2012 will be a year of great transition in the technology industry with the big changes coming more on the corporate level than in products. Sure, Windows 8 is on its way as are any number of new products, services, and whole companies, but the major story playing-out is who will lead the mobile transition? Will Apple continue its resurgence even without Steve Jobs? Will Microsoft retain its market share dominance and find a way to translate that into the mobile market as PCs continue to whither? Will Google beat Facebook? Will Facebook beat Google? Will some tablet dethrone the iPad? How will the industry look a year from today? I think that every one of those companies mentioned except Google will have a new CEO a year from now. Yes, even Apple.
Prediction #1 — Insurrection at Apple.
I wrote a column last summer when Steve Jobs retired from Apple saying that Tim Cook would not be CEO for long. Though Steve wrote to me (our last-ever communication) to say I was wrong, I think more than ever that I was correct. Apple will get a new CEO in 2012 and while I have a guess who that person might be I think I’ll wait before making that particular prediction.
If you are wondering when Apple will peak, well we’re about there folks. Yes, there will be more iPhones and cool computers but it is my belief that Apple’s best days have come and gone.
There was an original Star Trek episode from 1968 called The Tholian Web, in which Kirk appeared in a posthumous video prepared specifically for Bones and Spock. The gist of Kirk’s speech was that if they were watching the video he must be dead and if he was dead then they were also probably at each other’s throats. This is the almost inevitable outcome in a system built solely from A-players when the spiritual leader (the only A+) dies.
Steve Jobs is dead and Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. He knows that, we know that, and anyone who works directly for him at Apple (those A-players) knows it, too. Following a period of shock, mourning, and pretending to get along, those rocks will start rubbing on each other again only this time there won’t be a founder willing (eager even) to make the hard choices. Chaos will ensue.
This is not all bad for Apple. Steve could have done many things faster so an accelerated rate of change might in some ways be good for the company. But it doesn’t bode well for Cook, who will become a target for those beneath him. Eventually (and by eventually I mean this year) he’ll have to either clean house, throwing away a lot of those A-players, or give up power, which is to say Cook will take the chairman’s job and find another CEO.
I think he’ll gratefully take the chairman position, keeping his Apple stock in the process.
I’m not saying Apple is doomed by any means. The company has resources to survive any number of bonehead moves. But Apple without Steve Jobs will never be the same and some regression seems inevitable.
My next prediction concerns which company I believe will assume Apple’s mantle of product leadership. It’s not who you expect.