EA founder Trip Hawkins says Apple is peaking a’la the Roman Empire

Tue, Aug 9, 2011


Despite the fact that the iPad is EA’s fastest growing platform, and despite the fact that Apple continues to make more money than it knows what to do with, EA founder Trip Hawkins believes that Apple may be heading downwards. After all, everything that comes up must come down, right?

Speaking to Edge Magazine, Hawkins (who previously worked for Apple and also founded 3DO and Digital Chocolate) explained that Apple has essentially gotten to big so big that it’s downfall is inevitable.

If you look at any institution in history – look at the Roman Empire – anything in history, and what it looks like when it’s peaking. Look at Apple, and how can you say it’s not peaking? The CEO is still alive, let’s start there. They invented this tablet thing that’s going to be really big. They’ve done really well by reinventing the phone. They breathed new life into the Mac. They’ve got this super-high marketing. All these things are about as good as they ever can be – how much better can it really get?

That’s a great question, and maybe we should wait until this rumored HDTV set comes out before we start anticipating Apple’s decline. I mean, Hawkins’ question is valid, and indeed, most other companies come out swinging with one revolutionary product and quietly fall of the map. But Apple has a crafty way of defying expectations and blazing its own trail that exists outside the typical frameworks that govern most other companies.

The theme that Apple has seen its best days is not new. When the iPod was all the rage, many wondered how Apple would ever be able to top it. Then the iPhone came out and completely revolutionized an entire industry in one fell swoop. Subsequently, many doubted Apple would ever be able to top that. Lo and behold, here comes Apple with the iPad and folks are, yet again, clamoring and whispering that Apple has finally peaked and that technological innovation going forward won’t be coming from a company out of Cupertino with a bite taken out of its corporate logo.

The thing is, it may take another year or two before it starts to decline, but it has to – everything does. Everything revolves so much around Steve, and no matter how good his lieutenants are, they’re not Steve. None of us is going to live forever, though I hope he lives for a really long time.

Of course, Apple can’t keep on succeeding the way it’s has been in perpetuity. And yes, Steve Jobs won’t be around Apple forever. That notwisthstanding, Steve Jobs has filled the Apple ranks with people who buy into Jobs’ methodology and vision of technology. Further, Apple is comprised of thousands of highly skilled designers, engineers, and executives. In short, Steve Jobs is arguably the greatest CEO in history, but part of Jobs’ greatness is that the company he runs is so much bigger than just Jobs alone – and Jobs has taken significant steps to ensure that Apple will remain Apple long after he leaves. To wit, Apple has been doing more than fine with Jobs out on medical leave and COO Tim Cook at the helm. That’s no coincidence.

And to further tease out some of the context, Hawkis relays that when he used to work at Apple in the early 80’s, he’s constantly but heads with Jobs.

I had a very twisted relationship with Steve because I challenged him all the time. On one hand he needed that and he knew he needed it, but on the other hand he hated it and he didn’t want to see me get promoted because he didn’t want me to have any political power. He drove me out of the company partly because of that reason. I stayed longer at Apple than I expected, but I’d always planned to start my own game company – but he was very, very mad when I left, and he’s still mad. Not that he would ever admit it…

He’s a very difficult guy to be friends with, and he thinks of anyone who leaves as an act of permanent betrayal. You’re on the shit list for life. But he’s managed to make a great company. I honestly believe that Steve is the greatest CEO in history, because I know what he went through at Pixar. It’s such a remarkable transformation, and at the same time he’s rescuing Apple and everybody else thought it was dead. So I look at that and think, ‘Wow, he makes me look like a completely horrible, wretched person in comparison’.

Well, that sounds about right.



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Moe Skoshi Says:

    But Apple is not the Roman Empire, not even close. Apple hasn’t even reached the height of being the Roman Empire. Apple has an awful lot of room to expand in computer desktop market share and smartphone market share. There’s also expansion in China for Apple.

    Why doesn’t Mr. Hawkins take his analogy to the economic woes of the U.S. and claim its fall is coming soon? I wish he would say something like that and become the center of a firestorm.

  2. ChidiO Says:

    Second paragraph, ‘gotten to big’ should be ‘gotten too big’

  3. Vito Positano Says:

    I truly like this awesome insight: “None of us is going to live forever.”

  4. Bazz Says:

    Kama is the answer! If Apple survives its because of what it does.
    If you look at Apple, forget Jobs for a moment, it threw away gold everywhere; hypercard, ARM, PowerPC design, LightPeak recently and other ideas you may recall. All of them made billionaires of the buyers. And Apple threw them away and still is the biggest company in the world!

  5. Neil Anderson Says:

    Wikipedia notes the Roman Empire was from about 44 BC to 1453 AD. Looks like Apple has a ways to run yet.

  6. frac Says:

    Sounds like one of those interviews that start off in the bar, get over enthusiastic, drop names all over the place in the hope of some reflected glory and finally, in the last sentence, realise they are a drunk dickhead.

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