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Can Apple CEO Tim Cook finally step out of Steve Jobs’ shadow with new iWatch, payments system?

Tim_Cook_Credit-Flickr-Mike-Deerkoski_www.flickr.com-photos-deerkoski-7178643521-624x351
Cook at WWDC 2012 [Image: Flickr / Mike Deerkoski – https://www.flickr.com/photos/deerkoski/7178643521/]

That familiar buzz is in the air. It’s September and we know what’s coming. It’s been a regular feature in the tech calendar for over five years now. But this time, the atmosphere seems a little more electric and lot more optimistic for Apple followers. It’s time for the new iPhone(s) and a new iWatch, something Apple has never released before, so naturally there’s a lot of excitement.

For Tim Cook, tonight’s event will represent a transition and it could be the episode where he finally steps out of Steve Jobs’ shadow. The current Apple CEO has had to deal with severe criticism, declining market share and criticism about the lack of innovation over the past couple of years, and there’s a feeling that Apple admirers just don’t have the same love for him as they did for Jobs. That could well be true, but Cook has shown resilience and has been able to withstand the brickbats while also plodding on in creating his own legacy within Apple. It would be a gross understatement to say that tonight’s event will be just another Apple keynote.

Unlike Jobs, Cook prefers to take the backstage when it comes to major announcements. As this report on Quartz points out, he has been comfortable with letting the likes of Craig Federighi, Phil Schiller take the stage when needed and has been cutting down his stage time since his first keynote. But this time around the focus will definitely be on him.

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A leaked image of the iPhone 6

The bigger iPhones have grabbed much of the imagination in the build-up. Apple is doing what Jobs was explicitly against, a large iPhone and this time there could be two variants with one’s display measuring 5.5-inches. Secondly, Apple will be launching the iWatch, a brand new product category that could revolutionise wearables in general and smartwatches in particular, just like the first iPhone did back in 2007. These are the big hardware showcases, which will undoubtedly dazzle ordinary fans and users, but Cook’s trump card will be something bigger.

Just like many people consider iTunes to be Jobs’ biggest long-term contribution to Apple, the much-rumoured Apple payments system will be the defining development of Cook’s term as CEO. The iPhone and iWatch-based payments system which will reportedly use NFC to enable touchless payments at PoS and Apple has reportedly already struck a deal with the leading credit card service providers. After years of Apple shunning NFC, Cook will finally embrace the technology and the payments system represents the foundation for future growth.

For Cook, a new payments system (if done right) could cement his place in the Apple pantheon. And he could finally be able to run Apple without needing to replace Jobs in spirit or personality. But Cook knows that he cannot emulate Jobs and that’s what in fact Jobs had told him. In an interview to BusinessWeek in 2012, Cook revealed what Jobs told him. “He said, ‘I want to make this clear. I saw what happened when Walt Disney passed away. People looked around, and they kept asking what Walt would have done.’ He goes, ‘The business was paralyzed, and people just sat around in meetings and talked about what Walt would have done.” He goes, “I never want you to ask what I would have done. Just do what’s right.’ He was very clear.”

The payments system, if it indeed materialises like rumours have indicated, will undoubtedly be the dish that will make investors most happy. New hardware is exciting, and there will be a lot of optimism about the iWatch, which has surpassed the new iPhones as the device to watch out for today evening. However, the bigger deal is strengthening the ecosystem to retain existing users and bring newer ones into the fold. That would the long-term ideal that Apple is striving for.

Apple has always excited with its hardware, design and its dedication in creating a user-friendly experience. While the iWatch and iPhone will demonstrate that ably and beyond, the magic sauce will be the payments system and it could finally cement the reign of Cook.

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