Are Tim Cook’s Days As CEO Numbered?

Why I posit the above is for this reason:

Back in May of 2014 I penned the article: “Did Apple Just Become Microsoft?” In it I made the following points. To wit:

“However since the passing of Jobs, quite rightly, there has been an intense spotlight focused squarely on the Apple tradition going forward. Just what new products or changes to existing lines would be forth coming, and how will they be packaged for sale to an ever-increasing market.

Everyone (and I mean everyone) understood that the new management structure at Apple would both need to pay homage to the ever-present shadow of Jobs while also needing to blaze or create new trails free of the ominous Jobs overhang. i.e., Something Jobs would say, “Wow, I never thought of that!” as compared with nothing more than a refinement to an already Jobs inspired creation.

However, it would seem we not only have the latter taking place, but is veering way off the path Apple has been so skillful in avoiding: Buying an also ran business. e.g., The Beats™ headphone line. Some say it’s for it’s streaming music service or some other thing but if that is the case, not putting the money into a true revamp of iTunes seems even more as an un-Jobs move.”

And here we are nearly 4 years later (or 4 product cycles, if you will) and what has been the result of this once “fantastic” partnership? When was the last time you heard anything or any buzz about Beats®? ____________ (insert crickets here.)

Oh, but wait you say, “What about iTunes? It was updated as to allow easier downloading of apps and such for mobile.”

Yes, yes it was. An update that most users will only encounter when they go to update or purchase something, then, find out they can’t do it the way they’ve been doing for-e-ver. i.e., “Oh, wait, I have to do this on my phone now, and not my computer? Wait, how do I…? Wait…what…I mean…WTF!”

I believe this to be a blatant design faux pa. Why? Because if you look at the iTunes of today, it looks no different that it did years, and years ago. The only difference? The “Apps” option is no longer there. This is to “reduce clutter” via Apple’s thinking.

But the same old, tired, antiquated looking and seemingly lifeless iTunes of old? It’s still there, but now with less clutter – so you can see more clearly how lame it has become due to design atrophy.

Most will only notice the “redesign” when they go to use it the way they’ve been using it habitually, only to find it no longer is possible. And the design cues that would intuitively make someone take notice immediately, that maybe there’s something new going on? That too is completely absent. Along with the old way of doing it.

In my opinion, that’s such a design faux pa it’s unconscionable, especially, for any company where “design” is so front and center. (Please don’t tell me about the little pop up to tell you somethings “new.” Again, please! If that’s the extent for “design?” I’ll just leave it at that.)

It (meaning iTunes) looks, feels, and performs (as in it’s completely outdated and still clunky to the point of frustrating) as the same old, same old, old iTunes it’s been since Jobs passed.

Sorry, but I still can not get over just how pathetic this all so important portal to one of the most important selling points Apple has to both consumers, developers, and Wall Street has become. Hint: Ecosystem is (or was) for all intents and purposes the iTunes portal to everything Apple. Period.

Yet, that doesn’t mean that Apple (aka “Cook and company”) didn’t make sweeping changes and innovations to many of Apple’s once empirical red lines. Again, from the same article To wit

One of the first signs that Cook and company were going to do things very differently was when they announced that Apple which had for years steered clear of donating or giving away resources (as in donations) abruptly reversed Jobs stance and stated very publicly they would now begin contributing to education and other charities.

Whether one agrees with this decision or not is irrelevant. It was the first very public statement showing there was a true sea change transpiring in Cupertino. I myself wrote about this and more that it seemed to be shaping up to look more concerned for public image in the eyes of political groups as well as Wall Street than anything else. It’s beginning to look like both my concerns as well as others might be coming into fruition.”

Here’s a little more from the same article, for a bit more context, because it’s germane to this discussion. Again, to wit:

“Next is what has been seen by many as a complete and utter cave in to Wall Street.

In what seems like a total collapse to these outside pressures it was announced at the last earnings report the new product line wasn’t consumer product based: it was now products for Wall Street with new improvements and features unfathomable under Jobs tenure.

Dividends, debt, splits, and more. I don’t think the iPhone has added as many new features at once as the new features released in Apple the stock.

And here we are, again, nearly 4 years later and what has been the empirical evidence that my assumptions were correct? Once again, to wit:

(Chart Source)

And how about that “political” argument I brought forth? Surely no CEO worth-their-salt would ever be seen throwing not only himself, but his company, along with its employees into the political fray intentionally. Especially when the evidence for it clearly showed the accusations were a bit more than specious.

Again, what prudent CEO would ever willingly set up an “us vs them” to be played out within its customer base? I mean that’s Business 101, correct? Well, it is, but it’s now also Silicon Valley 2.0, which has become anything but a fundamental business ethos. And this is Cook and Co., not Jobs and crew. Here are a few headlines to ponder. To wit:

“Apple gives $1M to liberal group labeling pro-lifers as ‘hate groups’”

Don’t like that headline? Fair enough, you can see it, as well as be asked for it in, da, da, da, dahhhh: iTunes itself. To wit:

“Apple is now taking donations for the Southern Poverty Law Center through iTunes”

(Screenshot from above noted source)

Some are thinking right now, “I thought it was about Nazi’s, not pro-life?” Yes, that’s what was touted, but that’s the problem when one decides to do anything via the political, for sometimes, more often than not, you don’t know whom – is in bed – with whom.

That’s why the business default is always to not involve yourself, at least publicly. (Remember: the accusations, along with the evidence for it was iffy to begin with, and proved to be completely untrue when examined rationally away from the political eye.)

To be clear: what one does in private is another matter entirely. But the cardinal rule of business is, has, and should remain: Never, ever, ever (did I say never?) openly involve your company, employees, and their collective coffers into the political. Period. Full stop.

Once you add the political to business – you’re not only asking for troubling, but you’re courting it. And what’s worse is this: Just like the old saying of “The camel’s nose under the tent.” Once it sticks its nose in, more of it, and in greater quantity, will follow till eventually there’s nothing left inside but the camel.

If you believe there’s any doubt to that scenario just look to the current debacle within not only the NFL®, but ESPN™ and sports in general. Ratings, ticket sales, and more are being boycotted in one form or another, in droves. (something I stated in 2015 would result when everyone else said otherwise)

And the worst is far from over, because these entities are doubling down on the political even further. i.e., They’re confusing the political uproar as some form of “roar from the field,” and playing too it. The issue is, that “roar” could very well spell “The End” of what had been a near magical run.

No comparison for Apple you say, as in, apples-and-oranges? Fair enough, so explain this, again, to wit:

The above screenshot image was taken from the Zero Hedge™ article, “It’s Not Just China: No Lines For New iPhone 8 Virtually Anywhere”

And just to put the above into further context. Here’s a pull quote from the afore-mentioned article, again, to wit:

“According to CBS LA, the Pasadena store was also missing a line of eager fans. Previous releases of the iPhone attracted hundreds of Apple fans waiting in the early morning hours at several stores across Southern California. The Apple Store has a ticketing system, but that never stopped eager iPhone fans from camping out overnight. But on Friday morning, all was quiet on Colorado Boulevard, except for employees inside the store handing out tickets.”

I know it’s possibly a little bit of a stretch, but it has to be asked: Do you think that maybe there were a few people who were just a little bit ticked off at Apple’s new-found political stance, and maybe decided they would take a stand and not show up for Apple’s newest “shiny thing?”

If it was just one, that’s infinitely more than what did show up since Mr. Cook’s new declaration for Apple’s political involvement. (i.e., as in 1 paying customer is infinitely better than none.)

People (especially the next-in-rotation fund-manger crowd) are attributing that it’s because they’re all waiting for the “X.” Fair point, but that doesn’t mean some customers aren’t unhappy. And let’s remember: no one knows at this point, it has to all be speculated.

But here’s the real issue: the only thing to use as evidence to build any theory – is this latest roll out. And so far disaster seems to be an understatement. And the proximity of Mr. Cook’s political stance, along with call for action, combined with the empirical results showing up in other venues of business elsewhere? Are you beginning to see my point?

Apple the stock is currently teetering in “priced for perfection” territory. Any damage to its “perfection” thesis gets multiplied exponentially. Multiplied as in “profit takers” show up in droves at the sell window, not the sales counter at first sign that the thesis is indeed hindered.

Should this take place with Apple’s continuous lack of innovations, dumbing down of existing products (see any forum of Apple power users) and continuing focus on both Tim Cook, his political stances, along with his pushing the involvement of Apple the company, its employees, and coffers into the political fray, simultaneously against a backdrop of uninspiring (think Pencil®), clichéd (think: any Apple presentation), openly mocked, (think: when demos were conducted on stage via Microsoft employees) laughed at, (think: CNET™ live coverage of any event) as well as live product demos gone wrong, (think: face recognition) displays on the world stage. This is a string of “hits” no one any wants, especially current share holders.

Should the stock now falter, along with any iPhone rumblings confirming sales numbers will look like what the latest roll out last month foretold? Watch how fast things not only change from the narrative of “great stewardship,” but calls for management change begin to bubble to the surface in unison.

In my opinion, Tim Cook really doesn’t have a lot things to hang-his-hat on, along with hold-his-chair, but for Apple’s stock price under his tutelage.

Everything else since the passing of Jobs has been nothing more than a derivative of what Jobs had already begun or envisioned for the near future. And some will say that derivative has been more of a dumbing down of the original products, rather than a raising the bar. See “How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name” for clues.

These are not the types of things one wants to think of when thinking about Apple, yet, it’s coming more front-and-center, and front-of-mind daily.

Using myself as an example, for I am still an Apple user: I just replaced and upgraded two of my Macs. That upgrade consisted of upgrading two older models – to two 2012 models. Spending 3 times the price to only get only a negligible, or rather, imperceptible performance difference seemed ludicrous. The issue? I can afford the newest, and didn’t even bother. How many are like me I have to wonder. I’ll garner there are more than even I think.

The only thing that has helped hold up, or bolster, Apple’s mythical overhang of design excellence instilled under Jobs these years since he passed has been its current share price.

Lose the share price plateau? The mythical overhang falls way with it. Why? Because it’s just not there.

Again, for this is far too important of a point: it’s been the CEO, Tim Cook himself, that has not just allowed, but pushed all of this front-and-center as to now be included into any, and all, calculations of sales and valuations.

Think about that very carefully, it’s that important, as well as a mind-boggling foolish CEO misstep from a business viewpoint.

It could very well be Mr. Cook made a political calculation which may result in not just bad timing, but also, a step too far. And one that leads him himself out the very door he entered, unable to fill the shoes for innovation which are sorely missed.

Sometimes, nothing focuses the mind like a crisis – and maybe what Apple desperately needs is something to focus on besides its management resting on its laurels, and stock options, all while looking out upon vistas from within its own big new “shiny thing” they now call home to contemplate what politically calculated move is to be made next.

Maybe it’s time to focus on the product, rather than the political. Or maybe better yet…

Hoist out a pirate flag, plant it, and actually do something under it other than contemplate which new superlative will be used to describe a stylus.

© 2017 Mark St.Cyr