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December 18, 2019 07:25 pm

Walt Mossberg: Tim Cook's Apple Had a Great Decade But No New Blockbusters

Veteran tech columnist, who retired two years ago, returns with one story to cap the end of the decade: Apple hasn't said how many Watches and AirPods it's sold, but they're widely believed to be the dominant players in each of their categories and, in the grand Apple tradition, the envy of competitors that scramble to ape them. Neither of these hardware successes has matched the impact or scale of Jobs' greatest hits. Even the iPad, despite annual unit sales that are sharply down from its heyday, generated almost as much revenue by itself in fiscal 2019 as the entire category of "wearables, home and accessories" where the Apple Watch and AirPods are slotted by Apple. [...] Cook does bear the responsibility for a series of actions that screwed up the Macintosh for years. The beloved mainstream MacBook Air was ignored for five years. At the other end of the scale, the Mac Pro, the mainstay of professional audio, graphics, and video producers, was first neglected then reissued in 2013 in a way that put form so far ahead of function that it enraged its customer base. Some insiders think Cook allowed Ive's design team far too much power and that the balance Jobs was able to strike between the designers and the engineers was gone, at least until Ive left the company earlier this year. The design-first culture that took root under Cook struck again with the MacBook Pro, yielding new laptops so thin their keyboards were awful and featuring USB-C ports that required sleek Macs to be used with ugly dongles. Apple has only recently retreated back to decent keyboards on the latest MacBook Pro, and it issued a much more promising Mac Pro. But dongles are still a part of the Apple experience across its product lines. Cook's other success this decade was to nurture the iPhone along as smartphone sales first plateaued and then began to decline. The biggest change he made came in 2014, before the dip, when Apple introduced two new iPhone 6 models, which belatedly adopted big screens that Android phones had pioneered. Sales took off like a rocket, and there's been a big iPhone option every year since.

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