1. Home
  2. tech
  3. news
  4. The dramatic untold story of what happened inside Apple after Steve Jobs died and Tim Cook and Jony Ive took over is told in a new book

The dramatic untold story of what happened inside Apple after Steve Jobs died and Tim Cook and Jony Ive took over is told in a new book

Jonathan A. Knee   

The dramatic untold story of what happened inside Apple after Steve Jobs died and Tim Cook and Jony Ive took over is told in a new book
  • "After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul" is a genuinely engrossing new book.
  • It follows the paths of two men who shaped the post-Steve Jobs period at Apple: Tim Cook and Jony Ive.

When Apple founder and impresario Steve Jobs died in 2011, there were two competing narratives that dominated the conventional wisdom about the prospects for the company.

Some were sure that, without the larger-than-life leader who had guided Apple's breathtaking turnaround since his dramatic return to the company in 1997, Apple's best years were behind it. Others, however, were convinced that "the culture of innovation, thinking different, risk-taking, and execution" would live on, continuing to introduce revolutionary products to the world.

In the end, neither narrative was right.

Fifteen years after the introduction of the iPhone, that one product continues to represent a majority of the company's revenue and — despite billions spent to transform the car and healthcare — no truly breakthrough new product has emerged. And yet, over the intervening years, the company has not only wildly out-performed the overall market, but also its FAANG peers and Microsoft.

The story of this unexpected outcome is told with precision and sensitivity by Wall Street Journal reporter Tripp Mickle in the genuinely engrossing After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion – Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul.

The book follows the parallel paths of the two key protagonists who shaped the post-Steve period at Apple: Tim Cook, Jobs' hand-picked technocratic successor, and Jony Ive, Jobs' creative soulmate.

Jobs was long haunted by the fragility of the great tech franchises that had come before Apple

The fate of Hewlett Packard, where Jobs had a summer job, hung particularly heavy in his waning days: "They thought they had left it in good hands, but now it's being dismembered and destroyed" Jobs complained. Given his own obsession with product, one wonders what Jobs really thought the likely fate of Apple would be if left in the hands of someone who, he confided to his biographer Walter Isaacson, was "not a product person, per se."

Where After Steve really excels is in painting a vivid portrait of the key business and creative decisions made by the two central characters, essentially cast as the left and right brain of the modern Apple.

As the book's subtitle suggests, Mickle is more of a right-brain kind of guy, and his heart clearly belongs to Ive. His portrait of Cook is nonetheless sympathetic in its own right. The CEO grows into the role and finds alternative avenues of growth as the new products Ive designed prove less revolutionary than hoped. Mickle gives Cook enormous credit for pivoting Apple to services, making investors value the company "more than a legacy hardware business that rose and fell depending on the popularity of each iPhone release" — or maybe even whether that next groundbreaking new product ever comes at all.

After Steve describes the Cook era as "the triumph of method over magic." But while Apple's reliance on services can extend the life and monetization potential of its legacy products, some of the growing services lines have their own inherent risks. The music and video subscription products, for instance, are unlikely to be profitable and face larger focused competitors. And the company's most profitable service – the estimated $15 billion annual payment Google provides to be the company's default search function – could simply go away if the federal government wins its pending antitrust suit on the matter against Google.

At the end of the day, the shadow of what economist Bruce Greenwald calls "the curse of the toaster" hangs over every consumer electronics company. Every new product, no matter how innovative or how many services buttress its competitive defenses, eventually will become just another toaster.

Apple may not require Jony Ive, who left the company in 2019, to fill the need for continuous creative innovation, but Tim Cook's ultimate legacy will in part hinge on whether he can find a way to reconcile method and magic in what somehow became the most valuable company, of any kind, in the world.

Jonathan A. Knee is a professor of professional practice at Columbia Business School and a senior advisor at Evercore. His most recent book is "The Platform Delusion: Who Wins and Who Loses in the Age of Tech Titans."


Popular Right Now