Apple Sells 1M iPads Because Steve Jobs Isn't Afraid To Fail

Last Updated May 3, 2010 5:21 PM EDT

The technology sector has fallen into an unfortunate malaise called WWJD: What Would Jobs Do? Under this syndrome, technology executives all over the globe turn their eyes to Cupertino, Calif. to see what product decisions Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs makes.

On one occasion after another, Apple takes over a market without a whimper of protest. And so long as technology executives continue to react from fear of losing their cushy positions and actually being on the hook for making a strong decision, the pattern will continue. This time the conquered ground is the tablet market, and Apple has marched to the tune of one million iPads. And the heart of the WWJD malady is fear so great that no matter how much advance notice other companies get of a new Apple product, executives at other companies never even seem to try to provide a counter.

Although press -- and personal reaction among iPad owners I know -- has been mixed, the product has been an uncontested hit in the market. It took Apple 74 days to ship as many iPhones as the number of iPads it has sold in under a month. What has the rest of the industry done? Notice a pattern here? Yup -â€" absolutely nothing. Companies have built tablet-format computers for decades, literally. Windows 7 has a touch interface. Rumors about an Apple tablet had been circulating for at least 18 months before the official announcement in January. And yet, the rest of the industry meets the iPad with a big nada.

With so much accumulated research, competitive intelligence, resources, and time available, why did no major vendor introduce a product at roughly the same time as Apple? Because of WWJD. Judging by their actions -- oh, sorry, their lack of actions â€" competitors are busy quaking in their shoes. What's the danger? That they might come out with something and get stomped by Apple. So, instead, they cower and wait to see what Master Jobs does and then to copy it as quickly as they can.

The willingness to sit in the stench of fear is the difference between Jobs and pretty much any other high tech CEO. He's made mistakes and received the kicks and blows over them. But Jobs is still willing to play his philosophy of design, which essentially comes down to hating the process of using technology so much that he wants it to completely disappear. Many consumers think he's on the right track.

Jobs and Apple have taken chances and come out with different takes on products, fueled by frank thinking inside the company's headquarters, smart assistance from top design companies, and the willingness to toss old precepts of how things have to be. Because they moved first, they were able to capture audience segments and set the pace for the rest of an industry.

The bets go on throughout the company. For example, Apple has the second most highly paid outside directors in the country, but 88 percent of their compensation is in the form of stock options. Apple lives and dies on the success of its product strategy, and because personal advancement is tied so strongly to effectiveness in the marketplace, executives have no incentive to play things safe. By hedging their bets, waiting to see what Apple might do, managers from other companies generally keep their careers and compensation out of harm's way, but do so at the expense of potential corporate greatness.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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