What's Tim Cook Changing in Cupertino?

Adam Lashinsky literally wrote the book on Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) . His best-selling exploration of Cupertino's uniquely secretive business culture pulls no punches and plays no favorites. According to Lashinsky, the Apple campus is both an enigmatic place that churns out "wonderful items" and "a brutal and unforgiving place, where accountability is strictly enforced, decisions are swift, and communication is articulated clearly from the top."

So when the Fortune editor starts talking about how things are changing under new CEO Tim Cook, investors should sit up and take notice. This guy knows what he's talking about.

And that's exactly what Lashinsky is doing in a brand-new feature story. The article, "How Tim Cook is changing Apple," is online now and will also appear in the next hard copy of Fortune. It's a fascinating read, though not very surprising.

What's new, iKitty?
So what's new at Infinite Loop? Here are five reported changes that demanded my full attention:

  1. The "eternal upstart" mentality is slowly falling by the wayside under a more pragmatic leader. "Apple has become slightly more open and considerably more corporate," Lashinsky writes. "It's almost as if he is working his way through a to-do list of long-overdue repairs the previous occupant (Jobs) refused to address for no reason other than obstinacy."
  2. The balance of power is shifting inside the company. Engineers and designers hold less sway than they did under Jobs while MBA degrees and supply-chain management reached the top of the heap. With Jobs steering the craft, "engineering decided what we wanted, and it was the job of product management and supply management to go get it," former Apple executive Max Paley told Lashinsky. Now, project managers and global supply handlers run every meeting.
  3. The creative spirit may be seeping out of Apple, but Cook makes up for it with a warmer atmosphere. He eats lunch with regular workers in the cafeteria, not in private with high-level executives. An annual meeting that was "grim and fearful" under Jobs is now "upbeat and even fun" for the 100 handpicked participants.
  4. Cook may be less interested in absolute perfection than Jobs was, as long as the product is "good enough." For Apple fans, that might not be good enough.

Lashinsky's case in point is the Siri voice assistant. When the iPhone 4S was introduced, Siri looked like a major selling point. Voice-control specialist Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN  ) is making hay from its role in making Siri work, and it really is the only serious difference between the last two iPhone versions. But it's actually slow, error-prone, and an embarrassment to Apple insiders. Steve Jobs "would have lost his mind over Siri," says one unnamed source. Ouch.

  1. The big-picture change is this: Apple is very clearly becoming a company in Cook's operations-focus image. "Cook is behaving like his own man, putting his stamp on Apple -- including some moves that will court controversy with the Apple faithful," Lashinsky writes. If you wanted the new Apple to look like the old one, you'll be very disappointed. This version is a Granny Smith to Steve's Macintosh, metaphorically speaking.

What does it all mean?
Lashinsky seems split on whether the changes are good or bad for Apple in general. On the one hand, he notes that "Cook is taking action that Apple sorely needed and employees badly wanted." On the other, "He took over a company with the momentum of a rocket ship in midflight" and has yet to unveil anything revolutionary or truly new. The iPhone 4S and iPad 3 are pretty much the same as their predecessors, except with some fresh spit and polish. The unsaid worry here: Will Cook be able to capture our imagination like Steve did?

As much as I like what Cook is doing in Cupertino, I worry too much about that last question to get behind Apple. I'm kind of a rare holdout, though. For example, our senior technology analyst certainly thinks Apple is still a buy. He spells out exactly why in our brand-new premium report on Apple. If you want a broader picture of the smartphone revolution, click to find out why investors are so excited about this exploding trillion-dollar revolution.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Nuance Communications, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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