Can Apple Be ‘Insanely Great’ Again? This Journalist Says Maybe Not

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While claims that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) lost its innovative touch with the death of Steve Jobs are not raining down as hard on the iPhone maker as they were last year — when the company’s stock was slipping hundreds of dollars from its all time high — the criticism has not disappeared; nor is it an entirely invalid conclusion to argue that Apple has not released an innovative product since the death of the company’s co-founder. That is the central thesis to the book Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by Yukari Iwatani Kane, the Wall Street Journal’s former Apple beat reporter. But it has been postulated that the criticism may be too narrow.

In an interview of Kane at South by Southwest — the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin —  Wall Street Journal editor Geoffrey Fowler explored the driving themes of her Apple analysis. As Kane explained in the interview, a summary of which was published by Barron’s, she initially planned to focus on the turnaround that Jobs orchestrated after his return to Apple in 1997, first as an adviser and then as the “de facto head” of the company. But his death changed her reporting.

“A year after I started working on the book, it became clear the real story was how the company was coping with the passing of someone whose identity was so tied into the company,” she said. In her opinion, Apple cannot remain great “if they don’t redefine what great is.” She told Fowler that as long as the definition of great remains “intertwined with Steve’s definition of great, which is to make insanely great products, the company will find it hard to stay great. Everything at Apple has changed because Apple was Steve and Steve was Apple,” she told Fowler. “And so this company has lost its center.”

Yet, Barron’s Tiernan Ray argued that Kane’s thesis contained some “very recent misconceptions” about Steve Jobs and Apple. “Much of this analysis seems to reflect Kane’s recent scoops reporting without a broader perspective. Jobs didn’t make “vision” statements of the kind Kane suggests. Companies that do that are IBM, Cisco, HP, etc. Jobs & Co. came out with products. And then after the fact, Jobs might offer thoughtful, articulate remarks about a general philosophy,” Ray wrote. “Also, the hand-wringing about Apple posits that the company came out with new ‘categories’ of product every day. There was a six-year gap between the introduction of the iPod and the introduction of the iPhone. Kane falls prey to the kind of image of Jobs as infallible, whereas many things happened under his watch that people at the time ridiculed or dismissed.”

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