4 moves Apple must make nowOctober 10, 2011: 9:33 AM ET
The company will no doubt be reeling for the next few weeks. After that, it must maintain the dogged focus it's come to be known for.
FORTUNE -- Apple (AAPL) is now the most valuable technology company in the world, a 12,000-strong organization nestled in Cupertino, Calif. with the exceedingly rare ability to alter the trajectory of an entire industry with a single product release. With Steve Jobs' passing, the onus falls on CEO Tim Cook and a talented executive bench to continue innovating and maintaining the company's market dominance. It has the tools and people in place to do so. Here's what it needs to do moving forward.
"Apple is a company and culture unlike any other in the world, and we are going to stay true to that," Katie Cotton, Apple VP of Worldwide Communications, recently told AllThingsD, emphasizing that the company would not change under Cook's leadership. "We are going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do."
It might sound obvious, but keeping customers delighted is key. It's arguably Apple's number one talent: whetting people's insatiable appetites with new devices], from the point that a product is unveiled to the time it arrives in stores (or in your mail) and beyond. Case in point: the iPhone has ranked #1 in JD Power and Associates' customer satisfaction survey -- six consecutive times.
Based on lukewarm reactions to the iPhone 4S announcement in some corners of the media, some are already questioning the company's ability to "delight," at least when it comes to product launches. Not only did Cook and crew supposedly lack Jobs' onstage flair, but the phone itself – identical to the iPhone 4 on the outside, significantly more advanced inside – disappointed those who were expecting another mind-blowing redesign.
Some of that disappointment can be blamed on the tech media itself, a frenzied machine that kicked into overdrive over the last few months with false leaks, wet dream mockups and wish lists. Ultimately, it's too early to pass judgment in this department, but based on AT&T's sell-through of 200,000 iPhone 4S units during the first 12 hours of pre-orders, there's clearly demand for the 4S, a device just as likely to satisfy its users once they actually get their mitts on them.
Over the years, Apple has developed a neigh-impenetrable aura of mystery, one that extended to Jobs' medical condition. According to CNN, Jobs didn't disclose details of his cancer to investors until undergoing an operation. Meanwhile, the company has reportedly been so secretive in the past about product development that it's spread disinformation to employees and fired some in the past for breaking confidentiality. As a result, accurate leaks are exceedingly rare, if unheard of -- unless of course, you factor in last year's lost iPhone prototype bonanza.
Some have speculated that with the passing of Jobs we might see a more open, transparent Apple. Not likely. Indeed, it probably shouldn't. That same high level of secrecy encourages the Apple faithful to treat each Apple event like it's the Oscars, speculating with a fervor other tech companies can only hope for. The approach has served them well in the past, so why mess with it now?
Play up the executive bench.
Jobs may be largely credited with rescuing Apple from the brink of oblivion during the late 90s, but he wasn't alone in doing so. Along the way, he recruited and promoted a talented group of senior executive all-stars who have contributed to and executed his vision. That includes COO-turned-CEO Cook, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan "Jony" Ive, Senior VP of Operations Jeff Williams (aka Apple's other operations whiz), Scott Forstall, Senior VP of iOS software and Phil Schiller, Senior VP of Product Marketing.
Apple would be wise to let more of its executives share the limelight, and that's already what it seems to be doing. Even before Jobs stepped down as CEO, Cook was Apple's point man at the Verizon iPhone event, and Senior VP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue helped News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch roll out The Daily earlier this year in New York City. And at the iPhone 4S announcement earlier this week, Cook gave ample time to Schiller, Forstall and Cue. In doing so, the company isn't just introducing more of the company to its users, it's also allowing each executive to proselytize the area they know best.
Enter new markets.
Like any company, growth is key for Apple. While it continues to do extremely well -- iPad sales grew 183% last quarter, for instance -- the major growth opportunities remain in areas where the company has yet to enter. As PCMag's Michael J. Miller points out, one of Jobs' biggest strengths was not inventing new tech per se but recognizing emerging technologies and packaging them to create and capitalize on new markets. He did that with the iPod and again with the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, iTunes and App Store. And where Apple entered, the competition soon followed. (A recent exception? The company's upcoming iCloud, which critics argue lags behind somewhat comparable, recently-launched offerings from Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG).)