It’s almost impossible to find a positive review of “Haunted Empire,” the new book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane about Apple’s business post-Steve Jobs.
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo put it this way:
What’s troubling about Ms. Kane’s book is that she barely pauses to look at Apple’s financial success since Mr. Jobs’ death. When she does consider the numbers, she strangely interprets Apple’s growth under Mr. Cook as evidence of his failure. There’s a suggestion that the numbers don’t matter because Mr. Cook’s domain is numbers: “Tim Cook was a master of spreadsheets, not innovation,” she writes. He has hired lots of M.B.A.s, so of course the business has performed well.
The Guardian’s Charles Arthur didn’t hold back either. Like other critics, he mentions there are a lot of interesting details in the first part of the book that covers Apple before Jobs dies. But after that, things get mushy:
Once Jobs dies, though, things fall apart. Not Apple – the book. (In passing, could I say that I really detest the use of the word “passing” for “death”? It just sounds mimsy, as though the writer is worried about upsetting an audience of maiden aunts. People die. It’s death. It’s natural.) There’s no clear narrative structure; no portrait is painted. Kane jumps about all over the shop. Jobs dies, and we go to China, where Apple’s “supply chain” which assembles iDevices mostly lies. Then we’re at Buckingham Palace and learning a little more about Jonathan Ive, the head of design, a linchpin in the company. Then we’re pondering whether Siri, Apple’s voice-driven “assistant”, is a flop or a flier, and if so (either way) whose responsibility that was.
Meanwhile, Apple bloggers have been voraciously fact checking the details in the book. The most famous example was when a writer from 9to5Mac contacted Eddy Cue, the VP in charge of iTunes, and asked if it was true that Jobs once threw a pen at his head. Cue said no.
And Apple CEO Tim Cook made a rare public statement about the book, calling it “nonsense.”
So what does Kane think of all the negative reviews and caustic criticism lobbed at “Haunted Empire”? In a lengthy interview with Business Insider, she told us what she was trying to accomplish with “Haunted Empire” and how she sees Apple today.
To be clear, Kane said she doesn’t think Apple is doomed. Instead, she thinks her book is more about the potential risks that Apple faces. Without a spiritual leader like Jobs, Kane said there’s a decent chance Apple could lose its way. Meanwhile, she said Jony Ive, the VP in charge of design and the man many consider to be Jobs’ heir, is actually a much more controversial figure within the company than most people probably realise.
“It’s totally not true,” Kane says of her critics’ claims that she had a preconceived idea of what was happening at Apple before she started the book. “I can prove it because as I was writing the book over the last two years I didn’t know half of these things would happen … I only shifted gears about a year and a half ago.”
Kane also says the original idea for her book was going to be much more positive. It was the story of how Jobs returned to Apple as CEO in 1997 and saved the company from certain doom. But after a lot of reporting, Kane and her publisher decided it would be much more interesting to tackle how Apple was doing without Jobs.
“My starting place was after I’d done all this research was about what made Apple a success,” Kane says. “So I was coming from a positive place and I really thought if anyone could do it, Apple could … It’s just that I kept finding little cracks and risks.”
Whether or not the risks Kane describes in her book, which range from competition in China to Apple’s ageing executive team, are valid is up to the reader to decide. So far though, the tide of public opinion seems to be rolling against Kane’s thesis.