My 14-year-old son loves Apple. It’s not just that he owns an iPod and a Mac laptop; whenever Steve Jobs makes a major announcement, he downloads the video on iTunes and watches it on his iPod. Just this week, he shelled out $129 of his own money to buy the new Leopard operating system. “I should buy some Apple stock,” he told me last night. “That way we can rise and fall as a team.”
Such identification–and fascination–with Apple is rampant. After one of our columnists criticized Steve Jobs a few issues back, we were deluged with hostile letters, a few of which appear in our Feedback section, beginning on page 25. Apple is widely admired for its customer-focused products, its enviable design aesthetic, its unmatched success with problem solving. American business needs an icon to believe in, and Apple has done nearly everything right in earning that status.
Which makes a clear-eyed analysis of the company’s prospects all the harder–and all the more important. There is a worldview embodied in Apple products: easy to use, sophisticated, stylish. But there is also a worldview embodied in its business practices: that a secretive, closed-door, go-it-alone approach is what ultimately drives innovation. Apple is arguably the most successful company in Silicon Valley these days, yet its practices are at odds with a prevailing assumption in most of techland that open-platform collaboration and iterative group work are what drive creativity and growth.
At a conference this fall for senior-level tech executives, one top CEO talked about the power of collaboration to change the way we work. Over dinner with key industry insiders, the topic of Microsoft’s investment in Facebook came up, and the CEO asserted that companies need to be open to partnering with even their most ardent competitors. What about Apple’s closed-system approach? “You don’t want to bet against Steve [Jobs],” he allowed.
Our cover story this issue (“Open Season on Apple“) is intended to illuminate the philosophical divide in Silicon Valley and across our economy. Is openness and sharing undeniably the route to progress? Or is the conventional wisdom on this topic faulty–is the pressure of isolation what’s most needed to drive innovation?
Using Apple as the tool to engage this debate is purposeful–to get your attention–though we realize not all of Apple’s fans may take it that way. That’s okay. We welcome the dialogue, in our pages and online. Steve Jobs may well know something the rest of his peers are reluctant to embrace: that doing things the right way, even if you’re alone, is worth whatever slings and arrows come your way. Indeed, it’s a mantra we embrace here at Fast Company as well.