The resignation of Apple CEO Steve Jobs leaves the company's internal operations in the capable hands of his replacement, Tim Cook. But his departure also leaves a cavernous void when it comes to the company’s public persona--and right now, it’s unclear who may step in to fill that void.
Tech visionaries and engineers generally don’t make great orators, let alone presenters. Steve Jobs shattered that mold, with a dynamic presence and charisma that could resonate in an intimate auditorium or enthrall thousands in the multisection hall at the Worldwide Developers Conference.
At any Apple event in which he appeared, Jobs had the crowds eating from his hand. He had charisma. He had showmanship. And he had the uncanny ability to capture imaginations, and steer audiences to understand his vision. Some people would derisively call it a reality distortion field, but in fact that was an apt description of the effect and impact Jobs had. As synonymous as Jobs has been with Apple--it’s hard to imagine Apple without him--the company has operated smoothly with the help of a strong management team that has included former chief operating officer and newly anointed CEO Tim Cook. But none of these managers have been spokespeople, with Jobs's developed personality or presence. The truth is, senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller has done a creditable job in his short presentations, but he has never left an impression on the audience in the same way as Jobs has, even though he has shared the stage with Jobs and demoed aspects of new Apple offerings. The same goes for Cook. And for Craig Federighi, vice president of OS X software, who took the keynote stage at WWDC with Cook to introduce OS X Lion. And for Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iOS software. And so on.
Granted, before now, those folks may have been reluctant--or too scared--to try to compete with Jobs on stage. But they’ve fallen flat in their impressions: They’re business managers and developers, not showmen.
Jobs is a legend with a cult following. Only he could get away with delivering his trademark “one more thing” line at the end of an event, teasing the last big reveal of the day. Can you imagine someone else calling a hunk of plastic and silicon magical--and getting normally rational observers to nod in agreement?
Other consumer tech companies--Google and HP among them--have tried to mimic the finesse and vibe of Apple’s Jobs-led events. And each time, those companies, and the leaders they’ve put up on stage, have failed miserably. This year alone, Jobs’s handling of the Apple iPad 2 launch stood head and shoulders above Google’s introductions of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) and Ice Cream Sandwich, and HP’s unveiling of the now-defunct TouchPad. There was no comparison: Try as they might, the Google and HP presenters were lifeless shells, and it was hard not to notice how they were attempting, and failing, to match Jobs’s showmanship. Months later, the executives who stood on stage for Google and HP have largely faded into a nameless ether. But practically everyone on the planet knows that Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2.
That’s because, simply put, he’s Steve Jobs. And without Jobs in this important role, Apple may struggle to find its voice again.