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September 9: The beginning — or the beginning of the end — of the Tim Cook Era

It’s going to be a big show in Cupertino September 9th. We’ll see at least one new phone. But most importantly we’ll see what could be called the first product of the Cook era, an Apple smartwatch.

The unveiling will be held at the Flint Center in Cupertino, the same venue where the world got its first look at the Mac. Apple is already building a big new structure outside the venue — a big white box with something mysterious inside.

VentureBeat reported earlier this summer that the “iWatch” is coming this fall (and that it probably wouldn’t be called the iWatch). Re/code, too, cites sources saying the watch is ready and will appear September 9th, although it may not ship for several months. A third major publication, Bloomberg, reported Thursday that the new wearable is about to debut.

The rise of the iWatch

The watch is the first wholly new product Apple has developed since Steve Jobs’ death and Cook’s ascension to CEO. It represents the answer to the question of whether or not Cook has, or lacks, the “vision thing.”

Is Apple under Cook capable of creating new products as game-changing as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad?

If Apple’s smartwatch succeeds we will see Cook with new eyes. He may emerge from the shell of his mild-mannered company man image to be seen a someone who has inherited some of Jobs’ penchant for anticipating and even dictating what consumers want in devices and services.

But if the watch never finds its legs with consumers, or even if it just sells moderately well, Cook will be seen as a talented operations manager, but one who lacks the vision to make and break whole markets — to point the company toward the next big thing again and again, as Jobs did.

Stocking Apples

Apple’s stock has been shooting upward in recent weeks, as the hype builds around the product announcement. Investors are feeling bullish about the new phones, as they should, and possibly about the new watch’s chances of selling well.

Maybe they’re even feeling bullish about the “vision thing.”

One thing that is the same this time around is the palpable feeling of anticipation and excitement around the September 9th event. I am helping fuel the hype machine with this post because the tech press is part of the Apple marketing machinery. Our endless speculation and rumor pitching stokes the fire right up to announcement day.

Can all the expectation around the watch possibly satisfied?

Anything new?

One source told VentureBeat last week that Apple’s new wearable is indeed beautiful, but that it doesn’t do anything that current smartwatches like those from Samsung and Motorola don’t already do. The source says the Apple watch, like the others, will depend on a phone to connect to the Internet.

Apple’s device just wraps up all the features and functions in the other watches in that cool, designy, brushed-metal Apple magic.

That might be enough on September 9. I’m confident that when the watch is unveiled, we’ll all have that “Aaah” moment when we believe that Apple has once again lead us 15 steps into the future of tech devices.

But the real proof will come a few weeks or months later, when the hype dies down a bit and the watch begins selling. By the end of the Christmas season, we will know by the sales numbers whether Cook was right about diving into smartwatches.

Cook vs Jobs

The messages coming out of Cupertino about Apple under Cook are conflicting. Some reports tell of a harmonious and driven development environment with a hunger for design innovation.

But at least one other person close to the company says that there’s a lot more arguing going on at Apple than there was under Jobs. These days, the source says, there’s no single, irrefutable answer to design and marketing questions as there was under Jobs. Apple, the source says, is now a sort of feudal state where numerous thought leaders within the company muscle their way through debates by saying, in effect, “this is what Steve would have wanted.”

“All these people are running around chasing the ghost of Steve Jobs,” the source said.

The end of Cook?

If the smartwatch fails, confidence in Cook’s leadership would be diminished, and the board of directors would certainly be asking a lot of questions. Another of the feudal leaders could win an internal power struggle and be named CEO.

Us outsiders will probably never know the whole story of Apple’s inner workings. But we will see the product of those inner workings, and that’s what counts.

I will be on site in Cupertino to watch Cook pull the veil from the new products. When the moment finally arrives, I believe Cook will walk out with the new Apple watch on his wrist. His future at Apple will be all tied up in that little piece of glass and brushed metal.