Apple’s Two Vulcan Problem

Back in April 2013, when Forbes ran a commentary asserting it was time for Tim Cook to go, I forcefully responded that “Apple needs a COO, not new CEO“. The day has arrived, with the company announcing this morning that Jeff Williams fills the vacant chief operating officer position. Eh, that’s not what I had in mind, and Apple investors should question the wisdom of the appointment, too.

I mean no slight towards Mr. Williams, who looks more the adequately competent to handle the job. Like Cook, when COO, Williams is a manufacturing and logistics leader—excellent credentials to manage day-to-day operations over the world’s wealthiest tech company as measured by market cap and quarterly net income. The problem: Cook and Williams are questionable pairing, because their backgrounds and skillsets are too much alike. You got an electron circling another electron in the atom’s nucleus. 

I have repeatedly praised the Steve Jobs and Tim Cook partnership for how they complemented one another. Cook arguably is a logistics genius, and he can be credited for much of Apple’s success over the past four years. He stepped into the chief executive’s role when the company needed someone to manage the empire and expand its influence rather than develop newfangled things. Jobs brought vision, focus, and good taste. I often liken the two to James Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek—Jobs and Cook, respectively.

I see the Cook-Williams pairing more like two Vulcans running a company which appeal isn’t intellectual but emotional. If Apple Watch, 12-inch MacBook, and iPad Pro are any indication, Cook can’t cook in the design kitchen anywhere as tastefully as his predecessor. Three months ago, i asserted about the three products, and maintain the position today:

Apple is now the middle-aged boys club; men of the same age designing products for rich, white, middle-age males. ‘Products without purpose’ I call new MacBook, Apple Watch, and iPad Pro. Where once Steve Jobs filled niches and created new categories, CEO Tim Cook and company create new Apple ware for which there is little to no need whatsoever.

“Products without purpose” do have one purpose: Making more money from higher margins, something Cook manages to execute exceptionally well. Shareholders can rejoice at his success. Sorry, fanboys, he’s no visionary leader—and Apple needs someone in that role more than a new COO, which, unfortunately Cook fills all too well.

Apple’s success is indisputable, and despite critics calling for imminent collapse none is likely coming in the foreseeable future. Cook runs a seeming perpetual money machine, which inertia is full-motion. “One more thing” is the missing element, however. Apple Watch, 12-inch MacBook, and iPad Pro  are not the new innovations we waited for, and some of their features defy Jobs’ vision. For example, Cook and Company can call the iPad Pro stylus the Apple Pencil, but it’s still a stylus and Jobs argued against one; see his comments in 2007 and 2010.

Logistically, building off existing platforms, primarily iOS, the newer crop of Apple products aren’t likely to fail. But they aren’t future innovation, and the high emotional quotient within them, that will open up new product categories. How funny that Amazon and Google innovate with voice interaction, while Apple obsesses over touch.

Over the weekend, we set up Amazon Echo in the Wilcox living room, and it’s the best new tech put there in a half-decade or more. Asking Alexa questions or giving her commands (like “play Christmas songs”) is life-changing. Similarly, Google Now goes everywhere, and I don’t mind talking to my phone in public places. Touchless interaction is the future of user interfaces; Apple advances some but pushes more to preserve the status quo, which is good for selling more devices.

I congratulate Apple on finally filling the vacant COO’s position, and with someone surely up to the task. That said, I find it highly illogical that two Vulcans can be the emotional consorts that Apple needs to wow new and existing customers.

Editor’s Note: A version of this analysis appears on BetaNews.