Apple. I’ve seen it come up over and over on many different discussions on various Apple sites. Some have even suggested that Apple’s board fire Tim Cook and install Forstall as CEO of Apple.

I doubt very much that Tim Cook will be replaced anytime soon by anyone, including Forstall. But given Apple’s lackluster 2016 in terms of product advances, it might be a good idea for the company to try to return to its roots by bringing Forstall back and fostering a sense of competition between Apple’s executives.

At this point, I doubt that such a move would hurt Apple and it might shake things up enough to get the company moving again.

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