Weekend news round-up

29 Aug 2011

Weekend news round-up

The headlines this weekend were dominated by guess who? Yep Steve Jobs and the implications for Apple and the techn industry at large as he steps down from the CEO mantle.

Will the real Steve Jobs please step down?

It must be strange being Apple co-founder Steve Jobs if you consider having to read your obituary while you’re still very much alive. Seriously, the amount of column inches and digital electrons commanded by the analysis of his decision to step down from the CEO role over the past few days has been mesmerising. The Guardian’s take on Saturday encapsulated this trend well, but pointed the inability of anyone to come to a conclusion as to what this really means for Apple and the tech world as we know it.

Still, you could understand the hysteria. After all, he’s the man who rescued Apple from the near-death experience it underwent in the mid-1990s. When he came back in 1996, the company seemed headed for oblivion. Granted, it was a distinctive, quirky outfit, but one that had been run into the ground by mediocre executives who had no vision, no strategy – and no operating system to power its products into the future.

Jobs came back because Apple bought NeXT, the computer workstation company he had started after being ousted by the Apple board in 1985. By acquiring NeXT, Apple got two things: the operating system that became OS X, the software that underpinned everything Apple has made since; and Jobs as “interim CEO” at a salary of $1 a year. But it was still a corporate minnow: a BMW to Microsoft’s Ford. Fifteen years later, Apple had become the most valuable company in the world.

But who will be the next Steve Jobs?

It is hard to imagine anyone with the showman sales skills, the nose for timing and drama and ultimately the attention to detail that Steve Jobs embodied. So who will be the next Steve Jobs in an industry full of pretenders and wannabes asked the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s a loaded question, to be sure, that inevitably elicits the same answer: No one. Part cultural icon, part tech visionary, and part innovative business leader, Steve Jobs would seem impossible to duplicate.

“He’s almost become mythical,” said Jim Kouzes, who has been studying CEOs for 30 years as part of the Leadership Challenge Forum, an executive training and research firm. “It’s going to be tough for anyone to live up to that standard.”

Tough, perhaps, but in Silicon Valley today, there are a handful of candidates to be the next Steve Jobs cut from the same mold as the original: CEO, founder, entrepreneur. Two stand out — Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page — although there are dark horses.

Even Jobs was not always the dominant figure we know today, of course.

The show must go on! What’s cooking on the iPhone 5 front?

Still Apple is the world’s biggest business today and as such it must get on with the task of introducing compelling and game-changing products into the world. The iPhone now looks likely to debut in October along with a cloud-based refresh of the iPod line-up, according to USA Today.

Analyst Richard Doherty of Envisioneering Group expects the new iPhone to be a “little thinner, with better battery life, and improved camera.”

The iPod lineup, which has seen sales decline for the past three years, will get a refresh that ties the portable players more into cloud-based music services, he says. Doherty also expects a new version of the iPod Touch, which he thinks will closely resemble the iPhone 5. “It will be an even better gaming machine, because games sell better on the Touch than they do on the iPhone,” he says.

Half of Americans now use social networks

The New York Times reported that for the first time, half of all adults in the United States said they use a social networking site, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Research Center.

That’s 50 percent of all Americans, not just those who say they are online. Six years ago, when Pew first conducted a similar survey, only 5 percent of all adults said they used social sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.

It is a sign of how deeply and widely social networking companies have penetrated the lives of ordinary people and in turn, transformed the ways in which people communicate, authorities govern and companies sell things.

Parents use Facebook to vet nannies, car makers to launch new models, police to keep tabs on suspects. Federal government authorities are preparing this weekend to use social networking sites for hurricane preparation on the East Coast.

Schmidt talks telly

The Observer reported how Google chairman Eric Schmidt delivered carefully crafted speech at the annual MacTaggart lecture, designed to boost Google’s intellectual credibility, and give much-needed depth to the debate around the role of technology firms in the media industry’s future. Evident throughout was the artful hand of Peter Barron (the former Newsnight editor, now Google’s UK director of external relations)clearly balancing his first-hand insights of Google with his years of experience in the broadcast industry. But it took Schmidt’s charm and erudition to carry this one off; however important Google might be to the future of broadcasting, newish chief executive Larry Page would have lacked the “human interface” required.

The biggest applause of the night was unexpectedly for Kangaroo, after Schmidt had explained the absurdity of blocking development of the online TV project because regulators thought it might be too successful. “You need to get smarter about how to … get the most from your public sector innovations,” he said. “Even if YouView meets its revised timetable of launching in 2012, you’ll still have thrown away several years when the UK could have been in the lead – a lifetime technologically.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years