Share This Page

Apple CEO Tim Cook steps out of Steve Jobs' shadow, takes more risks

| Monday, May 12, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — “Think different” became Apple's creed during the late Steve Jobs' time as CEO. Now, chief executive Tim Cook is embracing the idea while making decisions that would have seemed crazy to his fabled predecessor.

Apple's pending purchase of headphone maker and streaming music company Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion is just the latest example of Cook's deviation from Jobs, who had so much confidence in his company's innovative powers that he saw little sense in spending large amounts of money on acquisitions.

Cook became chief executive in late August 2011, about six weeks before Jobs died. But in a number of ways, he is just beginning to put his imprint on Apple. Cook is straying from Jobs' cash-hoarding habits by committing to return $130 billion to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks. He has orchestrated a company stock split and agreed to match employees' charitable contributions up to $10,000 annually.

Under Cook's leadership, Apple has displayed more social responsibility by working to improve labor conditions in the overseas factories that assemble its devices and taking steps to reduce pollution caused by its data centers and gadgets.

The shift in management philosophy has resulted in an odd twist: Apple Inc.'s pace of innovation has slowed, and it looks more like a conventional company than the corporate rebel Jobs tried to cultivate. Instead of releasing revolutionary gadgets such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple has been mostly upgrading existing products and figuring out ways to manage its bulging bank account since Cook took over.

“Jobs wanted Cook to step out and be different,” said longtime technology analyst Rob Enderle. “But I think he wanted (Cook) to do the things that were central to the business, not things that Jobs thought were stupid.”

Cook has repeatedly sought to assure investors and customers that Apple remains focused on inventing “insanely great” products, even though the company's last breakthrough, the iPad, was released in April 2010 — 18 months before Jobs died of cancer.

In the meantime, a host of technology companies have forged ahead with wearable devices, including Google Glass and Samsung's line of Gear smartwatches. Also stealing the innovation spotlight: Internet connected housewares and appliances such as the Nest thermostat, whose maker was founded by former Apple designer Tony Fadell.

Google purchased Nest in January for $3.2 billion.

“We've got some great things that we're working on that I'm very, very proud of and very, very excited about,” Cook told analysts during a conference call last month. “But, for us, we care about every detail, and when you care about every detail and getting it right, it takes a bit longer to do that, and that's always been the case.”

After pointing out that there were other digital music players, smartphones and tablet computers before Apple redefined those markets with its devices, Cook said something that sounded like an echo of Jobs: “It means much more to us to get it right than to be first.”

Wall Street is taking a wait-and-see attitude with Cook. Apple's stock ended last week at $585.24, well below its peak of $705.07 in September 2012, but still a 56 percent gain since Cook became CEO. That's just slightly behind the 60 percent increase in the Standard & Poor's 500 index during the same period. Despite the lag, Apple's market value is the highest in the world at about $500 billion.

Although Cook has given few clues about the breakthrough products Apple is working on, recent industry speculation has focused on the possibility of an Internet-connected watch, a suite of mobile applications for managing personal health, a digital wallet and a system that would make it easier to toggle between traditional television and Internet video programs. A new iPhone with a larger display screen is expected in August or September.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.