August 25, 2011, 4:26 PM

Stepping down, but not out

E-commerce experts ponder the future of Apple without Steve Jobs as CEO.

Lead Photo

Steve Jobs

It’s the day after Steve Jobs resigned from his CEO position at Apple Inc. and the computing and retail company is still in business. Jobs, who has been treated for cancer, resigned yesterday, saying he no longer felt he could fulfill his duties as CEO, though he moved into the position of chairman of the board. Timothy Cook, until yesterday Apple’s chief operating officer, is the new CEO.

In his chairman role, Jobs could have a lot to say about Apple, its products and its retail efforts, health permitting. But some industry observers are wondering if the company can continue to create category-defining products, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, without Jobs at the helm.

Jobs move out of the CEO position does not signal that innovation is ending, says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC.  Apple’s record of introducing market-changing products is stunning, she says. “They are innovations in the way we live and work and play,” Rosenblum says.

Within retail in particular, Apple’s success is remarkable, she says. Rosenblum singles out Apple’s App Store for the mark it has made on e-commerce. Consumers visit the App Store to download apps to iPhones and iPads, including many retail apps that make mobile shopping appealing. “Apple took this notion of online delivery and found ways to deliver all kinds of content this way,” she says. “The online landscape has been transformed.”

Apple Inc. is the No. 3 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. It had Internet Retailer-estimated online sales of $5.23 billion in 2010, up approximately 23% from $4.25 billion in 2009. Sales grew 17% from $3.64 billion in 2008.

Echoing Rosenblum, Dave Sikora, CEO and founder of Digby, a mobile commerce technology provider, says Apple will weather the transition. “Apple is definitely large enough not to be tragically impacted by one person,” Sikora says. Still, Jobs’ influence cannot be minimized, Sikora says.

Sikora doubts that developers, especially in the quickly growing m-commerce arena, will see Jobs’ move as a reason to cut back on creating programs for Apple’s iOS mobile software that underpins the iPhone and iPad. Speaking of Apple, he says, “They’ve established themselves in a firm position in the market.”

The bigger challenge for Apple is whether it can maintain the growth trajectory it has been on, Sikora says. The iPad’s 2010 debut defined a product type and generated $5 billion in revenue for Apple in the first year, Sikora says. Can that be repeated? What other products might emulate that success, Sikora wonders. “The harder challenge for Apple is what’s the next product they can come out with that can go from zero to $5 billion in revenue.”

Apple’s success will depend on his successors demonstrating tke kind of company and product vision that made Jobs’ tenure at Apple such a success, Sikora says. Jobs’ absence may be most felt in mapping how to connect consumer requirements to elegant product. “That’s where the company could potentially miss him the most,” Sikora says.

As CEO, Jobs valued making money and creating new products, says Chris Brya, director of mobile and emerging channels at Choice Hotels International Inc. “One did not outshine the other,” he says. “Apple will succeed with the existing teams in place with respect to return on investment. The question will be can they view, as Steve does, the value on returns on innovation and making the strategic gambles. Steve's gambles changed the world. Will the future gambles of Apple in the post-Steve era do the same?”

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