Apple Is the New Sony? Not Likely, Many Argue

Apple's decline, as posited by Forrester Research CEO George Colony, has ignited a furious response on the Web.

Is Apple doomed to repeat the mistakes of technology giants like Sony in the aftermath of co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs' passing? That's the theory posited by IT research firm Forrester's CEO George Colony, who wrote an April 25 blog post titled "Apple=Sony," which concluded that without Jobs' "singular charismatic leadership," risk-taking prowess and "unparalleled ability to envision and design products," the company was likely to coast for a period of 24 to 48 months, and then fall into decline.

Colony quoted from sociologist Max Weber and Adam Lashinsky, author of the book Inside Apple, in support of his claim that without Jobs' unique characteristics and leadership capabilities, Apple would struggle to replicate the success driven by the "nearly magical powers" of the company's former leader. "Without the arrival of a new charismatic leader, it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation," Colony wrote. "Like Sony (post-Morita), Polaroid (post-Land), Apple circa 1985 (post-Jobs), and Disney (in the 20 years post-Walt Disney), Apple will coast, and then decelerate."

Colony has declined to comment further on his reasons for writing the post, citing a lack of availability due to the company's earnings report today, Forrester's director of media relations Jon Symons said via email. However, the blog post has generated a serious online response, with many technology observers attacking its premise and its conclusions about Apple in the post-Jobs era.

An article in Wired tore Colony's thesis apart with a fiery argument referencing Apple's recently knighted design chief Sir Jonathan Ive and the process by which Jobs groomed and hand-picked current Apple CEO Tim Cook specifically because of his exemplary qualities. "Colony's more immediate predictions of Apple's demise are stupid and wrong-headed," the article concluded.

The evidence of Apple's business success in the post-Jobs era is hard to deny: The company's stock price ($612 as of 10 a.m. EST April 26) is an eye-popper, and its second-quarter earnings report, released April 24, shows that the world's richest company made $39.2 billion last quarter and banked $11.6 billion as profit. Apple sold 35.1 million iPhones in the quarter, representing 88 percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter. It sold 11.8 million iPads during the quarter, a 151 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter.

History shows that anyone prognosticating about Apple's future is guessing about a lot of things they don't know about, said Michael Oh, president and CEO of Apple reseller and care specialist TechSuperpowers. "I think that the interesting thing about [Colony's] prediction is if you were going to bet on Apple's trajectory, you'd bet down at some point," said Oh. "Apple is the most valuable tech company in history, so there's nowhere to go but down, in some sense. He's going to put this out there to throw the first firebomb, and he can always say, well, my timing was off, but I was right."

Looking back at Apple's history as a company over the past decade and the importance Jobs' presence had, Oh thinks a lot of the points Colony is making are valid, but the one thing people can't discount is Apple's ability to reinvent itself and to innovate with technologies that other people have always said are stagnant or won't work. "People don't give Apple enough credit in terms of what it can do to find a new way," said Oh. "Looking at last quarter's financial results, the only negatives are iPods. I certainly remember in the iPod era, before the iPhone came out, that analysts were saying Apple was going to fall flat on its face. And that was in the Jobs era."