Palm Disaster Shows That Apple Is Screwed Without Steve Jobs

Palm slashed its guidance today and shares are down 20%, as the company’s comeback attempt in the smartphone market hits a brick wall.

In the short term, that’s good news for Apple, whose iPhone has been able to gain ground despite increased competition.

But in the long term, it’s more evidence that Apple is screwed once visionary CEO Steve Jobs eventually leaves the company.


Palm is basically Apple, Jr. And if a bunch of Apple geniuses can’t kick butt on their own at Palm, how are they going to kick butt without Steve at Apple?

Here’s Palm’s roster:

  • Its CEO Jon Rubinstein is a former Apple executive, where he was known to some as the “podfather” because of his instrumental role in developing the iPod.
  • Rubinstein has staffed the company with many former Apple employees — enough that LinkedIn lists Apple as the top company that Palm employees used to work for.
  • These include Mike Bell, SVP of Product Development at Palm and former VP of CPU Software at Apple; Jeff Zwerner, SVP of Brand Design, who used to do work for Apple; etc.

Yes, Palm’s previous management completely screwed up everything as smartphones began to take off, requiring a complete reboot. That’s not Rubinstein’s fault, and you could argue that the deck was stacked against him from the beginning. But the big idea was that Palm was supposed to be able to make and sell something better than the iPhone. And it has failed to do that.

Meanwhile, sure, Apple has a lot of excellent executives who would be fine without Steve for a while. These include COO Tim Cook, iPhone software boss Scott Forstall, industrial design guru Jony Ive, etc.

But in reality, Steve Jobs is still the one calling the shots — making both big decisions and tiny ones. So far, he’s mostly made the right decisions, as far as which products to go after and which to avoid, user experience, acquisitions, strategy, features, pricing, etc. As a result, the Mac is growing, the iPhone has been huge, the iPod drove the company for years, and now the iPad could be a cool rival to netbook PCs.

Steve’s successors might have the same string of luck. But given Apple’s experience with and without Steve Jobs, and the futility of companies like Palm that try to clone the Apple magic without Steve Jobs, this seems unlikely. 

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