Six key challenges facing new Apple CEO Tim Cook

Tim Cook has taken over as the CEO of Apple, replacing Steve Jobs. We look at the main problems he will face in his first few months.

Stuart Dredge
5 min read

With no leaks in advance, yesterday's resignation of Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a major shock for the technology industry, despite being anticipated for some time. The announcement may have thrown the blogosphere into chaos, but it certainly won't have the same effect on Apple.

The company has been preparing for this moment, with Jobs describing the appointment of COO Tim Cook as his replacement as the company's "succession plan" in his letter to the board of directors.

Jobs first revealed he had been treated for a rare form of pancreatic cancer in August 2004, and then five years later took a six-month medical leave of absence, which included a liver transplant. He returned to work, but then in January this year announced another leave of absence "to focus on my health". Then came yesterday's resignation.

That means Apple has had up to seven years to put a succession plan together in the event of its CEO stepping down, with Cook taking the reins for those two medical leave of absences. But the company has been preparing in other ways too, including cementing its executive team.

Earlier this year, a feature in Fortune magazine titled 'Inside Apple' (the one sold as a standalone Kindle ebook) outlined the way Jobs has been focusing on "institutionalising his ways of doing business... to turn the traits that most people closely associate with Jobs -- the attention to detail, the secrecy, the constant feedback -- into processes that can ensure Apple's excellence far into the future".

To put that another way, Tim Cook is a different CEO, but the same culture and processes will prevail. The key challenges facing Cook are the same that Jobs and his team have been planning for throughout the company's recent successes. So what are they? Here are the six important challenges for Apple's new boss.

1. Making enough iPhones

With iOS-device rumour season in full swing, Cook has no decisions to make on the iPhone 5 or iPad 3 in terms of features. His main challenge is ensuring the company can manufacture enough of them to meet the demand this year and next. Which, as COO, is what he's been doing all along, sealing Apple's components deals and manufacturing relationships, making more and more devices every quarter. A challenge, but not a new one.

It's hard to fight the suspicion that Apple's success in 2012 will be defined less by what its rivals do, and more about how many devices it can get out the door.

2. Stopping iCloud becoming MobileMe

In the short term, there are no design decisions remaining for Apple's new iCloud service -- at least in its launch form. Announced earlier this year by Jobs in his WWDC keynote, iCloud is due this autumn alongside the iOS 5 software, and will enable people to store their music, photos, books, apps and documents on Apple's servers, and access them from multiple devices.

Getting the servers and infrastructure in place for iCloud's launch has already been a key task for Cook, while the music licensing agreements and pricing strategy are also done and dusted.

Cook's challenge will be to cope with any gremlins at launch as millions of people join iCloud, while setting a firm roadmap for new features and updates in the months ahead, against competition from Amazon and Google in particular. The last thing he needs is another MobileMe on his hands.

3. Fixing social

If Apple has a weak point in 2011, it's in social networking. The company's own social services -- Ping, Game Center -- have considerable room for improvement, while its complicated relationship with Facebook has meant it still isn't integrated into the iPhone iOS as well as it could be.

Apple has already taken steps to improve its social aspects, signing a deal to make Twitter part of iOS 5. But an important challenge for Cook and his team will be to nail exactly what Apple's social strategy is, and how it needs to work with big guns such as Facebook and smaller startups alike.

Facebook's recent launch of its Facebook Messenger app -- a direct rival to Apple's upcoming iMessage -- showed how the two companies may compete, while its 'Project Spartan' plans to bring Facebook applications to the iOS browser will also present an alternative to Apple's App Store.

Yet in plenty of other ways, closer ties between the 200 million iOS devices and 750 million Facebook users will be important to the way Apple's platform develops in the coming years.

4. Stopping the patent madness

There's no need to rehash the various patent and trademark lawsuits involving Apple. Suffice to say, the company's lawyers are playing an increasingly prominent role in the smart-phone and tablet industry, with the latest example this week being an EU-wide injunction against Samsung's Galaxy smart phones, granted by a Dutch court.

As we explained last week, all this patent warfare is about jockeying for position as people upgrade to smart phones and tablets in their tens of millions. Cook's job will be to continue judging when to sue and when to settle -- as the company did with Nokia earlier this year -- until the dust settles and everyone can get back to focusing on product innovation rather than litigation.

5. iPhone 7 and iPad 5

The iPhone 6 and iPad 4 are much more than a glint in Apple executives' eyes. The company plans well ahead, as do its rivals. As CEO, Steve Jobs will have had a major hand in Apple's plans, and Cook will have been fully involved too -- including on the crucial aspect of striking the early deals to ensure those devices roll off the production lines as smoothly as previous models.

But looking two, three, five and more years into the future, Cook's challenge is to keep Apple at the top of its game as it develops new iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macs and the services around them. This is where those plans to ingrain Apple's culture throughout the company will be crucial: the man in charge is very important, but far from the only ingredient.

One of Cook's biggest tasks will be saying 'No'. A famously quoted fact about Apple under Steve Jobs is that the products it didn't launch were as important as those it did, with the CEO rejecting products until they were judged ready for market.

If the thought of Apple launching a duff iPhone is unthinkable to many people now, Cook needs to ensure that remains the case.

6. Coping with the old boss

In many companies, when the old CEO hangs around lurking over the shoulder of his replacement, it's a recipe for disaster. We sense that won't be the case here.

For starters, Cook has already been running Apple day-to-day during Jobs' medical absence, with Cook taking a hands-on role to the point of appearing on-stage during WWDC in June. It's fair to assume the pair work well together, and that this isn't a situation where Cook will be looking to stamp his authority on the company while marginalising his predecessor.

What's more, the whole 'authority stamping' idea isn't really the issue here. Cook's real job is more about continuing to ensure Apple's corporate and design culture is stamped throughout the company.

What do you think of our list? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook wall