Why Apple might be better off without Steve

I know there are probably already nasty emails on their way to my inbox based solely on the headline of this post. Apple better off without Steve? How is that possible? It’s difficult to even think about the iconic consumer electronics company — now so much more than just a computer maker — without thinking about Steve Jobs. Apple is Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs is Apple. That’s one of the main reasons why so many people (me included) were so concerned that the company come clean about Jobs’ health over the past few months — because he is so intertwined with the company in people’s minds and certainly in investors’ minds. Every time he appears in a photo looking gaunt, the share price tumbles. How could the company possibly be better off without a man who is a strong CEO, visionary genius and celebrity spokesman all rolled into one?

For the record, I’m not saying that Steve Jobs should cut his ties to Apple, and I realize that speculating about his departure is going to be seen as in bad taste by many people, given his personal health issues. I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope he is around for many years to come. There is no question that Jobs’ vision and laser-like focus on usability and value have worked miracles on Apple’s business model and its share price over the past few years — miracles that many seasoned industry observers never imagined were even possible. So how could not having him around be a good thing for the company? Just stay with me for a minute.

Let me put it this way: While Apple is a successful and widely-admired company with some excellent products, in many ways it is also pretty close to being a cult, as more than one person has argued (with the latest being Dan “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons, who writes in his recent Newsweek column about how the company is treated with kid gloves by most of the mainstream media). This is hardly surprising, when you think about how low Apple had fallen just a few short years ago. Anyone who can take a company like that and turn it into a market-leading powerhouse with a stock-market value of $75 billion is going to inspire not just admiration but an almost religious devotion.

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iTunes concessions a double-edged sword

Apple’s announcements at Macworld may have lacked some of the flair and sizzle that CEO Steve Jobs usually brought to his keynote, but there was one announcement that, arguably, will wind up changing the playing field considerably. That announcement is the news of DRM-free sales from all of the major music labels through iTunes, and the addition of variable pricing. As rumored during the run up to Macworld, the world’s largest online music store will soon start selling songs for 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each. The only question now, as Peter Kafka notes in a post at MediaMemo, is whether anyone will care or not — and whether it will help to fix any of the music industry’s systemic problems.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Apple still has a credibility problem

For some time now, there has been speculation that Steve Jobs was sicker than either he or Apple wanted to admit. At first, the company said that he simply had “a bug,” and then when the company announced that he would not be doing his usual keynote speech at Macworld — a speech so associated with him that it has come to be known as a “Stevenote” — the company denied it had anything to do with his health. Now, we know that this was untrue. Steve himself has confirmed that he is unwell as a result of a “hormone imbalance,” and that he is working on getting better (although as Wired notes, the letter is somewhat opaque when it comes to the specifics of this problem).

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Apple iPod Touch large: I want one

Amid all the rumours that Steve Jobs is getting sicker comes what I think is a much more interesting rumour: that Apple will launch a larger-format iPod Touch. Not that I don’t care about Steve-O and his health, of course — I do. But when it comes to Apple products, I’m really interested in the idea of a kind of wireless mini-tablet with the multi-touch interface (something Chris Messina and others have mused about in the past).

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I’m shocked to find rumors going on here

Just for the record, John Gruber of Daring Fireball seems like a smart guy, and he certainly knows a lot about Apple. How he knows so much isn’t clear, but he appears to be pretty well connected. Everything he said in advance of the Apple event yesterday (as far as I can tell) turned out to be true. But is that enough for John? No. Just to rub it in, he takes some time in a post today to call out those who were wrong, including a long section about Duncan Riley at The Inquisitr, who started the rumors about Apple launching an $800 laptop, which of course turned out not to be true.

I’ve had issues with Duncan in the past, but this seems more than a little mean-spirited. Was the report from his reliable source wrong? Sure it was. And as Gruber points out, today’s post on The Inquisitr does more or less try to weasel out of that by claiming that the $899 monitor effectively fulfilled most of the rumor. I think Duncan should have come out and said his source was wrong and then moved on. But that’s just me. Still, was it really necessary to do an all-out takedown of Duncan’s blog post, as though such things never happen on the Web? I mean, come on.

As Peter Kafka notes at Silicon Alley Insider, the combination of Apple’s secrecy and the huge interest in new products is a recipe for a rumor-fest (something Apple seems to have become resigned to). There are dozens of sites that exist solely to propagate rumors about what Apple is up to, and 90 per cent of those turn out to be wrong. Even Engadget and Gizmodo have been wrong in the past. For all I know, Gruber himself may have actually been wrong about something once or twice. Has that somehow become a blogosphere crime now?

If Duncan had no source whatsoever, and simply made up the $800 rumor out of thin air, then I think he would deserve that kind of criticism. But he says he had a reliable source, and I have no reason to think otherwise (of course, they aren’t all that reliable any more). The other sites that come under fire from Gruber seem even more petty: so 9to5 Mac was wrong about the plastic shell. Is that the end of the world? Hardly. And then he slams Mac Soda for having the apostrophes facing the wrong way in ’08 and ’09. Come on, John — time for a few deep breaths. Back away from the keyboard slowly. What the heck, maybe even go outside for awhile.