I got into a lively debate, twice, in Toronto last week about whether or not Apple’s products had changed the world. I discussed this first with the sharp strategic management professor Bill McEvily, who challenges his University of Toronto students by asking them to read my 2012 book Inside Apple. A central point of that work is that Apple conducts many of its affairs in ways contrary to what future managers learn in business school. Hence, the challenge.
Then, an unidentified member in the audience at my talk about Uber at the university’s Rotman School of Management challenged my assertion that the maverick San Francisco startup had changed anything. He preferred that I focused on game changers like Amazon, Apple, and Alibaba (baba). (Perhaps Uber is too far down the alphabet for his tastes.)
I’m in the camp that argues that Apple is an extremely fine consumer device and software company, perhaps the best ever, and that it has radically altered multiple industries. I’ve written this many times. But did it change the world? Steve Jobs certainly wanted us to believe it did, and he touched the lives of many. But I mean no disrespect in suggesting that a company that makes gobs of money by making outstanding products that tend to be exceedingly better iterations of someone else’s invention is just that, an outstanding company.
I bring all this up because this morning Apple’s annual developer’s conference begins. It travels this year from San Francisco to San Jose—a mighty distance, believe me—and more than usual this year’s event seems likely to focus on the nitty-gritty work of developing programs and apps for Apple’s lucrative platforms, not on any breakthrough products. (I recommend this Ars Techica preview despite its low-expectations perspective.)