Anyone who has more than a passing familiarly with my pasty British face will know I’m not Apple’s biggest fan. Regardless, it was unsettling to hear of Steve Jobs’ plans for a medical leave of absence – not just the human interest aspect, but the knock-on impact the chief executive’s potential early retirement could have for the wider tech industry.
Were he to leave the company permanently, or even wind down his day-to-day activity to take more of a backseat CEO type role, the business will be negatively impacted in the short term. Shares will fall, strategic direction will suffer, other top execs and key people may even start to jump ship for pastures new.
But let’s also consider the bigger picture for everyone who doesn’t flog gear with half eaten fruit emblazoned upon smooth, aesthetically pleasing surfaces.
Whatever you think of Apple, the company’s products have encouraged innovation across the board in the last ten years. Do you remember that really awesome MP3 player you used to rave on about before you bought an iPod? Was your smartphone smarter than Stephen Fry after ten tins of tuna before the iPhone? Was your tablet even on the drawing board before the iPad? I’m generalising, but the majority of answers to the above will be no.
Without Apple’s products, the tech landscape would look different. Would Android be where it is? Would your average consumer give a flying fudge about apps? Would tablets still come in boxes from your local chemist? Would Mitchell and Webb be on every single fricking radio ad voice-over that chimes from your radio?
That’s not to say we wouldn’t have these products and applications without Apple, but the faux-fruit seller’s innovations have shaped the roadmaps of consumer electronics and web companies to some degree. Jobs has been the man behind this, and without him you have to wonder if the steamrolling powerhouse will continue at the same pace and in the same direction. The Guardian put it quite succinctly:
“Many investors and analysts see Apple as Jobs’s creation – and him as the engine of its progress. He is cited as the person through whom final design decisions flow, and in whom the “DNA” of the company resides. Every new product that comes out of Apple has Jobs’s fingerprints on it – usually literally.”
There’s every chance someone else will step in and do it better, faster, or just differently. There’s always someone else out there.
But if Jobs does heel-toe it, the impact will ripple well beyond Apple’s orchard fence.