It’s time for Steve Jobs to go with his dignity intact

Jobs should go in order to save his own health – and bring clarity and consistency to Apple’s leader

Iconic, turtle-neck-sweater-wearing genius or customer-service-shy megalomaniac, depending on your point of view: Steve Jobs is unwell again.

Jobs, a pancreatic cancer survivor who's been accused of lying repeatedly about the state of his health so as not to frighten the stock market, emailed staff on the weekend to say he's taking another leave of absence:

Team,

At my request, the board of directors has granted me a medical leave of absence so I can focus on my health. I will continue as CEO and be involved in major strategic decisions for the company.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for all of Apple's day-to-day operations. I have great confidence that Tim and the rest of the executive management team will do a terrific job executing the exciting plans we have in place for 2011.

I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, my family and I would deeply appreciate respect for our privacy.

Steve

He just happened to announce the news when US stock markets were closed for Martin Luther King Day. For all his superpowers he couldn't stop the markets reacting when they reopened after the holiday, though: shares lost $9.64 in the next two days, wiping almost $9bn from the firm's market capitalisation.

This is the third leave Jobs has been forced to take since 2004, but last time he said from the outset he would be out of action for only six months. In his latest letter to staff, he simply says he hopes to be back as soon as he can. That choice of words has clearly worried the markets and some analysts, too. Peter Misek, analyst at Jefferies, wrote:

Length of leave unknown. Reason unknown, but the wording of this leave is different and therefore implies a more unknown tenure to his departure. This could be extended.

But it should be extended indefinitely. Jobs is clearly still struggling with health issues and remaining CEO of the phenomenon that Apple has become cannot be helping. What's more, his chief operating officer Tim Cook has shown himself more than capable of being the next leader, having covered for Jobs before, even if he may lack some of Jobs's charisma on stage.

It's clear that when Jobs does eventually abdicate his throne, the company will lose many billions of dollars from its market capitalisation, not to mention an innovative, inspiring and passionate leader. But he can't hang on for ever, and there have been signs of late that he's not firing on all cylinders.

There was the PR gaffe over what became known as Antennagate. When customers complained that the iPhone 4 was dropping calls Jobs initially denied there was a problem, then accepted there was a problem but said it was one that affects other smartphones (a claim largely refuted by analysts and customers of those phones), and finally had to offer free "bumper cases" that helped mitigate the issue.

Then there was his bizarre and wholly unnecessary attack on the Google Android operating system and tablet computers that rival the Apple iPad. That came on an earnings call that should have been positive rather than snide, as the firm had once again announced record results. Speaking about the operating system, Jobs said:

Twitter client [TweetDeck] recently launched their app for Android. They reported that they had to contend with more than a hundred different versions of Android software on 244 different handsets. The multiple hardware and software iterations present developers with a daunting challenge.

To which the CEO of TweetDeck fired back via Twitter: "Did we at any point say it was a nightmare developing on Android? Errr nope, no we didn't. It wasn't."

More muddled thinking came in Jobs's attack on tablet computers that rival Apple's iPad when he said of seven-inch tablets (three inches smaller than the iPad):

It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size. Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them.

That must have come as a surprise to Apple's iPhone users: they have been tapping, flicking and pinching elements on a screen half the size of the iPad for years.

There have also been embarrassing email exchanges between Jobs, customers and bloggers.

But he shouldn't go for any of these reasons. Indeed, they are minor failings when pitted against his inarguable achievements: Apple has become the largest company in tech by market cap, it sold three million iPads in the first 80 days after the product went on sale . . . the list of milestones goes on. There's not much more Jobs can possibly have to prove.

He should go in order to save his own health, and to bring clarity and consistency to Apple's leadership. If not for himself, then for Apple's employees. As he wrote in a letter to staff in January 2009:

Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well.

So go on, Your Steveness, call it a day.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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