Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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Life inside Apple: Fortune article reveals anger, management and 'top 100' club

An extraordinary picture of life within Apple, in which Steve Jobs is trying to create a "university" to teach incomers how the business makes decisions, keeps a "top 100" coterie who are told key decisions ahead of time and bawls out entire teams for failures emerges from an article published in Fortune this week.

The article (which is not yet online) indicates that Apple is driven by Jobs's personality: "the creative process at Apple is one of constantly preparing someone - be it one's boss, boss's boss, or oneself - for a presentation to Jobs," writes Adam Lashinsky, who calls him "a corporate dictator who makes every critical decision - and oddles of seemingly noncritical calls too".
One key element of the company that had not previously been disclosed is the existence of a "Top 100", not necessarily based on seniority, who gather every year for a three-day session at a sequestered location - one without a golf course, at Jobs's insistence. Attendees are discouraged from marking the dates on their calendar or discussing it. They get to see super-secret new products before anyone else; the iPod, unveiled ten years ago, was first shown off at one such meet.
But Apple also runs an extremely tight ship, with tiny product groups; just two engineers were given the task of writing the code to convert the Safari browser to run on the iPad, a task that on its face seems like a huge undertaking that other companies such as Microsoft or Google might have devoted dozens of people to.
Jobs's reputation as a manager who takes no prisoners is reinforced with an anecdote from the time in 2008 when the relaunched MobileMe cloud service had significant outages. Jobs called the MobileMe team together to the Town Hall Auditorium on the campus. "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is meant to do?" Jobs began. On getting a response describing it, he replied: "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?" A 30-minute tirade followed - and a new person was put in overall charge of the group. (Many of the developers left the group soon afterwards.)
Despite being on medical leave from the company, Jobs personally took charge of Apple's response to "Locationgate", over the revelation that iPhones and iPads retained a file which could effectively track the owner's movements.
The article is presently only available as a paid download via the Fortune app on Apple's iTunes Store, or as an Amazon "single" costing 69 pence to be released on 10 May - though it will be published in full for free access online in time.
The thinking behind that paywalled-for-a-period strategy is worth examining: Dan Roth, managing editor of Fortune Digital, told Peter Kafka at AllThingsD that "We're trying to figure out the best way of releasing journalism online" - which means trying to monetise a high-interest story by keeping it paid-for over a limited period. Previously it couldn't do this, but now that it can offer the iPad app to print subscribers for free (following a deal made with Apple), it can.
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