Apple's Downfall Coming

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I wrote something as a bit of an aside in a recent TheStreet article about Amazon.com ( AMZN) and Pandora ( P):

He's seems like a nice guy so I hate to say it, but Apple's downfall will come courtesy of Tim Cook. With Jobs gone, Cook has already made a mockery of his legacy. First, a dividend and a buyback. And now rumors of something Jobs detested -- a mini iPad.
Next, Cook will travel off to China and smile for the cameras like a politician. Wait. He already did that. In many ways, he is the anti-Steve Jobs. And, while it might look like that's good for business, it's not. It's very bad for business.

Before I expand on this, I need to point out that when Steve Jobs returned to the company, Apple ( AAPL) did not become a success overnight. It took several years and a whole lot of second-guessing from bears and even the company's few bulls.

For most intents and purposes, the rough road ended when Jobs made Apple's product lineup leaner and meaner and introduced the first iPod. Just like the path to success, the road to failure or, at the very least, mediocrity, will not present as a swift and straight path.

Without doubt, gaggles of cynics will label me master of the obvious. That's fine, but when you consider the price targets analysts throw out and, even more so, relatively absurd claims that AAPL could reach $1,000 or -- deep breath -- Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) status, my contention does not seem so elementary.

AAPL bulls have made a profound error: After rightly heaping praise on Steve Jobs for Apple's enormous success, many of them now discount his contribution, claiming that mere mortals can run the show without missing a beat. That's wishful thinking at best, a good way to crush your retirement fund at worst.

The Genius Bar

The likes of Steve Jobs are not a dime a dozen. All it takes is a mere skim of two excellent books: Adam Lashinsky's Inside Apple and Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography to figure that out.

As each piece of writing gets spray-painted on the wall, it becomes all the more clear that Tim Cook will run this company, maybe not into the ground, but into the sort of average status that will render Apple no longer distinct from pack.

I fully recognize how unfair this is to Cook. Nobody can replace Steve Jobs, save other visionaries such as Jeff Bezos. Apple bulls mention non-MBAs and innovative, creative types like Apple VPs Scott Forstall and Jon Ive. But yet again, these bulls dilute Jobs's impact on the company they love and claim to know.

Jobs made the people around him better. He willed them to accomplish the impossible. This is not to say that Forstall, Ives and Cook, for that matter, are not talented men. Of course, they are. But, without Jobs, their impact cannot be quite the same. For this, Cook deserves a lion's share of the blame.

Cook is doing one of the things that Jobs never would have done as he cemented a unique culture of pride and innovation within the halls of One Infinite Loop. Cook is reacting to what other people want and expect, not going with what he knows is best.

And that's because, unlike Jobs, Cook does not have that ultra-confident knack for knowing what is best. That certainly is not his fault; at the end of the day, relative to Jobs, he's just one of us, but with a boatload of stock options.

Down the Slippery Slope

The shareholders wanted and expected a dividend or a buyback. Tim Cook gave them both. Spend about 30 seconds reading about Jobs and you'll discover that he considered shareholders pests just as he claimed consumers do not know what they want until we (more aptly, I) tell them what they want.

The Chinese Government needs to have CEOs visit them and shake their hands. Jobs never would have done such a thing, despite his fondness for Eastern spirituality and such. At the first public sign of trouble, Cook booked the first flight to Asia.

With so-called mini tablets hitting the streets, the world thinks Apple should build one as well. Quoted by the Associated Press on a 2010 conference call, Steve Jobs explained why he absolutely hated this idea:
"The reason we wouldn't make a 7-inch tablet isn't because we don't want to hit a price point, it's because we don't think you can make a great tablet with a 7-inch screen . . . The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad."
He said the resolution of the display could be increased to make up for the smaller size, but that would be "meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of the present size."

If Tim Cook listens to the world, chalk another one up for the graffiti artists spraying just a little bit more writing on the wall.

I have seen it reported in several places that, before he passed away, Jobs told Cook to not do what he would do, but to do what is right. That makes for a heartwarming story and takes the edge off of Jobs's pretty hardcore personality.

But doing what is "right" does not mean listening to the world. The "world" is not as smart as Jobs. It's not as smart as the Apple Jobs ran. It doesn't know what it wants until Steve Jobs's Apple tells it. Listening to the "world" is the wrong thing to do.
At the time of publication, the author was long P and had no positions in AAPL or any of the other stocks mentioned. Positions may change at any time.

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