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Impressions of “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” by Tripp Mickle

After Steve is either an incompetent case of hero worship by Tripp Mickle, a competent work-for-hire piece by Tripp in which his goal is to narrate whatever Jony Ive told him, or a brilliant and meticulous character assassination of Jony Ive by Tripple Mickle.

As it’s easier to do a job badly than well, I’d bet it’s one of the first two.

After Steve purports to be a history of Apple after the death of Steve Jobs, but it’s fundamentally the story of Jony Ive’s career at Apple in that period, with repeated emphasis on his greatness. The source of this greatness is hard to understand. Ive’s role in leading the design of the iMac (a truly breakthrough piece of computer design) is briefly discussed. Much of the narrative is dedicated to the first (and underwhelming) iteration of the Apple Watch. He seems to have been largely uninvolved with the initial iPhone and iPad. More time is spent on Ive’s desire for a specific style of rounded corners than his role in the infamous “butterfly keyboard” or the mouse that charges from the bottom.

But Jonny Ive is brilliant. As author Tripp Mickle repeats over and over and over.

The focus on Ive’s brilliance, artistic design, focus on luxury, and whatever, is all the more striking because only once (in describing the iMac design) does the author emphasize a focus on usability. The emotional resonance Apple devices have for me is largely seeing how non-“technical” people are able to rapidly learn and use the machines with little stress or anxiety. Something in Apple design, going back decades, is amazingly friendly. It seems Ive was only briefly involved in such a focus.

But he was close friends with Steve Jobs. As author Tripple Mickle repeats over and over and over.

Ive’s foil is Tim Cook. And it is in comparison with Cook that my suspicion this book is a hit job against Jonny Ive arises.

For instance, we are told that while Tim Cook chose an economical car for his commute when he joined Apple (despite being Apple’s highest-paid employee), Johnny Ive demonstrated the Apple style by driving a $250,000 sports car. While Tim Cook was living in a small apartment in downtown Palo Alto, Ive was living in a mansion. While Tim Cook would audit decamillion-dollar contracts, Ive trusted his friends regarding expense reports.

While Ive focused on his friends in the fashion and luxury industry, Cook made Apple a trillion dollar company by modifying designs to suit customers’ needs.

My take: Apple can hire whoever it wants, but the “attacks” on Cook read like actual personal and professional attacks on Ive.

I’ve read several books about and around Apple and Steve Jobs, but After Steve is the only one to so undercut itself like this. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the in-depth and seemingly balanced biography of Apple’s co-founder and twice CEO. iWoz) is an entertaining autobiography by the other co-founder, focusing on that other Steve’s exploits. Ride of a Lifetime describes a close business partner of Jobs who seems to have liked him. iCon appears constructed out of interviews with business partners who did not like him. And Transforming Nokia by someone who almost (perhaps) hired Tim Cook away.

But no book made me think Apple is now in better hands than After Steve, which makes it clear that Ive has no influence whatsoever.

I read “After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul,” by Tripp Mickle, in the Audible edition.

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