With the announcement that 56-year-old Steve Jobs would step down as CEO of Apple, Inc. came a question Apple geeks and investors alike are asking: Will the new head of Apple be able to spin out magical and lucrative products (iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad) like Jobs did?
At Jobs' recommendation, Apple has appointed former Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, 50, to be CEO. By many accounts, Cook already ran Apple (he'd acted as chief executive three times, including during Jobs' most recent medical leave of absence, ongoing since January). Cook has worked under Jobs for 13 years. While Jobs' role had been to cast Apple's vision and be company spokesman, Cook worked tenaciously behind the scenes to make Apple profitable, outsourcing manufacturing and building a clockwork-like supply chain for the company's carefully controlled product rollouts.
Cook has been described as demanding and unemotional. He earned $59 million in 2010, but is better known for his grueling schedule, bicycling, and energy bar consumption during meetings than for lavish living. He reportedly gives much money away-including to President Obama's 2008 election campaign, although he was a registered Republican at one point.
His political views should perhaps be irrelevant to Cook's performance as CEO, but in an age of ubiquitous media, the purveyors of technology-and their worldviews-can control content. Last year Apple banned pornographic applications from its iPhones and iPads-but also rejected an app for the "Manhattan Declaration," a Christian document that defended traditional marriage.
Observers say Cook is obsessed with detail, like Jobs, but in contrast to the mercurial yet attractive leadership style of his predecessor, Cook always appears calm and can seem personally aloof. Some analysts say Cook will be able to lean on other Apple executives to compensate for what he lacks in innovation skills. Others are skeptical. Cook himself reportedly said a few years ago, "Come on, replace Steve? No. He's irreplaceable. ... I see Steve there with gray hair in his 70s, long after I'm retired."
Jobs' final leadership test may be whether his selected protégé really can fill those sneakers.
Kinze Manufacturing, a Williamsburg, Iowa-based maker of farm implements, has unveiled a tractor system that can plant a field by itself. In video posted at the company's website, a driverless tractor plowed rows and made turns in a field with the help of GPS, sensors, and a computer programmed to stop the tractor if it encountered a fence, pickup truck, or animal. Kinze representatives haven't revealed a sale date or price.
Farmers have been using GPS guidance to reduce overlap and to work at night for years, but it has required a driver in the cab. If cost and safety hurdles are cleared for autonomous tractor systems, they could enable farmers to take advantage of good weather days by doing 24-hour planting-or to automatically run a grain cart alongside a combine during harvest.