Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, has appeared twice in public recently. In the first of the two appearances, at a fireside-style chat with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the All Things D conference, Cook was in great form. The test for Cook was less about what he said, but more about how he said it.
With Steve Jobs gone, business is looking to Cook to be a substitute of sorts. There’s no expectation that Cook should be a copy of Jobs, but there is an expectation that he understands the core values and beliefs that make Apple special. Cook didn’t disappoint.
He spoke with passion and conviction and answered Mossberg’s questions like a true Apple veteran. Very Steve Jobs. But Cook is also starting to stamp his particular style on Apple. Insiders I’ve spoken to mention that the he has a softer management style and is putting more emphasis on the human side of Apple.
For instance, since Cook took the reins at Apple, a company not well known for its philanthropic side, it has started a charitable donations program, matching employee donations to various causes dollar for dollar up to $10,000. So far the program is only available for US employees but will expand to the rest of the world in the future.
And Cook’s demeanour and behaviour is a stark contrast to other CEOs of large tech companies, or at least one in particular – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Ballmer, who also appeared in a recent keynote introducing Microsoft Surface (Microsoft’s take on the tablet and ultra PC) came across as a loud buffoon. He’s been known to rant and rave and screams and shout. That behaviour may be forgivable if you’ve got a reputation for delivering, but in Ballmer’s case it seems to be mainly just hot air.
Compare and contrast the innovation that Apple and Microsoft have brought to the market in the past five years. Apple has delivered the iPhone, iPad and Macs like the MacBook Air and the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. Microsoft has delivered Windows 7, an OS that is ‘meh’ at best, and Kinect, a fancy input device for Xbox.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has lost billions of dollars trying to compete with Google in search. Microsoft’s share price, one performance indicator, is almost at the same level as it was five years ago. Apple’s share price has increased from US$123 to US$574 in the same period.
Microsoft’s latest ‘innovation’ is a tablet called Surface. Mind you, as of this writing it’s still actually a vapourware product; it doesn’t have a ship date and it doesn’t have a price. Surface looks a lot like the iPad. Even down to the fact that Microsoft released a set of magnetic ‘smart covers’ that attach to the device with magnets.
Now there are a few interesting things to talk about with Microsoft Surface. Because it runs Windows 8 it will function like a full-featured computer. It’s even got a USB port. Microsoft is selling the product on the basis that it can work like a tablet, but also double as a true laptop replacement when you’re on the go. There’s even an integrated kickstand, so you can easily keep your Surface upright.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the Surface is the smart keyboard that is integrated into smart cover. A 3mm thick, the pressure- sensitive cover includes a fully functioning keyboard and trackpad. According to Microsoft the keyboard works better than an onscreen keyboard, however journalists at the launch event weren’t able to test it so my judgement is reserved.
Still, I’m confused about who this new tablet is aimed at. Microsoft’s market has traditionally been software not hardware. But Surface, if it ever ships, looks like it will be in direct competition with its core business of selling software to its OEM partners. It’s a confusing strategy from a confused CEO.