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.