One year ago, the news came in: Steve Jobs had resigned as CEO of Apple. Apple’s then-Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook was named by the board of directors as Jobs’ successor as CEO, “effective immediately.” It had already been an unexpectedly high-paced August in the tech world, but the news was still enough to surprise even the most cynical of Apple watchers.
Apple kept on trucking as Cook confidently took control of the company that Jobs had cofounded and helped steer it through another successful—sometimes wildly successful—four quarters. But Cook didn’t run the company like a Steve Jobs clone; after all, Cook said that Jobs taught him to “never ask what he would do.” Instead, Cook ran it the way he would like to run Apple, for better or for worse. Below are five of the biggest things we think Apple has done since Tim Cook took over one year ago.
Charity contribution matching
Jobs wasn’t big on public philanthropy. Rumor has it that he was happy to give to charity in private, and even Apple itself donated to charity under his reign—remember PRODUCT(RED)?—but the company wasn’t known for its donations. One of the first things Cook did after being named CEO was launch a charitable matching program for Apple’s employees. In mid-September 2011, Apple began matching employee contributions to nonprofit organizations up to $10,000 per employee annually, dollar-for-dollar.
“Thank you all for working so hard to make a difference, both here at Apple and in the lives of others,” Cook wrote in an e-mail to employees. “I am incredibly proud to be part of this team.”
Remember when the idea that Apple might pay dividends to investors was an old, overused joke? That was the case until March of 2012 when Apple made a surprise announcement that it would indeed begin paying dividends on its stock—starting at $2.65 per share “sometime in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2012.” The company also announced that it would begin a stock repurchase program by spending $10 billion in fiscal 2013 and continuing for three years in order to neutralize the “impact of dilution from future employee equity grants and employee stock purchase programs.”
Before the announcement, many expected Apple to announce a stock split instead of dividends, but Cook argued that there’s little evidence that splits help a stock.
“We have used some of our cash to make great investments in our business through increased research and development, acquisitions, new retail store openings, strategic prepayments and capital expenditures in our supply chain, and building out our infrastructure. You’ll see more of all of these in the future,” Cook said in an issued statement. “Even with these investments, we can maintain a war chest for strategic opportunities and have plenty of cash to run our business. So we are going to initiate a dividend and share repurchase program.”
Indeed, many jaded Apple watchers never thought we’d see the day when a modern Apple, Inc. would pay dividends to investors, but as Anders Bylund wrote in March, there are certainly upsides from an investor’s perspective. Some were hoping for an even more exciting announcement—”Apple acquires NASA!”—but the move was a smart one. After all, what use is a $100 billion cash pile if it’s just sitting in the bank?
Left (and rejoined) EPEAT
When Apple first announced that it would be pulling its entire product lineup from the green electronics registry EPEAT, it probably didn’t expect such a backlash in the press and with some local governments. The company didn’t make much of a hubbub about leaving EPEAT at the start, but later found itself defending the decision by stating publicly that it believes its own approach to the environment went above and beyond what’s included in EPEAT’s ratings.
That didn’t stop the city of San Francisco, as well as a handful of other municipalities, to begin reexamining their Apple product purchasing plans—many local governments and educational institutions have guidelines that require them to only purchase computers and electronics that are on EPEAT’s list. But the list of cities turning their back on Apple didn’t have a chance to grow much longer, because Apple decided to back out on the decision just one week later.
“We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system. I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT,” Senior VP of Product Engineering Bob Mansfield said in a statement in July.
Apple pointed out that Apple’s entire product line meets or exceeds the current EnergyStar 5.2 standards set by the US government, and said it wants to work with EPEAT to incorporate EnergyStar 5.2 into its current guidelines. But one of the main reasons observers thought Apple had left EPEAT was due to the physical design of the Retina MacBook Pro, which has received criticism for being unfriendly to end user repairs. Apple tried to quash that theory by giving itself an EPEAT “gold rating” for the notebook, which includes “easy disassembly of external enclosure”—a sticking point in iFixit’s own teardown of the device.
Because of this discrepancy, we’re sure to see more on EPEAT and Apple. But what Apple—and undoubtedly Tim Cook—learned during this ordeal is that many customers do care about the environment to some degree. Or at least they want to be able to claim that they use green devices, and Apple leaving EPEAT was a step in the wrong direction when it comes to public perception.
Fighting the DoJ on e-books
It could be argued that the US Department of Justice’s case against Apple and a number of publishers over e-book pricing has been in the works since 2010, when the iPad was first released and Apple began its assault on Amazon. But regardless of when the DoJ began looking into Apple, things came to a head early this year when the DoJ formally filed its antitrust complaint. And Apple, unlike some of its publishing industry partners, decided not to settle—instead, it fought back.
Apple not only stood its ground when it came to its use of the so-called “agency model,” the company talked back. In the months since the suit was first filed, Apple argued that the DoJ “sides with monopoly, rather than competition,” and that Apple itself broke “Amazon’s monopolistic grip” on the e-book industry.
In fact, although several publishers immediately agreed to settle with the DoJ, Apple now argues thatthe settlement itself is illegal because it requires those companies to sever their contracts with Apple without a fair trial. One could argue that Apple’s actions in this case are some of the most “Jobs-like” since the CEO transition, but the ferocity in which the company is defending itself against the government shows Cook’s interest in avoiding looking like a pushover. And it’s working—it’s pretty clear that Apple has zero plans to back down, so we may end up seeing a trial on this one that puts the recent Apple v. Samsung trial to shame when it comes to inter-company drama.
New ad campaigns
The latest round of Apple ads were truly cringe-worthy, even to many of the most “loyal” of Apple fans. The Mac Genius character just seems to grate on people, but what’s worse is that the ads themselves are dry and don’t seem to appeal to many users. Those who disagree argue that Apple is targeting a different set of users than usual: older, less experienced users who aren’t on the up-and-up with what’s cool with the kids these days. But these ads aren’t the only ones that have left observers groaning: the celebrity Siri ads weren’t exactly huge hits either, and left many Apple-watchers wondering what’s up with the company’s ad vision lately.
As I wrote recently in a staff blog post, Apple has always run ads that were controversial among certain segments of its demographic. In that sense, the latest few rounds of ads aren’t anything to be truly alarmed about. But there’s something different about some of the commercials that have run over the last year or so—they’re not controversial because they’re provocative or debate-inducing, they’re controversial because they’re a bit flat.
In the end, there’s no way of knowing how much of a hand Cook had in the decision-making on these commercials, and there’s also no way of knowing whether Jobs would have chosen differently. As Ken Segall, former creative director who worked with Jobs and Apple, wrote on the topic, “None of us can possibly know what Steve would do. Steve was a master marketer, but he was also perfectly capable of a lapse in judgment. Every one of us, Steve Jobs included, has experienced failure. It may sound trite, but it’s how one responds to failure and what one learns from the experience that defines character, whether you’re an individual or a corporation.”