Turn back the clock to 1997, Apple’s newly appointed Chief Operations Officer, Tim Cook, sits in a boardroom with his team, tensions are high as Apple is starring down the barrel of a near $1 billion loss for the year. Current supply chain practices see Apple’s inventory and manufacturing operations spread over both hemispheres – they are the laughing stock of the tech world.
Whilst that meeting may have marked the nadir in Apple’s operations, it was also the impetus for a fundamental change to Apple’s approach to manufacture. Within an hour of its closing, one of Cooks most trusted lieutenants, Sabil Khan, was on his way to China with no return date in mind. Within six months Cook had wound down most of Apple’s inefficient manufacturing operations and outsourced the processes to Chinese firms. The rest is history. Cook’s improvements made Apple’s supply chain the envy of its competitors, allowing Apple to expand into the mobile and tablet worlds, all whilst reaping handsome profits (and whilst other tablet makers lurched from one debacle to the next).
With this record, is it fair to say that Tim Cook, operations extraordinaire, is going to have the most influence on the iPad’s future? Well may be, perhaps read more in our series to get a better measure. There are a few things we do feel comfortable in predicting for the future of the iPad under Tim’s vision however. First off, we can expect more of the same, which is nothing to sneer at when you are the near unassailable market leader. Cook is an operational genius and an extremely effective manager according to Charles Golvin of Forrester Research. There is little doubt Apple will continue its delivery of the iPad at a competitive price and with its considered and well-timed approach to new model releases.
Secondly, Cook’s operational prowess could lead to even further efficiencies in design execution, with new iPad models coming faster than previously. We have seen how as it reached maturity and its design team became comfortable with its malleability; the iPod was split out into various forms to accommodate all aspects of the market from top end to budget users. With this experience, Cook could move to split the iPad out sooner, giving us simpler, smaller tablets with correspondingly limited functionality (iPad shuffle anyone?), whilst at the same time bringing out the ‘iPad ultimate’ with larger screen and higher processor.
But what of Cook’s lack of product obsession and messianic qualities come launch time? That he lacks the grand vision of Jobs has been well covered, but realistically, who does have that vision? (maybe his designer in chief but that’s for Part 2) What could be likely is that without this obsession for pushing the product boundary, Apple’s capacity as a thought leader may be diminished even whilst its market share remains intact.