Why Forbes is wrong about Tim Cook, Apple and Jony Ive

Somebody's let the dogs out, with pundits pointing to Apple [AAPL] CEO, Tim Cook, saying he's got to go because a media-created storm of speculation has wiped a few million off of the company's current stock price. Let's deconstruct some of their arguments for a moment.

Apple is doomed, doomed...

Forbes columnist, Peter Cohan, leads the charge this morning with a shockingly slanted slice of invective against the company's leader, asking if Cook's "the right person for the job?"

First he discusses falling earnings. On this let's get one thing straight; media speculation suggests Apple's going to report a 2 percent decline in net income for its first quarter when it reports its results tomorrow.

This speculation has already sheared stock prices, and it's based on -- nothing much at all. These figures have been plucked from some analyst's spreadsheet, and even if they prove true, they don't reflect Cook's ability as leader, but Apple's experience as global recession casts its frozen grip.

To truly evaluate how the company's being led, it will be wiser to consider revenues of others in the sector -- and if Apple's speculated upon results happen to be down a little, news from other firms will be grimmer still. Is it really appropriate to call for a CEO resignation on strength of declining growth on a planet that's currently suffering declining growth?

Sales remain pretty strong. "Estimates" claim 48 million iPhones sold in the quarter, Cohan claims. Then he makes an assumption, based on what I do not know (tea leaves, the I Ching, evil space aliens, his buddy down the bar?), that "Apple's core market of people willing to pay up for its products is fairly saturated." Really? I mean, really? There's plenty of evidence to prove him wrong.

Apple users are among the most loyal around, and the second user market for its products is strong, making it possible for iPhone or iPad users to easily sell their existing devices when a new model comes along. Indeed, Cohan's also made an assumption that a company selling millions of systems each quarter is selling only to a tiny group of people, a little congregation.

This may have been true over a decade ago when Apple was a niche company, but Cohan's clearly not got the memo to remind him Cupertino's a mass market player today.

[ABOVE: Here's some people in China showing how "unwilling they are to pay a price premium". **coughs**.]

Flawed data

The claims continue. In China, he claims, people are largely unwilling to "pay a price premium". Yet this is in denial of the evidence, China is Apple's second-biggest market, set to become its largest market, and there's a buoyant grey market for Apple products at inflated prices in that country. Apple has also taken steps to facilitate sales to Chinese nationals, including generous interest-free credit deals (Bloomberg).

Then he looks at the legal battle with Samsung, ignoring this as a symptom of a wider conflict with a history way back when Android maker, Google's then CEO, Eric Schmidt, sat on Apple's board. I'm going to move on from that one, as I'm trying quite hard not to write 'Apple v Samsung' every week -- I'm bored with it, and think you are, too.

The columnist then discusses Apple's existing profit line, calling an "ongoing profit squeeze…inevitable."

Manufacturing costs are rising because of Apple's attempt to improve working conditions, the report earnestly explains. Oddly, Apple maintains some of the highest margins in the industry while also investing in improved working conditions. Clearly that anti-Cook author has never heard of William Lever.

The latter's lesson was that improved working conditions boost productivity and enhance staff loyalty, so in a sense, improving conditions should eventually improve profitability. Clearly, if left to that commentator, exploitation of workers would continue in order to protect profit margins, at least that's my personal opinion on the subtext of what is being said. Good luck with that…


[ABOVE: This is what happened to sales when Apple found a way to sell the iPod nano alongside the iPod. It didn't seem to damage the company's margins.]

Memo: Cheaper is not necessarily cheap

Then comes the usual plea for selling lower-priced versions of Apple products. Making it sound impossible, the author skips the iPod nano experience -- cheaper than an iPod, this product maintained healthy margins and very quickly eclipsed sales of its full weight competitor. That's what Apple's going to do, once it has an iPhone variant that has its own identity as a product people are going to want for what it is, not because it might be cheaper.

As if we haven't had enough of this "Apple Analysis Lite" approach to damaging a CEO's reputation, 24-hours before financial results are revealed when most big US firms traditionally don't respond to press criticism, Cohen reaches for his trusty innovation stick.

This can be summed up as follows: "Steve Jobs was an innovator, Tim Cook hasn't proved himself yet." Is that true?

Yet Cook's only been in post (this time) around 18-months. We know there's a wave of solutions on the way, and we can assume these include Apple making an attempt to hit some new markets. And let's not ignore that Cook has effectively been on-off Apple CEO for years during Jobs' extensive illness, including taking charge of the company when it launched new and innovative products. So perhaps he's not quite the blunt blade Cohan believes…

Forstall's fall

Stopping quickly he accuses Cook of being in charge during the Maps fiasco and of firing: "People who take the blame for embarrassing him."

I distinctly recall Scott Forstall telling the entire world how amazing Maps were -- perhaps he shouldn't have done when they weren't -- and word is that Forstall would never have been fired if he'd said "sorry".

Perhaps the problem with Maps was little more than a power struggle as the iOS team leader tried to make his boss look bad? That plan succeeded, at least as far as the Forbes' author's concerned. At Apple, the company doesn't ship until a product is ready, Forstall's fall reflected his mistaken conclusion that Maps were ready: an assessment he must have offered to the executive team at some point.

In any case, as Steve Jobs and Cook have said before, Apple isn't a company consisting of just one man -- it's a team. A team comprised of some of the best and brightest people on the planet. It isn't down to one individual to "invent" a hit product, it's down to groups of individuals. And with Apple expected to introduce iTunes Radio, new families of tablet and Mac, a series of iPhones, a swathe of online services and more, the question has to be, just what do commentators consider to be innovative?


[ABOVE: The offending Maps service looks pretty and will improve.]

Job creation

Finally the author hits us with his most foolish idea yet: That Apple designer Jony Ive be put into the CEO's seat.

Why is this foolish?

Do you really think the top man at Apple should be handling all the contractual and business-related decisions as well as designing the hardware and software for every product? What next? Give him the PR and marketing job? Perhaps add back office management and Apple Genius recruitment to what he does? Oh, and someone should really sweep the stairs. It's preposterous.

Despite giving the impression he did, Steve Jobs didn't do it all, he relied on his team. He was of course really good at allowing the media to give him the credit, as the existence of the "Steve Jobs Myth" actually helped Apple sell products.

Apple faces tough times -- we all do -- its business is bound to reflect reality; but I don't agree Cook should take the fall for facing extensive competition and a grim economic situation.

Nor should Cook be vilified for not being somebody else.

Steve's gone, Apple products are still cool, and these market rumors are simply setting the scene for it to introduce something else that's insanely great. And developing those new products is what Ive (and Bob Mansfield) are quietly doing -- and, unlike Forstall, won't ship until they're ready.

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