Last Updated May 3, 2010 5:21 PM EDT
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?
- Microsoft (MSFT) and HP (HPQ) managed to release a disappointing tablet.
- Microsoft was reportedly working on a folding, two-screen tablet code named Courier.
- Microsoft killed its project.
- HP cancelled its tablet.
- Dell's got a touch screen laptop over twice as thick and twice as heavy as an iPad and an upcoming Android-based tablet.
- Google? Expect a Chrome OS tablet any minute ... uh, hour ... day? Month?
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.