Tim Cook Is a Whiz, But Is He a Visionary?

Based on Apple's product pipeline, it won't matter for years

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Few people seem worried about how Tim Cook will fare as Apple's new chief executive officer. Why would they be? Cook has been doing a great job as acting CEO--his third such stint in the past seven years--since Steve Jobs went on an indefinite medical leave of absence in January and built a reputation as a "whiz in efficiency" in his role as chief operating officer. Tim Cook is the man who brought Steve Jobs's vision to the masses. "He commands respect because he has turned Apple's operations into the envy of everyone in the industry," says TechCrunch's MG Siegler. "No one could compete with the iPod because of Tim Cook. No one can compete with the iPad because of Tim Cook."

That said, everybody also seems to agree that Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. The New York Times gadget guru and long-time Jobs champion David Pogue wonders:

Tim Cook gets rave reviews as an executive and numbers guy. But is he a Jobs-style visionary? Does he have Jobs-style charisma? Does he have a Jobsian reality distortion field? … Does he know where the puck of public taste will come to rest two years from now? Five years from now?

Tim Cook is a different kind of visionary. The 50-year-old Alabama native served as an executive at IBM and Compaq before moving to Apple in 1998 and is a different kind of visionary. Though he served as interim CEO in 2004 and 2007, most of his contributions to Apple are built on classic business brilliance. "He knows the soul of Apple, and he makes the trains run on time," former Apple executive Fred Anderson told Bloomberg. "While Steve Jobs is famous for his product sense, Tim Cook is known as the genius behind Apple's ability to keep inventory low, ship products quickly, and milk extremely high profit margins," says Paul Miller at the tech blog This Is My Next.

Now about what Pogue calls "the puck of public taste." Steve Jobs famously told consumers what they wanted before they knew they wanted it; Tim Cook made sure it got manufactured and delivered to as many consumers as possible. According to industry analysts and Apple experts, this won't change for at least two to five years, as Jobs has reportedly mapped out the product pipeline at least that far in advance. "When Apple actually launches TVs Cook will be on the hook for the execution," writes Larry Dignan at ZDNet. "But it will be Jobs’ product vision."

Cook hinted at being the yin to Jobs's yang in an oft-cited Fortune profile from 2008. "Come on, replace Steve? No. He's irreplaceable," said Cook. "That's something people have to get over. I see Steve there with gray hair in his 70s, long after I'm retired."

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