Can Apple “Think Too Big”?

It’s an open family secret…

My cousin Joe made Apple CEO Steve Jobs cry.

I’ve never told this story before.

The part of the story where Jobs burst into tears isn’t in dispute. He admitted it himself.

It happened in 1982. He was a candidate for Time‘s Man of the Year at the time.

Or so he thought. It probably wasn’t true. But there were persistent rumors that he was under serious consideration.

Time sent him an early copy of the magazine. Here’s the cover. It wasn’t him. The man of the year was a computer.

EI_man of the year

Jobs describes the moment this way…

I remember opening the package, thoroughly expecting to see my mug on the cover, and it was this computer sculpture thing. I thought “Huh?” And then I read the article [about him], and it was so awful that I actually cried.”

Jobs blamed Michael Moritz. He was Time‘s correspondent in San Francisco and the one who interviewed Jobs and did the legwork for a feature article on him.

But Moritz didn’t write it.

My cousin Joe did.

Years later Moritz wrote a book called Return to the Little Kingdom.

He accuses my cousin of doing a hatchet job.

I don’t think Cousin Joe would agree with the “colorful” language Moritz used… “My material [was] siphoned, filtered, and poisoned with gossipy benzene by an editor in New York…”

That’s my cousin he’s complaining about.

But Joe admits he badly misjudged Steve Jobs. He told me a few years ago it’s probably the worse miscalculation he’s ever made.

He thought Jobs was a super salesman but not a visionary or product genius when it came to computers and connecting.

Boy, was my Cousin Joe wrong.

Next Apple Blockbuster

Under Jobs’ leadership, Apple came out with one blockbuster game-changing product after another.

The business model demanded it.

It wasn’t about just making a better device. You had to invent an entirely new product that customers felt they must have.

And then own the market.

Easier said than done. But with Jobs at the helm, Apple did it. The Apple II, iPod and iPhone were all groundbreaking products that delighted consumers.

But that was with Jobs. Without him?

Judging by the product Apple is lining up next, the company hasn’t lost any of its swagger or ambition.

You won’t believe what it’s working on now.

Well, not just working on. But going all in.

Aiming to own the market, in other words.

Apple’s next amazing product is…

The driverless car.

EI_apple driverless car

Image Credit: Freelancer.com

Too Late to the Game?

Apple has always been one step ahead of the competition in figuring out what consumers want.

And then executing and delivering something strange and wonderful.

Not this time. With driverless cars it’s behind the curve. Google is the leader. Tesla is next.

Apple has a lot of catching up to do.

Can it pull off its most ambitious product development initiative yet?

It has never paid to underestimate Apple.

This time, though, may be different.

This is no fancy wristwatch it’s developing. It’s a huge metallic beast.

Apple is clearly going for it.

It thinks it can win. And once more own the market with yet another product that will change our lives.

Despite trailing Google and Tesla.

Despite Mercedes, Volkswagen Group, BMW and others working on autonomous cars from their offices in Silicon Valley.

Apple has already drafted more than a thousand people to work on its not-so-secret project, trailing only Google’s efforts.

Like Tesla – without a national network of dealerships – it has to figure out a go-to-market strategy. But it also holds many advantages.

It has the brand, the consumer-grade system integration and the scaling know-how. It’s also able to bring its iPhone engineers on board.

And the engineering talent it lacks it recruits. For example, it recently hired the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit.

It has plenty of money too.

What it doesn’t have is Steve Jobs.

It has Tim Cook instead.

Jobs was born in 1955. He was 15 when James Taylor’s best-selling album Sweet Baby James came out. One song I particularly liked, Steamroller, reminds me of Jobs. It’s as if Jobs adopted a line in the lyrics as his personal mantra…

I’m a steamroller, baby, I’m bound to roll all over you.”

Cook was born five years after Jobs, just a bit too young to appreciate the album. So he’s probably not familiar with this line from the same song…

I’m a demolition derby, yes, a hefty hunk of steaming junk.”

Worst case, Apple’s most ambitious project to date fails. And the car becomes a “hefty hunk of steaming junk.”

Best case? The Apple car becomes the iPhone of driverless transportation.

And companies like Tesla or Mercedes adopt Google’s self-driving platform and take on the role for cars Samsung has played for Google in mobile phones.

That’s one scenario outlined by Mike Hoefflinger of XSeed Capital in this article.

But I’m not buying it.

It doesn’t smell right. Too many things seem “off.”

There’s too much to building cars that is outside Apple’s core strengths (batteries? brakes? auto interiors?).

And very un-Apple-like, it’s also trying to lead from behind.

And that could lead to its behind getting kicked.

So move over, Cousin Joe.

I have a family tradition to uphold. I’m betting against Apple’s CEO.

On this initiative, at least, I’m an Apple skeptic.

Invest early and well,

Andrew Gordon
Founder, Early Investing