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

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.