FORTUNE — Apple
being what it is, Ben Thompson doesn’t talk much about the time he spent at Apple University, Steve Jobs’ top-secret graduate level training program on what makes Apple Apple.
But in Monday’s column — Why Apple Is Buying Beats — Thompson shares one lesson he was taught there: That Apple has grown so big, change is inevitable. In the future, managing and understanding that change will be paramount.
It’s in this context that Thomson would have you understand why Tim Cook might consider sharing management of Apple — the company Steve Jobs built — with Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and Angela Ahrendts.
Thompson takes as a given that Apple needs to find a new way to grow, now that the one-time burst of spectacular growth created by the iPhone is leveling off.
“Apple Computer the name may have been retired in 2007,” he writes, “But Apple the personal computer company is 38 years old, and very well may have grown as big as it can grow.”
Is it doomed to simply slowly fade, delivering massive profits and interesting side projects along with a stagnant stock, much like Microsoft in the 2000s? It wouldn’t be a failure of Tim Cook, but more the natural order of such things.
Or are we witnessing a reinvention, into the sort of company that seeks to transcend computing, demoting technology to an essential ingredient of an aspirational brand that identifies its users as the truly with it? Is Apple becoming a fashion house?
Think about it: you have Jony Ive as all-up head of design, the equivalent of a Tom Ford or Donatella Versace. There is the hire of Angela Ahrendts – why would she leave the CEO position of Burberry for a Senior VP role? You have an iPhone framed as an experience, not a product. And now you acquire an accessory maker differentiated almost completely by its brand, not its inherent technical quality.
Thompson quotes Benedict Evans, who wrote that the rumored $3.2 billion purchase of Beats — a rumor not likely to be confirmed before Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference on June 2 — is like a Rorschach Blot:
“People who think Apple has lost its way see this as proof, while people who don’t assume there must be some other piece to the puzzle (TV? wearables?) that we can’t see to make this deal makes sense.”
Thompson’s analysis takes it to another level. He sees the deal more clearly than most Wall Street analysts.
He doesn’t necessarily like what he sees.
LINK: Why Apple Is Buying Beats. Highly recommended.
You can follow Thomson at stratechery.com or on Twitter @monkbent. You can support him by paying for his newsletter.