One of the most amazing entrepreneurs in history, Steven P. Jobs, died a year ago this week.
In his absence, the company that Jobs built and then resurrected, Apple, has thrived.
"This is an incredible company, singular, in the history of business, and it continues to be a singular success despite his absence," says David Kirkpatrick, the founder of the Techonomy Conference and the author of The Facebook Effect.
To that point, several products that Jobs helped invent, including Macs, iPods, iPhones, and the iPad have powered Apple's (AAPL) stock to a record high, up nearly two-fold this past year.
The iPhone, a revolutionary gadget launched only 5 years ago, has become so phenomenally successful that it is now larger than all of Microsoft--a company that once dominated the tech industry and nearly drove Apple to extinction. And Apple itself has become the most valuable and profitable company in the world.
"Obviously, the maps things was a blot, but I think the fact that Tim Cook apologized so quickly was a good sign of maybe a little bit of growing humility inside a company that has not been known for its humility," Kirkpatrick notes. "I think the face that Tim Cook apologized for the maps shows that there is something underway in the company that is positive about their future."
And so on the sad anniversary of Jobs' death, it's worth asking what's next for Apple.
Kirkpatrick thinks Apple's vast size and power have fundamentally changed the way the company is perceived, and he does not think that Apple yet fully appreciates that and may need to evoke more of that humility.
For example, Kirkpatrick says, there's the all-too-visible fact that Apple's spectacularly profitable products are built by hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers who are paid only a couple of dollars an hour. In an age in which labor issues in China are instantly transmitted throughout the world, this reality isn't blunted by distance.
Even though Apple is committed to maintaining certain working standards in China, these standards are far different than they would be in the United States. And the disparity between the money that Apple makes compared to the money these workers are paid can give even a hard-hearted capitalist some misgivings.
Kirkpatrick thinks Apple will eventually have to confront this issue more directly. He doesn't know how the company can or will resolve it, but he's confident the issue isn't going away.
Meanwhile, the products that Apple rolled out this year, including the new iPad and iPhone, were all directly influenced by Steve Jobs. So one question many Apple observers have had is what will happen in 2013, when most of the company's new products will have been designed and produced in the post-Jobs era.
Although the company's management, including CEO Tim Cook, have done a spectacular job over the past year, the question remains whether Apple's future products will maintain the same magic halo that they did under Jobs.
"[Cook] has been doing really well, even before Steve left. He is an amazing operator," says Kirkpatrick. "I don't think Steve's absence is a particularity big problem."
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