As I write, Apple is the second most valuable company in the world. A couple of weeks ago it was the most valuable, but many tech stocks have taken a tumble over that period. Nonetheless, Apple is currently worth $2.4 trillion.
While Steve Jobs set Apple on the way, it has actually been Tim Cook who has overseen the company’s most truly spectacular growth. This book from Tripp Mickle, a staff writer at the Wall St Journal for the last seven years (although he has most recently joined the New York Times), covers the period following Jobs handing over the company to Cook.
Cook had been responsible for much of Apple’s second-to-none supply chain, ensuring that the company had partners who were capable of producing incredible volumes of complex electronics to meet Apple’s insane growth. It was also Cook who finally got Apple’s iPhone made available for sale to a domestic Chinese customer base, thus seeing a new level in growth.
But this book is also about the growing disillusionment of Apple’s visionary designer Jony Ive. Once Jobs’ right-hand man, Ive had been responsible for so much of Apple’s design ethos, with clear ideas of what he wanted often requiring entirely new manufacturing processes to be created to deliver on his visions.
As Apple grew in scale, so his disenchantment seemed to grow, with Ive spending less time in his office, and taking up more of his multitude of other interests. His final project was really the design of Apple’s new spaceship campus, with Tripp regaling us with remarkable details of how things like glass manufacture were completely changed to meet the design needs of Apple’s new building. No detail was too much.
But we are definitely left with questions about where Apple goes next. The iPhone iterates each year with a new model, but there’s a feeling that we’re in stasis at this point – a slightly faster processor and a slightly improved camera. What’s the next great leap?
The trouble is that when a company reaches the scale Apple has become, pretty much nothing makes a difference to the bottom line. The feeling seems to be that health or cars are the only real places that Apple can go to gain meaningful further growth.
Tripp details the production of the Apple Watch, with the changing emphasis over time from fashion accessory to health tracker. Even then, it’s arguable that it hasn’t quite reached its ultimate purpose yet – struggling with battery and monitoring limitations. The car issue is something else again, but the scale of the motoring industry means that this is an area Apple continues to persevere with.
This book is full of all kinds of insider details, and anyone interested in the tech industry will be fascinated by it. It gets us as close to understanding what makes both Cook and Ive tick as anything short of their own autobiographies.
After Steve is available in hardback, ebook and audiobook. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC.