‘After Steve’ book review and snippets: Friction Forstall, Apple Car origin, Jony exit
After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion Dollar Company and Lost Its SoulWSJ’s new book by NYT technology reporter Tripp Mickle is out today. 9to5Mac received an advanced copy for review. Its pages divide the reader’s time between tracking the origins and careers of Apple’s two key decision-makers of recent years, Tim Cook and Jony Ive, including much of what has already been publicly documented. New details about Scott Forstall’s final year at Apple, the originator of the Apple Watch, and revealing moments early in the development of the legendary Apple Car project round out the tale enough to hold the attention of most Apple watchers. listening.
After Steve revisits much of the last decade at Apple, mostly spanning 2011 to 2019, from when co-founder Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO to when design chief Jony Ive officially left the company. The account also traces Tim Cook’s tenure as CEO during which the company’s value skyrocketed despite nagging early concern that Apple might be doomed without the leadership of Steve Jobs.
The challenge for After Steve makes the topic interesting enough to revisit so soon (although the passage of time will lighten that burden). The question of what will happen to Apple after the death of Steve Jobs worries far fewer people today than it did in 2011.
It’s also hard to write a book on Apple today without necessarily including already well-covered ground for context. Reading about Jony Ive’s debut at Apple or the few details we know about Tim Cook’s debut might seem repetitive for anyone already familiar with these characters. Still, newcomers will appreciate the completion provided by details about Ive’s early interactions with Steve Jobs and Tim Cook’s affinity for Auburn college football.
Mickle also sprinkles in new reporting around key timeline points and insignificant moments throughout the story that grab your attention without feeling fully told.
For example, Mickle writes that iPhone software chief Scott Forstall was “apoplectic” when he determined that it was hardware, not software, that caused a prototype iPhone 4 to drop calls. . before “Antennagate” became a public fiasco:
The most problematic clash occurred with Ive. In 2010, Apple was in the final stages of production of the iPhone 4. A prototype delivered to Forstall repeatedly dropped calls while on the phone. He was concerned that the problem was software related and called the staff to determine what was wrong. After his team couldn’t find any coding issues, Forstall discovered that the issue was occurring due to the design of the phone. I had wanted a thinner and lighter iPhone, which it achieved by wrapping its metal antenna around the edges of the device. Forstall was apoplectic. He blasted the flawed design in conversations with Jobs and complained that it had been kept hidden from his software team. I bristled at the criticism.
Forstall was also not a fan of the original Apple Watch idea, Jony’s first product idea after the death of Steve Jobs, according to Mickle:
The engineer behind the iPhone operating system worried that strapping a miniature computer to people’s wrists would distract them from everyday life. He feared this might amplify an unintended consequence of the iPhone, a device so captivating that it absorbed attention, disrupted conversation and endangered drivers. He feared a watch would compound disruptions to daily life by moving notifications from people’s pockets and purses to their wrists. While he didn’t rule out a watch, he said it should have capabilities beyond those already available on an iPhone. He preached caution.
Forstall’s doubt irritated Ive.
According to the book, Forstall instead favored developing a product around television.
Forstall, whose staff participated in the presentation, championed the idea of creating a system that brings TV channels together in one place so people can search for shows with their voice. The system would also bring up shows people watched regularly and suggest related programs they might enjoy. But for it to work, Apple needed TV networks to buy into it, a lengthy process that would be out of its control. With external pressure mounting, it fell to Tim Cook to decide Apple’s next step: Ive’s watch project or Forstall’s TV effort.
Forstall, of course, was eventually fired by Tim Cook early in his tenure as CEO at Apple, so Jony was promoted to software design. Oh, how “friction with Forstall” could have been the meme if “friction with Jony Ive” hadn’t had so much room to breathe.
With Forstall out and Jony in, reality gives way to other interesting stories around Jony Ive, the Apple Watch and the Apple Car project.
The book includes stories of Ive fitting an iPod nano with an EKG to demonstrate what a potential Apple Watch product could do, a bizarre demonstration of Apple Car in 2015, and even an embarrassing detail where the photographer behind the book from Jony Ive’s Apple product design has been questioned by Apple to pay back up to $20 million after an audit found over-charging for its services.
Apple Car development would continue to this day, of course, but that was the way it was seven years ago, according to After Steve:
One day in the fall of 2015, I met Tim Cook in Sunnyvale to show him how he envisioned the car working. He imagined the vehicle would be voice-controlled and passengers would board and tell Siri where they wanted to go. The two executives entered the prototype lounge-like cabin interior and sank into seats. Outside, an actor took on the role of Siri and read a script that had been written for the whimsical demonstration. As the imaginary car moved forward, I pretended to look out its window. “Hey, Siri, what was that restaurant we just walked through?” He asked. The actor outside responded. A few more exchanges with executives followed. Then I got out of the car with a look of satisfaction on his face as if the future was even grander than he had imagined. He seemed oblivious to the engineers watching, some of whom were gripped by an uneasy sense that the project was as fictional as the demonstration, advancing rapidly but far from its final destination.
The format of the book jumps from chapter to chapter detailing Jony Ive’s experience and the actions taken by Tim Cook. The two sometimes intersect, but the lack of intersection is also used to describe a reality in which Tim Cook allowed Jony Ive to leave Apple without much fanfare.
The period in which Jony tried to leave the company much earlier and the known story of his rise to part-time, his awkward return and his inevitable departure are also covered. Cook’s scenario is much more stable and less interesting. This is partly due to the executive nature of Apple (private and statesman-like), although the big book on Tim Cook has yet to be written.
However, it misses any mention of the actually very interesting story that happened behind the scenes at Apple during the days of the MacBook butterfly keyboard. Despite the designer’s insistence on perfection, it’s certainly true that some Apple hardware took design directions that favored form over function during his final years with the company.
The book captures criticism that Ive may have been overpaid, particularly while no doubt distracted by a desire to leave the company, but someone could write an entire book on the state of the Mac at the Jony’s later years and his critically acclaimed recovery after his release. .
As for the subtitle, How Apple Became a Trillion Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul the first is factually captured while the second assertion is arguably editorial and left open to debate. This framing that Cook moved the company away from a place that had a pro-financial success mindset is present throughout the book.
Fortunately, the editorialization is light enough that After Steve should be acceptable even to those who cringe at the subtitle. After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul by Tripp Mickle was released today.
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