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Apple’s Golden State: Just Doing What’s Right

Among his last advice he had for me, and for all of you, was to never ask what he would do. “Just do what’s right.”

That’s what Tim Cook told the audience of Apple employees at the memorial for Steve Jobs, following his passing in 2011. Now, nearly two years later, we’re starting to see that plan being executed.

This year’s WWDC keynote was fascinating. To me, it felt like the first true post-Jobs keynote. Sure, Jobs hasn’t been with us for the past few Apple events, including last year’s WWDC. But his legacy loomed large over each of those events. This week was different.

Tim Cook seemed different. Phil Schiller seemed different. Craig Federighi seemed different. Eddy Cue seemed different. They all seemed… Comfortable. Relaxed. Confident.

And that was probably the most surprising thing. Everyone seemed cool and collected even though you’d think they’d be scared shitless. After all, they were unveiling not just an updated iOS, but a completely revamped iOS. They were effectively performing a brain transplant on the company’s most important products, the iPhone and the iPad. And they were doing it live, on stage.

The reaction could have been anything. Apple had done such a good job of keeping the changes under wraps, that basically no one outside the company knew what was coming. There could have been a developer revolt. There could have been boos!

Instead, the reaction of the audience was overwhelmingly positive. And despite some design quibbles, the reaction on the social streams seemed to be a collective “finally”.

But I’m underselling how risky this was (and perhaps still is). Six months ago, Tim Cook made his biggest “just do what’s right” call when he relieved iOS chief Scott Forstall of his duties. He then handed the reins of arguably the most important element of the company — remember that iOS is also likely the key to the company’s future with the presumed iWatch and future Apple Television products — to Federighi and Jony Ive.

They had six months to ship.

Somehow, they did it. That’s why you saw Cook beaming after the iOS 7 unveiling yesterday as he motioned towards and applauded Ive, while also praising Federighi and the entire iOS team. Cook did not do what Jobs would have done. He did what was right.

It was a huge gamble. Ive, arguably the most famous designer in the world, had no experience with software design. Federighi, who was elevated to the head of OS X after Bertrand Serlet’s retirement in 2011, had no experience with mobile software. Both were doubling their workloads.

And Cook, knowing the roadmap, knew in December that Apple was about to head into their longest drought of major product launches in recent memory. iOS 7 would be one of the first butterflies out of the cocoon. But what if it turned out to be a moth?

It sure looks like iOS 7 will be a beautiful butterfly when it officially launches to the public in the fall alongside the next iPhone. You have to laugh at some of the design quibbles. Again, they did this whole thing in six months! That’s remarkable. The next three months will be all about polish. It will get there.

What we saw yesterday was Apple saying goodbye to Steve Jobs in the way that he wanted — by not doing what he would have done, but by doing what they collectively thought was right. Cook is not Jobs. He is not going to rule over Apple with the same iron fist. He’s going to delegate. He’s going to allow his team to flourish.

Federighi got to inject his love of surfing. Cue got to inject his love of cars. Schiller got to get a great zinger in there. Ive got to get rid of that green felt and rich Corinthian leather. At the same time, Cook managed to find the single theme to unify them all: home.

OS X will now be named after California landmarks. The Mac Pro will now be assembled in the USA. “Design in California” is the heir apparent to “Think Different”.

This is our signature. And it means everything.

In October 2011, shortly after Jobs’ passing, I wrote that Apple would not face their first true post-Jobs test until the first truly new product was released. In a way, Apple tricked me. I didn’t expect iOS to be so overhauled before that new product line came. And I think this risky maneuver will allow the company to go into the next new product launch with far more confidence.

Mavericks, indeed.

[image via iRockstar]