Archiv für den Monat Oktober 2021

CALL TO EARTH

The $3.50 go-anywhere ticket to fight climate change

Westbahn Klimaticket promo train (2)
 
 
(CNN) — You wake up in suburban Innsbruck, the snowcapped peaks of the Austrian Tyrol glistening in the distance. After breakfast you hop a tram to Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main railway station and climb aboard an Austrian Railways ÖBB Railjet bound for Vienna.
After more than four hours crossing some of the prettiest scenery in central Europe, you arrive beneath the undulating zig-zagged roof of Wien Hauptbahnhof, from where you head down into the curving tunnels of Südtiroler Platz metro station.
After rumbling through six stops of the city’s U1 metro line, you reach Praterstern, not far from the shores of the Danube River. From there, it’s a short stroll to catch a regional train on the S4 line, heading north a further nine stops to Korneuburg.
 
We’re not done traveling yet.
Here you climb aboard bus 853 for the final leg, a gentle 20-plus minute trundle through quiet, leafy streets, past compact one-story homes, until it’s time to finally disembark beside the plain clocktower in the village of Enzersfeld.
Give or take the occasional stop for refreshments — perhaps a bosna sausage and a cream-topped Viennese coffee — you’ve been on the go, on public transport, for more than eight hours, clocking up hundreds of miles across bus, rail, tram and metro services.
And how much has this epic ride cost you? Just $3.50 (or €3).
Fifteen years after it was first proposed, Austria’s new Klimaticket, or climate ticket, goes live on October 26. Offering seamless travel across all modes of public transport it is intended to galvanize the Alpine nation’s fight against climate change.
The annual pass, priced at $1,267 (€1,095), works out at just $24 (€21) per week or $3.50 a day. If all goes according to plan, it should encourage people to swap their cars for more climate-friendly forms of getting around.

Surge in demand

Trams and local buses are included in the price of the Klimaticket.
 
 
Trams and local buses are included in the price of the Klimaticket.
Figurniy Sergey/Adobe Stock
Public transport is already popular in Austria. Its combination of reliable, high-quality, integrated services, simple ticketing and attractive pricing have long made it a winner for commuters and leisure travelers.
Yet even though Austrians travel more kilometers by train every year than everyone in Europe except the Swiss, according to official government figures only 16% of journeys in 2018 were made by public transport.
It’s hoped that Klimaticket will change that by making it much more affordable and convenient, especially for regular users.
The signs are positive, with initial interest in discounted early bird tickets so strong that the booking website www.klimaticket.at immediately crashed.
 
Spearheading the initiative is Austria’s Green Party „superminister“ Leonore Gewessler, whose responsibilities include climate action, environment, energy, mobility, innovation and technology in the current coalition government.
„I think you can see how happy I am,“ she said after announcing the deal. „This is a big day for the climate and for transport. If this summer has shown us anything, it is that the climate crisis has already arrived with us.“
National passes and discount cards are nothing new in Europe. Switzerland, Austria and Germany, among others, offer monthly travel passes, half-fare cards and other discounts to encourage public transport use.
What makes Austria’s new offer different is its remarkably low price.
Switzerland’s General Abonnement (GA) travelcard offers unlimited use of the Confederation’s entire public transport network, but costs three times as much. A similar annual ticket for buses, trains and metro in the Netherlands is more than $3,500 (€3,066).

Hassle-free

Vienna's Hauptbahnhof railway station.
 
 
Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof railway station.
Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
„One of the things I like about Klimaticket is that it is valid on all modes of public transport, a concept that should be replicated elsewhere as it removes the hassle of having to find and buy multiple tickets,“ says European rail travel expert Andy Brabin.
„It is potentially revolutionary, removing some of the barriers to using public transport and making spontaneous trips much easier as you don’t have to worry about buying tickets, which can often be expensive at short notice for longer journeys.“
No less than $278 million (€240 million) of federal government funding has been agreed to support the new initiative. Ongoing costs are expected to be around $175 million (€150 million) a year. Despite this, the ticket is regarded as central to Austria’s ambition to become climate neutral by 2040 — backed by the European Union’s post-Covid „Green Deal.“
 
The Austrian government’s 2030 Mobility Master Plan aims to reduce private car use from 70% of total annual kilometers traveled to 54% by 2040, at the same time increasing public transport’s share from 27% to 40% and doubling active travel (walking and cycling) from 3% to 6% of the total.
A passenger on an electric train requires just 55% of the energy used by a battery electric car for the same journey, according to the master plan, meaning big carbon emission cuts can be made with a relatively small percentage shift to more sustainable modes of travel.
Of course, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth journey to get to this point. Klimaticket is the result of 18 months of often-heated negotiations between federal and regional governments, transport organizations and providers.
Even the €3 per day cost is a compromise — the Green Party’s manifesto pledge at the last federal elections was to slash travel costs to just €1 a day within any region and €2 across any two regions.

Two-year battle

Vienna's U-Bahn network is covered by the ticket.
 
 
Vienna’s U-Bahn network is covered by the ticket.
Andrew Michael/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
„Klimaticket is an impressive political achievement'“ says Keith Barrow, editor of UK magazine Today’s Railways Europe, pointing to remarkable levels of cooperation among Austrian provinces and their regional transport authorities.
„The provinces have different politics, different geographies and different priorities. Then there are municipalities and numerous public transport operators — 40 in the Vienna region alone. It is remarkable that all these different parties have managed to find common ground on this issue.“
They very nearly didn’t.
 
The past two years saw Intense debate and criticism, especially from more rural regions where public transport density and usage is at its lowest. Opposition parties have welcomed the introduction of the ticket but said it was only a first step toward meeting climate goals.
Johannes Margreiter, transport spokesman for the liberal Neos party, said: „Price isn’t the reason why people do not switch to public transport. In many places, the problem is the lack of availability because of poor or absent connections.“
The Vienna region, home to 50% of the country’s population and 60% of its public transport journeys (around 300,000 people commute into Vienna on a normal weekday) was also late to sign up to the scheme, raising fears that the new ticket would be compromised from the outset.

Blueprint for change?

Cross-country trains are also covered.
 
 
Cross-country trains are also covered.
Matthias Balk/picture alliance/dpa/Getty Images
However, the last-minute deal confirmed Klimaticket’s status as a truly national travel pass.
Its coverage stretches from Bregenz on the shore of Lake Constance in the west to the outskirts of the Slovakian capital Bratislava in the east.
Whatever the reservations, a nationwide ticket removes one of the biggest barriers to using public transport — trying to figure out which tickets are needed for which journeys. That’s particularly the case for foreign visitors.
The framing of the ticket as an environmental initiative has also been important.
It’s hoped it will compel Austrians to think about the environmental impact of how they travel, while making the low-carbon option more accessible and attractive.
 
But, if successful, does Klimaticket have the potential to become a blueprint for other countries looking to drastically cut transport emissions?
Austria has perhaps succeeded because it’s a relatively small country with a well-funded, cohesive and popular public transport system already in place. Others without this could struggle to emulate its achievement.
„There are two things you need before you can launch into an initiative like this — network density and service frequency,“ says railway magazine editor Barrow.
„Austria has invested heavily in building capacity on its main rail corridors so it can accommodate more fast inter-city services as well as regular-interval regional services, frequent S-Bahn networks in city regions and increasing volumes of freight.
„It has the infrastructure it needs to accommodate more passengers, or it is in the process of constructing it.“

Who’s next?

Germany's transport network could be a candidate for a similar scheme.
 
 
Germany’s transport network could be a candidate for a similar scheme.
 
Could similar initiatives happen elsewhere?
Barrow says the Netherlands could be a contender, benefiting from an already interlinked public transport network that operates with high frequency. The densely populated country faces a pressing need to find solutions to transport challenges.
Germany is also in the frame, he adds.
„I think there is an appetite for something like Klimaticket in Germany. The Greens‘ success in the recent federal election might spur them to emulate their counterparts in Austria and push for a national annual public transport pass.“
The problem in Germany, say Barrow, is state-level variations in commitment to public transport. Bavaria, the south, is relatively pro-road whereas neighboring Baden-Württemberg has been actively improving public transport for a long time.
And will it succeed in Austria?
 
The country certainly has the requisite core rail network and urban transport systems around major cities such as Vienna and Graz. These have benefited from a policy of continuous development, broadly supported across the political spectrum.
At the periphery of the system the story is less positive.
Decades of rural rail closures have cut many smaller towns off from the national network — but on secondary lines that remain, there now seems to be more willingness to improve infrastructure, enhance timetables and replace polluting diesel trains with electric, battery or hydrogen trains.
Klimaticket could boost improvement prospects still further, especially when coupled with targeted investment in feeder bus routes and active mobility. Green campaigners have called for the offer to be expanded to include cycle hire and e-scooter rental, providing a wider range of seamless travel options.
Klimaticket is just one plank of Austria’s plan to meet its carbon reduction targets, but if it delivers positive results quickly, as its supporters believe it will, pressure could grow to develop similar products in other countries around the world that make mobility without a car easier and more cost effective.
 
Top image credit: Westbahn
 

Apple Watch Series 7 Review: The best smartwatch you can buy, by far

The Apple Watch Series 7 might just be the perfect smartwatch. Sorry to give the game away this early, but there are no secrets or surprises here — and that’s a good thing. A smartwatch should be an extension of your smartphone, yet also needs to be able to function reliably and usefully on its own. It should provide extensive, motivational, and informative health and activity tracking without alienating those who aren’t athletes. It should look great, and be easily customized to match your mood, style, and environment. It shouldn’t require constant supervision or have complex or gimmicky features that overshadow basic everyday usefulness. New models need to also improve over the previous version, so everyone can consider upgrading if they want.

The Apple Watch Series 7 delivers all this and more. Let’s talk about it.

Design

It’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between the Series 7 and the Series 6 just by glancing at them. The 1mm increase in case size — 45mm and 41mm for the Series 7 versus 44mm and 40mm for the Series 6 — is only clear if you get a tape measure out, and the slightly greater curve at each edge is only evident if you put the two watches next to each other and look really closely. The speaker on the left-hand side of the case is a single slit rather than the dual slit on the Series 6, but that’s about as obvious as the visual alterations get.

Apple Watch Series 7 on the wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

What you do notice are the much smaller 1.7mm bezels, down from 3mm on the Series 6, and the increase in viewing area. Apple says there’s 20% more screen area visible compared to the Series 6 and the Watch SE, and 50% more than the Apple Watch Series 3. The Ion-X glass over the screen has a contoured edge, so the screen appears to curve toward the case, just like a curved screen on a smartphone.

The version in our photos is an aluminum model in Midnight, which is black in color with a hint of blue, and I chose it as it’s easier to match with more strap options, unlike the blue or green versions. If you have a strap collection from an existing Apple Watch, they will all fit with the Series 7 perfectly, just in case you are worried the 1mm size increase would make them look odd.

Apple Watch Series 7 from the side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It would be easy to chastise Apple for not changing the design much, but it hasn’t done so because it doesn’t need to. The Series 7 looks fantastic, and the Apple Watch has become a style icon, in my opinion. The gentle curve of the case makes it very comfortable to wear, regardless of which strap you choose, and it’s really light at 38.8 grams without the strap, meaning you can wear it day and night.

While this is also true for some fitness bands, the difference is that the Apple Watch looks good, and it’s incredibly easy to change the complete look of it if you get bored. Apple’s watch faces have evolved a lot, especially in WatchOS 7 and WatchOS 8, becoming classier and more visually exciting, rather than just adding complications. Build a small collection of straps and bracelets, and the Apple Watch is ready to go with anything you’re wearing, and suited to any time of the day.

Apple Watch Series 7 on wrist from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s this versatility that makes the Apple Watch such a joy to own. It turns it from a piece of technology to something that’s truly yours. No other smartwatch provides the ease of customization in the same way. You can even just choose the wear-and-forget Sport Loop strap, which is one of the best basic straps you can get, and be set for the duration of your ownership.

The Apple Watch Series 7 doesn’t wear any differently from the Series 5 or Series 6 Watch, and that’s fine. It’s still the most comfortable, most personalized, easiest to live with smartwatch you can buy.

Screen

If the slimmer bezel hasn’t changed the design much, has it changed the screen? Yes, it has, but don’t expect coming from the Series 6 to feel like picking up a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The increase is much more subtle, but Apple has emphasized the difference through WatchOS 8 by using new watch faces like Contour, offering larger fonts, and making better use of the additional space.

App menu on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Buttons are larger and easier to quickly locate, wider notification cards include just that little bit more information, more text fits on screen at once, and you can see more at one time. Swipe up to show the quick settings, and activating a Focus mode takes a less precise action, making it faster than before. But perhaps the best indication of how much screen the Series 7 has gained comes from the three additional font sizes available on it compared to older models.

Apple says the screen is brighter indoors, but I haven’t noticed any difference. However, this may be because I never have any issue reading what’s on it, regardless of whether I’m in sunlight or darkness, or whether it’s showing the main screen or the excellent always-on watch faces. It’s sharp and colorful, and isn’t absurdly reflective either. The Ion-X glass over the top is also tougher and more resistant to cracks than before, but to get the reportedly more durable sapphire glass displays, you have to buy the stainless steel or titanium models.

The smaller bezels make the Series 7 look more modern, too, even when put next to the Series 6, a smartwatch that can hardly be described as old. If you’re coming from a Series 3 watch, the Series 7’s smaller bezels and larger viewing area will transform the experience for you. In this case, the Series 7 is a huge upgrade. I’ve used a Series 6 for the last year, and the additional screen real estate was obvious the moment I started using the Series 7.

Health and activity tracking

The Apple Watch Series 7 takes your heart rate and electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, measures blood oxygen levels, warns of heart rate irregularities, sends out an emergency alert if you fall down, reminds you to start a workout if it notices you’re not moving or cycling, tracks your swimming activity, and automatically starts a timer when you wash your hands. I’m only scratching the surface here, as I haven’t mentioned sleep tracking, dozens of workout plans, Apple’s Fitness+ service, noise alerts, and the mindfulness app yet.

Heart rate on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The health and fitness tracking is comprehensive, detailed, accurate, and in my case, total overkill for my needs — and that’s a good thing. It means should I decide to do more, the Watch will be ready without the need to upgrade. The Series 7 tracks my walks, sleep, and workouts at home without a problem, and it’s so fast and simple to set it in motion I don’t even need to go to the workout app sometimes, as the Watch recognizes I’m doing more than usual and suggests a tracking mode. Or I use the app selection mode by pressing the lower button on the Watch to leap straight into the workout app. It takes seconds, which as a casual exerciser, is what I want.

I also appreciate the “silent” features. Heart rate, blood oxygen, and even noise are all monitored in the background, so should something change, it will let me know. I don’t have to do anything even at setup, as most of these features are active by default. Apple’s Activity Rings give me a clear indicator of my daily activity, and are suitably motivational, with reminders to move around and animated screens when I achieve a goal.

Data is presented in Apple’s Health app. It shows helpful trends that inform about whether you’re doing more or less than usual, overviews of your most recent workouts (including GPS maps), and offers the option to dig deeper. I love the All Health Data list view, which instantly tells you the most up-to-date information, and combines it with historical data, too. Tap each section to see a more detailed breakdown of the data. It’s superbly laid out, very informative, and extremely simple to digest.

Although it’s all very attractively presented with bright colors and neat graphs, the app can feel dense and complicated. But it highlights just how much ability the Watch has and how it can benefit those who are far more focused on fitness than I am. I’d quite like the Health and the Fitness app to be incorporated into one, as I often forget about the Fitness app, which contains further information on daily activities.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is as much of a fitness partner as you want it to be, and it performs just as well regardless of the amount of effort you put into exercise. It has all the ability, data, and motivation you want — or as little as you want — all without irritating messages about pushing yourself to the limit either on the Watch or in the marketing. This ties in with the design and customization, too, as it does all this while looking as sporty or not sporty as you want. It’s excellent.

Software and performance

Apple’s WatchOS 8 software, which was released in September, comes installed and is compatible with all Apple Watch models since the Series 3. It operates in the same way here as it did on the Series 6, and I summed up my experience with the software in an earlier article.

It’s fast, responsive, and feature-packed. I receive notifications from my iPhone 13 Pro without a problem, and I can respond to most of them directly from the Watch. Most messages can be replied to using the keyboard, which has a new QuickType swipe-typing feature. It’s surprisingly accurate and makes it much quicker to type on the Watch’s small screen. I also like how a pop-up will appear on the iPhone, letting you enter text on the phone rather than on the Watch, all without finding the relevant message. Not all messages have such deep interaction. For example, tweets can only be liked or retweeted, and Outlook emails can’t be replied to on your wrist, only flagged or marked as read.

It’s still the most comfortable, most personalized, easiest to live with smartwatch you can buy.

The Watch Series 7’s processor may be called the S7, but it’s only a name change, and it has the same performance as the S6 inside the Series 6. What this does mean is it offers 20% more performance than the S5 chip inside the Apple Watch SE, which Apple still sells alongside the new Series 7. You can buy the Series 7 with a cellular connection, and provided you pay extra on your monthly carrier plan, the Watch will make and receive calls and receive messages even when not connected to your phone.

Twitter notification on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Using WatchOS 8 on the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7, I have not had any problems with responsiveness or apps at all. During the setup of the Series 7, I did have trouble using the Set up as a new watch option, but it activated without issue when I chose the Restore from a backup option. It’s the first time I have encountered this, and suspect it may have been to do with setting up the Series 7 on launch day and the associated server delays.

Battery

I’ve worn the Apple Watch Series 7  for 24 hours a day for the last week, and when I wake up in the morning after tracking my sleep, the Watch has consistently still had between 20% and 30% power remaining, depending on whether I tracked a workout the day before. This means a single, full day’s use is no issue. With 30% remaining, it has continued on until the end of a workday if I didn’t track a workout. Alternatively, if you don’t activate sleep tracking and you turn it off overnight, two days or even more will be achievable.

Apple Watch Series 7 on charge.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Watch Series 7 has a new charger, complete with fast charging, and is easily recognizable compared to the older versions due to the silver case. It provides an 80% charge in 45 minutes according to Apple, but when plugged into the Apple fast charger, it exceeds this, getting to about 88% in that time. It reaches 100% in an hour. There is also has a handy feature where an eight-minute charge will return eight hours of sleep tracking.

If you use an old charger with the Series 7, then it charges at normal speed, which is understandable but unfortunate for anyone who has splurged on a stand like the Belkin 3-in-1 MagSafe charger, as you won’t get the benefit from the new charger’s speed increase.

Price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 7 starts at $399 for the 41mm model and $429 for the 45mm model. Add $100 for the GPS + Cellular version, and even more depending on the strap you select. For example, if you want the Product RED Braided Solo Loop strap in our photos, prices start at $449.

In the U.K., the 41mm Apple Watch Series 7 in aluminum starts at 369 pounds, and the 45mm model from 399 pounds. Prices increase depending on the strap you choose, and you must add 100 pounds to the price if you want the GPS + Cellular model.

The Series 7 looks fantastic, and the Apple Watch has become a style icon, in my opinion.

Outside of the standard Apple Watch models, you can buy special Nike versions, which cost the same but come with Nike-branded straps and exclusive watch faces. You can also pay more for the Apple Watch Series 7 to get a stainless steel case and sapphire crystal over the screen. Prices start at $699 or 649 pounds. The titanium Apple Watch Edition starts at $799 or 699 pounds, and the Apple Watch Hermés starts at $1,229 or 1,179 pounds. Functionality and specification is identical across the range, so all these offer only material and strap differences.

Our take

Smaller bezels and a 1mm case size difference have made a big impact on the Apple Watch Series 7, increasing its attractiveness and overall visual appeal. Faster charging and that helpful eight-minute zap for overnight use means the relatively short battery life is much less of an issue, and you can use and enjoy the Watch 24 hours a day. WatchOS 8 is reliable and easy to use, the health tracking remains second-to-none even without any hardware changes, and the massive amount of customization makes it fun to own.

It’s everything you want a smartwatch to be, as it perfectly integrates with the iPhone, yet has enough power to be used on its own if you choose, and never feels superfluous due to a lack of features or poor app support. The Apple Watch Series 7 has improved over the Series 6, even managing to feel like a worthwhile upgrade to last year’s model for those who don’t mind spending the money. It’s also worth mentioning that Apple has not changed the price either, keeping it the same for the last few generations despite hardware and software improvements.

The Apple Watch Series 7 does everything I want, and I’m very aware it can do a whole lot more, making it feel like a safe purchase even for those who are just beginning with a smartwatch. The fact that it’s not difficult to use also makes it great for newcomers, and the two sizes and various versions means you’ll find one that suits you. It’s really superb, and I struggle to find a reason not to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Is there a better alternative?

It’s not often I get to say this, but if you own an iPhone and want a smartwatch, there is no better alternative to the Apple Watch. There’s usually some alternative, but in this case, by buying an Apple Watch Series 7, you’re getting the best available option. This year, the Apple Watch SE is less of a good deal than it was in 2020 due to the lack of always-on screen, larger bezel, standard charging speed, and less capable health tracking.

If you own an Android phone, you cannot use the Apple Watch in any meaningful way, so take a look at our recommendations for Android smartwatches.

How long will it last?

The Apple Watch Series 7 has an IP6X dust-resistance rating, water resistance up to 50 meters, is swimproof, and has stronger, more crack-resistant glass over the screen. Straps are easily and cheaply replaced, should they get broken or dirty. Apple should support the Watch with new software updates for up to five years. Keeping the Apple Watch Series 7 for five years may be a stretch if you’re wating to keep up with tech trends, but for everyone else, it’s perfectly achievable given the Series 7’s ability, performance, and toughness.

Should you buy one?

Yes. It’s not only the best smartwatch for your iPhone, it’s the best smartwatch available today.

What Apple has lost—and gained—since Steve Jobs died 10 years ago

By multiple standards, the company is doing better than even an optimist would have predicted in 2011. But it still has a Steve Jobs-shaped hole in it.

What Apple has lost—and gained—since Steve Jobs died 10 years ago
Fans use smartphones to photograph a makeshift shrine in London after Steve Jobs’s death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56 on October 5, 2011. [

Ten years ago today, I happened to be attending a trade show in Tokyo when a tech journalist friend back in California phoned to ask if I’d heard Steve Jobs had died. I hadn’t: Apple had just made the sad announcement and it hadn’t yet overtaken Twitter, news sites, and—it would soon seem—every other form of media.

Rather than continuing with my trip as planned, I spent the rest of it writing multiple pieces about Apple’s cofounder and his impact on his company and the world. Throughout, I did my best to avoid coming to any snap judgments about what an Apple without Jobs would look like. Even a year after Jobs’s death, I marked its anniversary by arguing that it was too soon to judge how Apple was faring, in part because the company was still releasing products that he’d had a hand in shaping.

Nine years after that, I have no excuses. Tim Cook has been Apple’s CEO for more than a fifth of the company’s history. Comparing his Apple to Steve Jobs’s legacy remains tricky, since we’ll never know how Jobs would have handled the same decisions Cook has made. But since it’s no longer premature to ponder such matters, I’m going to give it a shot. And I’m going to divide my musings into four broad categories.

Apple as a business

This one’s easy.

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When Jobs died, some who weighed in about Apple’s future—including Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, a close Jobs friend—expected the worst. You didn’t have to think Jobs was irreplaceable to guess that Cook would have his hands full dealing with threats such as the growing popularity of phones based on Google’s Android operating system.

Still, many observers concluded that Apple stood a good chance of flourishing under Cook. Hedge fund manager James Altucher, who had already predicted that Apple would be the first $1 trillion company, doubled down on the prognostication after Jobs’s passing.

But even Altucher didn’t talk about Apple becoming the first company to reach a valuation of $2 trillion, a feat it achieved less than nine years after Jobs’s death. Apple is now worth more than six times what it was on October 5, 2011. As the smartphone market matured, Cook turned out to be one of the best CEOs in the history of business, adroitly keeping Apple growing through strategies such as bolstering its services portfolio.

From a Wall Street perspective, the unanswerable question that feels most pertinent is not “would Apple have been more successful if Steve Jobs was still CEO?” Instead, it’s more like “would an Apple run by Steve Jobs have matched Tim Cook’s history-making financial results?”

The next big thing(s)

For the first year or two of Tim Cook’s tenure as Apple CEO, some pundits helpfully explained that Jobs had unveiled an epoch-shifting gadget every couple of years—and that Cook would be a failure if he didn’t continue that pace. As I wrote back then, this was silly. For one thing, even Jobs didn’t change history with anything like the frequency that people thought he did. For another, Cook deserved more than two years to prove how much vision Apple would have under his leadership.

Enough time has passed that it’s now fair to compare Cook’s biggest products to Jobs landmarks such as the Apple II, Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. Apples biggest all-new product since 2011 has unquestionably been the Apple Watch, which is now worn by 100 million people, including a third of iPhone users in the U.S. Judged purely as a revenue generator, the smartwatch deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Jobs’s signature products: It’s a bigger business than the iPod was at its height.

The other obvious megahit of the Cook years are AirPods, which defined the modern wireless-earbud category and still lead it; they’re as iconic as wired iPod earbuds once were—and vastly more profitable for Apple.

Any Apple rival would salivate at the prospect of creating a business as successful as the Apple Watch and AirPods have been. Still, neither is culturally transformative in the way that Jobs’s biggest successes were. Rather than changing everything about our relationship with technology in one or two fell swoops, the Apple Watch has done well because Apple has patiently took something that initially felt like a tiny computer for your wrist and refocused it on fitness and health. Meanwhile, AirPods, delightful though they are, are ultimately an accessory, at least for the time being. And there’s a limit to how much an accessory can reshape human life.

But if Apple hasn’t managed to shift any epochs lately, that’s understandable. Neither has anyone else in the consumer electronics business:

  • On the smartphone front, pricey folding phones from Samsung and Microsoft cater to a niche that doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode.
  • Amazon’s Alexa has done more than Apple’s Siri to propel AI-infused voice interfaces to prominence, but it hasn’t rendered smartphones any less important.
  • Thanks to Facebook’s Oculus, virtual reality has made great strides, but a heck of a lot of people still haven’t strapped on a headset even once.
  • On the consumer hardware front, augmented reality has inspired some notorious flops; its successes, such as Pokémon Go and Google Lens, have gained traction by leveraging smartphones rather than replacing them.
  • From Facebook and Twitter to TikTok, social media has changed the world over the past decade, but it feels less like an invention than a virus that got out of control.
  • You might make the case that Elon Musk’s Tesla has had an Apple-like impact on the automotive industry, but the electrification of passenger vehicles remains a story in progress.

It’s even clearer in retrospect than it was during Jobs’s life that it might be impossible to top the iPhone by coming up with an even more popular, profitable gizmo. Had Jobs gotten another decade as Apple CEO, he might have chosen to pour most of the company’s energy into the evolution and expansion of the iPhone and iPad—just as Cook’s Apple has done. Incremental improvements to existing products, after all, were just as key to Jobs’s success as the great leaps forward.

One other thing: All evidence suggests that Apple hasn’t given up on trying to reinvent additional product categories. It’s just tackling ones that are hyper-ambitious even by its own standards—such as VR/AR headsets and cars—and is happy to chip away in private rather than hype stuff that won’t appear for years. Which means that it’s still too early to declare that we’ve seen the last history-making new Apple product.

The little things

Steve Jobs was not an inventor so much as an editor. None of the products he’s remembered for were the first in their category, and every one of them bulged with work done by people who had skills that Jobs did not possess. But he had a near-superhuman ability to know what to put into a product and what to leave out. He could make the seams between hardware and software nearly vanish. He made hard decisions that were often questioned, but almost always prescient and—eventually—widely imitated.

No single person has taken on that responsibility in the Cook era, and it shows. Compared to earlier days, the company has released more than its share of half-baked products, such as 2013’s iOS 7, whose newly minimalist look felt like a rough draft. In 2014, it had to create a $10,000 Apple Watch to learn that such a device made no sense. Instead of making touch-screen Macs, it replaced the MacBook Pro’s function keys with a skinny touchscreen in 2016, seemingly making very few people happy. Right now, the odd changes which the company decided to make to its Safari browser—and has only partially unwound—seem like an instance of inadequate editing of its raw ideas.

In all these cases, I’m not going to say “Steve Jobs would never have allowed that,” because . . . well, he might have. His own mistakes were often doozies. But present-day Apple does feel like it’s lost the final polish that Jobs gave almost everything.

Still, even if Apple errs in public more than it once did, it usually gets to a good place eventually. In the post-Jobs era, the iPhone lineup has had some false starts—remember the proudly plasticky iPhone 5c?—and grew confusing as Apple added more and more variants. But the four new iPhone 13 models—and the still-available iPhone SE—make for the most comprehensible iPhone line since the days when it consisted of a grand total of one phone. And by making the new iPhones slightly thicker and heavier to allow for larger, longer-lasting batteries, Apple abandoned Jobs’s thinner-is-better instincts to achieve a sensible goal. That’s an infinitely smarter act of editing than asking “what would Steve do?”

Steve Jobs the industry presence

We didn’t just lose Steve Jobs the business executive, strategic thinker, and product polisher 10 years ago. We lost the guy who may have been the single most memorable personality the consumer-tech business ever produced:

When most of us envision Jobs, what we see is the man onstage at the product presentations so inextricably associated with him that they were known as “Stevenotes.” Even if you steadfastly refused to get sucked into his reality distortion field, these demos were remarkably compelling. It wasn’t just because he was one of the best explainers the tech industry has ever seen, or even because he occasionally did reveal stuff that blew your socks off. Up there on stage—often by himself—he came off as human, even vulnerable, in a way that few business executives would choose to make themselves. That was true all along, and even more so in his final years as each appearance was an opportunity for public speculation about his health.

For a few years after Jobs’s death, Apple product launches were overseen by Cook and other longtime Jobs associates, and felt like Stevenotes that had been stripped of their most important ingredient. As people noted with increasing frequency that the same handful of white guys represented Apple at every event, the company began to switch things up, calling on a larger, more diverse group of Apple employees to divvy up the presenting. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to virtual events, the company ventured even further away from the Stevenote approach. Even if it returns to live product launches in 2022, it seems likely that high-production-value canned videos will play a larger part than when almost everything that mattered was happening in front of a live audience.

Steve Jobs is in no danger of being forgotten. But more and more, when Apple does things that he wouldn’t have, it’s not a sign that the company has lost its way. Instead, it’s evidence that Apple is still restlessly looking forward rather than obsessing over its past. And what could be more Steve Jobs-like than that?