After Steve returns to much of the last decade at Apple, mostly between 2011 and 2019, from the time co-founder Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO to the time design chief Jony Ive formally left the company. The narrative also tracks Tim Cook’s tenure as CEO during which the company gained value, despite stubborn fears at first that Apple might be executed without Steve Jobs’s leadership.
A challenge for After Steve makes the topic interesting enough to be revisited so quickly (although the passage of time will ease the burden). The question of what will happen to Apple after Steve Jobs’ death worries far fewer people now than in 2011.
It’s also hard to write a book about Apple today without having to take into account some already well-discussed ground for context. Reading about Jony Ive’s origins at Apple, or the few details we know about Tim Cook’s early life, may seem monotonous to anyone who is already familiar with these characters. Still, newbies will appreciate the completion provided by the details of Ive’s early interactions with Steve Jobs and Tim Cook’s affinity for Auburn college football.
Mickle also adds new coverage of both key points in the timeline and trivial moments where the narrative grabs your attention without feeling like it’s completely told.
For example, Mickle writes that iPhone software chief Scott Forstall suffered apoplexy when he stated that it was hardware, not software, that caused the iPhone 4 prototype to drop connections before Antenagate has become a public fiasco:
The most problematic encounter was with Ive. In 2010, Apple was in the final stages of production of the iPhone 4. The prototype released to Forstall repeatedly cut calls while he was talking on the phone. He was concerned that the problem was software-related and called on staff to find out what was wrong. After his team found no encoding problem, Forstall discovered that the problem was due to the design of the phone. Ive wanted a thinner and lighter iPhone, which he managed to achieve by wrapping a metal antenna around the edge of the device. Forstall was apoplectic. In interviews with Jobs, he criticized the flawed design and complained that it had been hidden from his development team. I was taken at this criticism.
According to Mickle, Forstall was also not a fan of the original Apple Watch idea, Jony’s first product idea after Steve Jobs died:
The iPhone operating system engineer was concerned that strapping people’s miniature computers to their wrists would distract them from everyday life. He was concerned that this would aggravate the unintended consequence of the iPhone, a device so absorbing that it absorbed attention, disrupted conversation, and endangered drivers. He was worried that the watch would worsen the interruptions in daily life by shifting notifications from people’s pockets and purses to their wrists. While he did not rule out the watch, he said it should have capabilities beyond those already available on the iPhone. He preached caution.
Forstall’s doubt irritated Ive.
According to the book, Forstall preferred to create a product around television instead.
Forstall, whose staff was involved in the presentation, advocated creating a system that would bring together TV channels in one place so that people could search for programs using their voice. The system was also supposed to display programs that people watched on a regular basis and to offer related programs they might like. But for this to work, Apple needed TV networks to buy into it, which is a lengthy process that would be out of its control. With the build-up of external pressure, Tim Cook had to decide on the next move from Apple: Ive’s watch design or Forstall’s TV effort.
Forstall, of course, was finally fired by Tim Cook early in his tenure as Apple’s CEO, with the result that Jony was promoted to software design. Oh, how “rubbing against Forstall” could have been a meme if “rubbing against Jony Ive” hadn’t been given so much room to breathe.
With Forstall and Jony, they actually give way to other interesting stories about Jony Ive, the Apple Watch, and the Apple Car project.
The book includes stories of how Ive adapted an iPod nano with an EKG to demonstrate what a potential Apple Watch product could do, a bizarre 2015 Apple Car demonstration, and even an awkward detail where the photographer behind Jony’s book on designs was asked Apple products. Apple has paid off up to $ 20 million after an audit pointed to over-charging for its services.
Apparently, the development of Apple Car continues to this day, but it was like that seven years ago, according to After Steve:
One day in the fall of 2015, I met Tim Cook in Sunnyvale to show him how he envisioned the car. He imagined the vehicle would be voice-operated, with passengers boarding and telling Siri where they wanted to go. Both directors entered the prototype of the saloon-like cabin and collapsed into their seats. Outside, the actor acted as Siri and was reading a script that was written for a fancy demonstration. As the imaginary car sped forward, I pretended to be looking out the window. “Hey Siri, what’s this restaurant we just passed?” he asked. The actor outside replied. Several other discussions took place with management. Then Ive got out of the car with a look of satisfaction on his face as if the future was even more wonderful than he had imagined. He seemed oblivious to the watching engineers, some of whom were overwhelmed by a troubled feeling that the project was as fictional as the demonstration, moving fast but nowhere near its final goal.
The format of the book shifts between chapters detailing Jony Ive’s experiences and the actions taken by Tim Cook. Sometimes these two intersecting paths but no intersection are also used to describe the reality where Tim Cook allowed Jony Ive to leave Apple without much fanfare.
The period where Jony tried to leave the company much earlier is also discussed, along with the famous story of his promotion to a part-time job, awkward return and his inevitable departure. Cook’s story is much more stable and less interesting. This is partly due to the nature of an Apple CEO (private and statesmanlike), although a great book about Tim Cook has yet to be written.
What is missing, however, is any mention of a very interesting story that happened behind the scenes at Apple during the MacBook butterfly keyboard era. Despite the designer’s insistence on perfection, it is certainly true that some Apple devices took a design direction that prioritized form over functionality in the company’s later years.
The book contains criticism that Ive been perhaps too well paid, especially when he was possibly distracted by his desire to leave the company, but someone could write an entire book on Mac’s condition over the past few years and Jony’s critically acclaimed recovery from his departure .
As for the subtitle, How Apple Became a Trillion Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul the former has actually been grasped, while the latter is probably editorial and left for discussion. This frame by which Cook steered the company away from where the spirit was conducive to financial success runs throughout the book.
Fortunately, the editorial staff is so light that After Steve it should be tasty even to those who flinch at the inscriptions. After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul Tripp Mickle is available today.
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