Jan 15

Thinking “what Steve would think”

Steve Jobs left Apple with an important bit of advice for Tim Cook and team: “Don’t ask yourself what Steve would do.”

Ah, but he didn’t tell anyone not to ask what Steve would think.


Such is the basis of Luke Dormehl’s recent effort at Cult of Mac entitled “7 things Steve Jobs would have hated about Apple today.”

I like Luke. However, I do think this is a pointless exercise. So many things have changed in the three years since Steve’s passing, it’s hard to make these judgments. And then there’s the fact that Steve himself presided over a number of Apple low points. So the idea that he would frown upon today’s Apple — which is doing well in so many big ways — is quite a leap.

Are these seven things really worthy of Steve’s “hate”?

Apple’s kinder, gentler PR image

Great leaders recognize that other people will do things differently than they would do, but that different can be just as effective. Steve certainly recognized the difference between his own style and Tim’s, and he believed Tim would be a great CEO. Given Apple’s success under Tim, this is a non-issue.

The giant iPhone 6 Plus

Luke cites Steve’s preference for a 3.5-inch iPhone as reason for him to hate the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. This is the flimsiest item on the hate list. As we all know, Steve had a pretty good track record of reversing himself when he perceived a change in the market. Given the mega-hit status of the iPhone 6 Plus, it’s impossible to imagine Steve hating on it.

Buying innovation instead of building it

According to Luke, Steve believed that buying ideas from different companies “downplayed Apple’s own ability to innovate.” Actually, Steve had a history of buying other technologies when needed. He bought SoundJam, the software that made iPod possible. He bought Final Cut, to give Apple a pro video editing solution. He bought eMagic, which enabled GarageBand. He bought a whole list of companies you can see here.

No global technology company can invent everything itself. Today, as always, Apple partners with inventive companies to supply certain technologies, and it buys companies when it makes sense to do so.

Too many superstars in the kitchen

Is it really too much to have Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Marc Newson added to the Apple team? Hardly. Steve was always drawn to superstar talent, and as the company expands it’s not only appropriate to add this kind of depth — it’s necessary.


Okay, maybe Luke has a point here. Siri hasn’t really grown up as fast as we’d like. Is that enough to merit some Steve hate? The implication here is that this type of thing didn’t happen in Steve’s time, which of course is not true. Siri hasn’t developed as quickly as some would have liked. However, it didn’t flop out of the gate like MobileMe, which was a Steve project.

The iOS update that bricked the iPhone 6

Valid point! This was an inexcusable lapse. But who knows how it happened. Is it indicative of some terrible degradation of the quality control imposed by Steve, or that rare case of something just slipping through the cracks? A Steve-sized tantrum is definitely deserved — but for all we know, the same thing could have happened if The Man were still sitting in his office.

A lack of black turtlenecks

I think this one was a joke, so I will disregard.

The bottom line is, it’s highly presumptuous to say how Steve would feel about any of these things at this point in time. Especially when his publicly stated opinions were always subject to revision.

I’m actually surprised that Luke didn’t go for something more significant on an organizational level, like Apple’s apparent move to bring the marketing functions in-house. Steve trusted, relied upon, and worked closely with the same ad agency throughout his entire history with Apple — and now that relationship may be altered.

Would Steve hate that? Possibly. But again, things change. We’re looking at a different time, different market conditions, and a different cast of characters.

Steve had incredibly good values, and I do hope Apple continues to be guided by those values. But it’s kind of pointless to wonder what he would think — especially when he’s the guy who told us to think different.

  • AMD

    from reading your book and articles am convinced that there’s two things jobs would defiantly hate in Apple nowadays, the first is creating unnecessary production lines (example: IphoneC and Plus).

    and the second is the complexity of products name like ‘iPhone6 plus’, ‘ipad Air 2 and ‘ipad mini 2’

  • sarumbear

    “Actually, Steve had a history of buying other technologies when needed.”

    Starting from the Macintosh, no less. Steve paid a small fortune to Xerox to use the GUI developed at PARC on Lisa first then on the Mac.

  • “I like Luke.” Why? He writes for Cult of Mac. That alone is enough for me to dislike him. :)

  • Namelesscow

    I always knew Steve lied on the stylus thing. Or the iPad size. Patents filled showed he knew better. He had to, seeing all the copiers. Like OS X wont go ARM soon discussin. If they can outperform Intel with ARM chips on the averagw use case, they will make the switch. “But they cant burn Intel..!”
    Right, and Intel has been so kind to Apple lately? Dont think so.
    Outperforming these WinTel machines will make em look even more like overpriced junk.

    Anyway .. Steve .. he died to soon to live to see they day he once spoke of transcending mortal flesh into the singularity. How people could ask questions still to those passed on.

    Anyway perhaps with Googles awesome “searchengine”, and I think we all can agree this machine is way more and way advanced than aversge joe thinks, Steve’s mind could be re-compiled. There are so manu data points software can read from voice, timing,psycholgy etc – do your homework its stunning – I believe a basic model can be compiled that would emulate his respons more accurate than close peers guessing would.

    Tim could threat nuclear war and skynet i mean google could surrender and bring steves thinking and logic back to serve all of mankind.

    The end

  • Alex Dieulot

    Joswiak explained at Re/code that iOS 8.0.1 got its bugs not from 8.0.1 itself but from a problem with how it was distributed over-the-air.


  • Hamish

    Most of these are nonsense. Some I guess he’d be irked by, but no more than he was irked by the many issues that cropped up during his watch. The things I imagine he’d be most unhappy with just now are the increasing complexities and bugs in iOS and OS X, the continuing issues with web services, the general overall drop in software quality and the loss of a distinct edge in Apple’s advertising / marketing. But these are all issues that I’m sure the current Apple team are aware of and working on too.

    Perhaps instead, we should take a moment to think about what Steve would like about Apple today. Apple Pay and the 5k iMac spring immediately to mind as things I think he would love. The new iPad Air 2. The Apple Watch. Actually, I think he’d be happy with a lot of the direction of the company today, just less so with the software and marketing side of things!

  • Good disassembly. The CoM article perfectly highlights why these types of articles need to die horrible deaths. They are simply a vehicle to hide what the author is too timid to say themselves. It’s an egregiously self aggrandising screen of pretending the author knows what Jobs ever thought, let alone what Jobs would think if he was alive.

  • No, he didn’t.

    Malcom Gladwell published a great article in New Yorker outlining the famous story of the Xerox mouse and personal computer. The story begins in 1979 when the 24 year old Steve Jobs made a deal with Xerox:

    Apple was already one of the hottest tech firms in the country. Everyone in the Valley wanted a piece of it. So Jobs proposed a deal: he would allow Xerox to buy a hundred thousand shares of his company for a million dollars’its highly anticipated I.P.O. was just a year away’if PARC would ‘open its kimono.’

    The mouse, contrary to the inane myth, was licensed from SRI, just like Xerox had done. Xerox did not invent or own the mouse.

  • Herding_sheep

    I know the number 1 thing that Steve Jobs would have hated today. People constantly assuming or presuming what he would have or wouldn’t have done or approved of. I’m pretty sure he would be incredibly proud of Apple today, like a parent watching their child grow up without them. Do parents disagree with some of the things their child does when he/she leaves the house? Maybe. Does it make them any less proud? Not really.

  • ksegall

    Very well said. Agree 100%.