Haunted Empire: The Fall of Apple

By Rob Enderle March 19, 2014

There is an interesting, actually fascinating, book on Apple post Jobs that was released this week.  What I found particularly interesting was that it appeared “someone” didn’t want folks to buy and read the book because the initial reviews on Amazon pretty much said it was crap and not worth reading.   The reason that caught my eye is that with editorial reviews in place for this class of book it was unlikely to have been published if it had no value.  So I thought the campaign to disparage it into non-existence was poorly executed.   For instance, had it gotten three stars with a tepid review, I think it would have appeared to be a waste of time, but one star and no redeeming qualities screamed “fake review” and I figured I’d buy and read the book myself.   Seriously, check out the reviews here, (if you look at the other things reviewed by each person many have only reviewed this book and the rest have never reviewed a book before). 

It was worth it, and this isn’t a cheap book even on the Amazon Kindle.

Haunted Empire:  The Bad

Now the book isn’t perfect. It jumps around a bit and you really have to read the whole thing through to put together, in your head, the string of events.   It is organized by event type - not in calendar progression - so you end up jumping back and forth and personally, I would have either preferred calendar progression or that the author started each segment with a premise and then proved it with facts.  

However, that’s more my style and folks have different styles.  The event sequencing used did create little mini-stores that did hang together and made the book an easier read if you were going to read it over a long period as opposed to doing what I did and pound through it in a few hours.   Even though it wasn’t organized for a power read, it held my interest and I did feel it was money well spent. 

Haunted Empire:  The Premise

The premise of the book, which each of the events attempt to prove, is that without Jobs, Apple is missing a critical key component.   It also makes a compelling argument that, even if Jobs had not died, Apple had grown to become a company that could no longer operate with the magic that created products like the iPod, iPad, and iPhone.

Image via Shutterstock.

You see, Jobs had run the company as a micro-manager and as if the company was a startup until he stepped down.  But Apple was anything but a startup with massive complexity, compared to when Jobs first took the company back that made running it through micro-management impossible. 

This is why there have been so many problems.  The suicides by workers building Apple devices in China, the massive litigation with Samsung and others (which seemed to only make the competition stronger), the run-ins with different government bodies, the issues with phone quality and the disaster with the mapping software - all suggest a company slowly coming off the rails and largely because the firm’s reach had exceeded a micro-manager’s grasp. 

In effect, Apple is haunted by the spirit of Jobs who is no longer there to micro-manage it and it was designed to be micro-managed. But since this design isn’t even viable anymore, it provides a double hit and thus the problems the book is full of.  

One of the key things that clearly came through in the book is that Jobs’ reality distortion field, which is the term both used to describe times when Jobs disconnected from reality and when he disconnected Apple fans from reality, continues to exist in the company.   This existence is detailed in an executive inability to even see the problems that need correcting and thus forms the foundation for why things aren’t getting better.   If you can’t see a problem, you can’t fix it.

Ballmer – Cook

While the book doesn’t make this comparison, I’ve followed Ballmer much more closely than I have Cook and I was struck by how similar the two men are.   In fact, I think they’d actually get along rather well.   Both don’t chase personal wealth, both are sharply numbers focused, and neither is particularly good on stage - even though both have worked hard to be.    Both are also decent operational managers but neither has any real imagination or ability to innovate.    That similarity doesn’t bode well for Apple either.    

Wrapping Up:  Apple Can’t Come Back

The book basically concludes that with the existing team and structure, Apple can’t come back.   To be restored, Apple either needs to change massively to take into account the skills of the executive team or the team must change dramatically to run Apple effectively again.   Both paths need someone that can drive innovation and will be willing to take huge intuitive leaps to bring out the next amazing product.   Without that, the small improvements in products and ever cheaper offerings will slowly kill the company.  

Currently in Apple, for the employees, all career paths seem to lead to Google - where the firm is working to solve death (really) as opposed to just coming up with a way to build another phone color.   There is actually an acronym for it “G2G” or “Go to Google.”   That’s never good.   

Check out the book and see if you agree that without major changes, the Apple of tomorrow will look like the Apple before Jobs came back and that the executive team at Apple is furiously in denial about the core problems.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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