Review: After Steve

Posted on May 9, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Apple with 24 Comments

Tripp Mickle’s “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost its Soul” is the first must-have book about the post-Jobs era at Apple. It’s almost as good as describing what happened inside the company over the past 10 years as was Jobs’ official biography about the previous 15. And it is full of revelations.

The most widely reported revelation is an explanation for why Jony Ive left Apple. And while that’s an interesting story, and is indeed a big and important part of the book, there is so much more to learn here. Among the other revelations are:

The Next Big Thing. Cook was under enormous pressure in the wake of Steve Jobs’s death to come up with the next great product. But he wasn’t a product guy and so he had to rely on underlings. Among the choices he faced were health care devices, a home automation ecosystem, self-driving, cars, smart TVs, and headphones.

Healthcare devices. Ive sold Cook on the Apple Watch with the promise that it would be a leading-edge healthcare wearable, but the technology wasn’t ready in time and Cook demanded that the company ship something to prove to the world that Apple could still innovate. So it shipped the first Apple Watch and marketed it as a luxury jewelry item. That failed—Apple Watch had no clear mission, unlike iPod, iPhone, and iPad—but the healthcare features caught up in time for version 2 and Apple Watch was reborn. It would not be The Next Big Thing. But it was a modest hit.

Home automation. Apple had the chance to acquire Tony’s Fadell’s Nest but it moved too slowly and Google swooped in and purchased the company out from under it.

Apple Auto. Tim Cook never wanted Apple to create self-driving cars. But after a key team of high-level engineers all threatened to quit together, Cook allowed them to choose what they wanted to work on. Their answer: self-driving cars.

Smart TVs. In the official Steve Jobs biography, Jobs infamously claimed that he’d “cracked it” when it came to TV. But Jobs never told anyone about his ideas, leading to lots of treading water with Apple TV.

Headphones. Apple investigated the high-end headphone market but realized it was losing its grip on kids because of its lack of cool. The answer? Acquire Beats, which had an incredibly successful headphone line that was popular with athletes and the younger crowd. Plus Beats had just launched a music subscription service, which was making iTunes seem old-fashioned and out of touch. Beats co-founder Dr. Dre almost scuttled the deal when he bragged on social media that he was about to become a billionaire.

Services. Since the Apple Watch would never reach the $20 billion revenue plateau that Apple needed to establish yet another new product category, Cook realized that he would need a few modest hits to make up the difference. In doing so, he latched onto what would in fact become Apple’s next big thing: services. This started with iCloud storage and Apple Music and extended into Apple TV+, Fitness+, Apple Arcade, and more.

Antennagate. Apple knew before the iPhone 4 launch that its attenuation issue–where it would lose a signal when held normally—was much more serious than it ever let on. Exec Scott Forestall, who ran the iOS business, had his team waste months trying to figure out why the device was losing a signal only to later be told it was the hardware. He was “apoplectic” and tried to get the design changed, but because Jobs loved it so much, Apple shipped the buggy device and pretended the issue was minor when users complained.

Tax evasion. Under Tim Cook, Apple evaded paying hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by hiding money in an office in Ireland that was no bigger than a closet and had no employees. This evasion was much more egregious than I remember reading about at the time, and Apple executives basically lied to the U.S. government by omission and, when pressed, refused to comment.

There’s a lot more, but you should read the book. And that’s true whether you love Apple, hate it, or are ambivalent. This is one of the best industry books I’ve read in years.

Buy After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost its Soul in hardcover, on Kindle, or via Audible.

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Comments (24)

24 responses to “Review: After Steve”

  1. Brazbit

    Sounds like an interesting read. Love them or hate them, Apple never lacks as a source of drama and entertainment value.

  2. nine54

    Sounds like an interesting read, though I'm not sure I accept the implied premise that Apple wouldn't have "lost its soul" if Jobs was still here. Is this really an objective analysis or more cult of personality stuff around Jobs?

    I'm by no means an Apple fanboy, but I think Apple's accomplishments under Cook are under appreciated. Cook might not have Jobs' style or product intuition, but Apple under Cook feels more mature and less petulant, for lack of a better word. For starters, Apple actually now listens to customer feedback and no longer has the "one right way" mentality and stubbornness that Jobs had. Further, it has made supply chain mastery a product differentiator, resetting consumer expectations around device trade-in as well as service/warranty/repair via AppleCare.

  3. ghostrider

    A lot of people need to get their heads out of the sand, and stop believing everything they're told. Apple only care about the money - that's it. They'll say, do and pay whatever it takes to maintain that. Apple are one of the most hypocritical, controlling, obsessive companies in the world but they've made a ton of cash off the back of it by manipulating the truth, abusing their power and market control, maximising profit by using the cheapest labour possible and every other trick in the book to sell more product. Apple's own greatest 'product' though is it's marketing department - without them, Apple wouldn't be what they are now.

    • rob_segal

      Apple's marketing wouldn't work if they didn't make good products. Macs, iPad, and iPhone are quality products people enjoy using and Apple markets those products really effectively. Apple is also a publicly traded company and needs to deliver value to shareholders, too. Like all publicly traded companies, revenue and profits are very important. Apple isn't a charity. They make revenue and profits by designing good products and services, leveraging their supply chain and logistical strength, and selling these good products and services to customers all around the world.

      • Donte

        I will give you the fact that Apple has (now) the most cohesive eco system of any vendor. I say now, because it took a long time for them to build it. Even now most of it rides on iCloud, which is still weak compared to other cloud systems, but supports their consumer focused goals well (photo, document, email, imessage etc sync). It took them many years to get this to where it is at. iCloud, which was mobileme was a complete train wreck for many years.

        Short of that Apple's hardware is better in some cases because in some models they tend to use higher end components. You will pay for them that is for sure. That said those hardware devices have their fair share of bugs and failures. Their software, MacOS and iOS are just a buggy as any other software and if you were over at say Mac Rumors in the forums, plenty of those die hard Apple fans whish Apple would take a year or two off of releasing new versions and fix the numerous bugs.

        You and others have bought the marketing hype that Apple somehow has better hardware and software and that it is just magical. It is the same reason some people buy a BMW 5 series sedan over a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord....they have bought into the marketing hype of BMW.

  4. arjay

    Ives did not always help Apple products, and his ego is massive. I think this book gives Ives too much credit, and does not look at his performance critically.

  5. JH_Radio

    For someone who never read about Jobs , what is the name of the book I should be reading about Steve called?

    and then I'll read this one next.

    • joeaxberg

      The year 2000 book "The Second Coming of Steve Jobs" is an entertaining and interesting read about younger Jobs from when he was ousted by Apple until his return. I preferred listening to it as an audiobook.

      Unauthorized biography by Alan Deutschman. Some great reading and history in there about Next, Pixar, etc. More entertaining than Isaacson's account of that time. The Pixar history is especially fascinating.

    • ianbetteridge

      Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" is probably the definitive biography. Jobs authorised it, and Isaacson had access to documents, friends and family, but it's not a hagiography and is very "warts and all".

  6. stassi801

    Apple had an office in Ireland since 1980 with 60 employees, and now they have 6,000 employees. Not sure what the "...was no bigger than a closet and had no employees."

  7. Donte

    Maybe this book was too far written to include the recent 270 billion payment to the CCP that the world found out last November. To me, when that information surfaced, I lost all respect for Apple.

    I was on the fence about Apple before that. I think Ive ruined their product line in many ways with his artistic quest for thinness at all costs. They have reversed many of his poor choices since he left.

    Once the CCP payment info surfaced, I knew that Apple for all of Tim Cooks softball news segments and interviews where goes on and on about "the customer" and privacy was complete and utter bullshite. Apple is no different than the rest, it is all about the $$$$$$$$$. The CCP deal shows how much Apple does NOT care about customers or human rights at all. To get that deal they not only had to pay an insane amount of money to probably the biggest enemy of the US (Apple being a US company) but they handed over encryption keys to the CCP for the iCloud data centers built in China. It was all about getting access to billions of customers to sell they products.

    • rob_segal

      China is too large a market for a company like Apple to ignore for political purposes. It's unreasonable for people to expect them to. There is a cost to doing business.

      Regarding privacy, Apple does care about that to a certain extent, more so than companies like Meta and Google for example. There are limits to this in other countries and again, China is too large a market for Apple to ignore. It's easy to say Apple shouldn't cater to China or the Chinese market when you're not answering to the Board of Directors or Shareholders. It's a downside of running a global company.

    • wunderbar

      Not to give Apple a free pass here, how is that any different than any other company that chooses to operate in China, Microsoft included?

      If you don't respect Apple for their China stance, than you can't respect any tech company, since they all deal with China.

      • nbplopes

        The difference is that Apple uses it to justify its App Store as the sole agent for the sale of software programs in users devices. No one is doing that because it fundamentally such agency model the way it's being proposed by Apple hijacks users and business rights to represent themselves in their own properties. "Hijack" is the right word because is not presented as an option.


        • wshwe

          The iPhone was invented by Apple. If you don't want to sell in their App Store, you can easily create your own Android smartphone and App Store. Problem solved.

      • Donte

        Does Microsoft or Google use privacy as one of their #1 marketing points? Does their CEO's get on news programs and talk about how much they care about their customers and their privacy?

        Apple has made a campaign out of it. They leverage that belief to fight side loading and alternate payment methods. They tout the wonderfulness of their walled garden and its security.

        They tried to hide that massive payment to the worst human right violators in the world because it does jive with all their hype about customers and privacy. It is the exact opposite.

        Not to mention all of the credible stories about Uyghurs being persecuted, sterilized and used as forced labor to make parts for products....including Apple products.

        • lvthunder

          Are you kidding me? Every one of those companies uses privacy and security as marketing points. Would anyone use Azure without some assurances of privacy and security?

          • ghostrider

            No other company uses 'security' and 'privacy' in their marketing as much as Apple. They do it because they know it's a cash-winner, and partially discredit's other companies in the process. Cook has used this many times in his interviews, and the truth is, if you say something enough times, people believe it, even if it's not actually true (which it isn't). In this world, if you need to tell a lie to sell a product, so be it.

            • nine54

              Three catalysts drove Apple to latch onto "security and privacy" as a differentiator:

              GDPR requirements in the EU

              The "stand-off" between Apple and the FBI over whether law enforcement should have the ability to unlock phones

              A series of stories/"scandals" involving FB/Meta and other companies around how they were using and selling personal data

              "Security and privacy" are broad fields, and Apple's goal here is perpetuating the negative perception around companies like Google and Meta whose business models are based on advertising and user data. This has nothing to do with security in the sense of encryption, backdoors, threat detection/prevention, malware, etc.

          • Donte

            Apple more than any of them use "privacy" as a marketing tool. Tim with his impassioned speeches about privacy are so much hypocrisy.

            All the while taking 12+ billion a year from Google to be the default search engine on iOS and Mac devices. All the while paying China 270 billion for access to their markets so they can sell more devices, even if it means giving a government with a horrible human rights track record, the encryption keys to iCloud in China so that government can and will violate its citizens privacy and use that to persecute them.

            Tim Cook and Apple spew the privacy speak, but they are allowing surveillance atrocities occur they claim to oppose....... all for the $$$$$$$.

  8. sabertooth920

    Honestly, the opinion I got from the Isaacson book is that Jobs was basically a curator who had trouble getting along with people.