The founder of Electronic Arts Trip Hawkins says that Apple’s App Store is peaking right now but it will start to decline soon.
Trip Hawkins has been kicking around Silicon Valley for a long time. He started at Apple and worked his way up the ladder to become Director of Strategy and Marketing. Hawkins says that back then, he would challenge the ideas of Steve Jobs on a regular basis and that wouldn’t really make him popular in the board room. When he left Apple to found EA in 1982, Steve Jobs never forgave him. Since then, Hawkins forged the largest third party publisher of games into the behemoth it is today before risking it all by trying to challenge the console market with 3DO. Now, Hawkins runs a mobile game company called Digital Chocolate and he recognizes the dominance of Jobs’ App Store in that market, but Hawkins believes that Apple’s golden age – Pax Appla? – is going to fade soon.
“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,” Hawkins said.
“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.”
Right now, the App Store is a great way to sell mobile games, but Hawkins believes that a closed platform is not the way of the future. “They have an attitude about saying, ‘Well, we’re the only manufacturer of this, and there’s only one right way of things working.’ I think prosperity in media does not happen with any form of censorship, so for Apple to decide that they’re going to be the censors and decide how to do things and what you can and cannot do, it just doesn’t really work that well, because they still end up with a thousand farting applications.”
Hawkins believes that Jobs’ is in danger of surrounding himself with sycophants who are afraid to tell him that his excrement might actually have an odor. “There are a lot of psycho-fans surrounding him, and a lot of people that want to work at Apple because they want to be part of it. The irony is that they’re like the audience in 1984,” Hawkins said, referring both to Orwell’s novel but also the famous Apple ad that threw a hammer at the dominance of IBM. “They want to be close to the power and associated with the success, but many of them refuse to challenge Steve, because you’ll just get your head cut off if you do that.”
That’s half why Hawkins left Apple to form EA, he refused to be one of Jobs’ cronies. “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 added.
“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.”
Hawkins made sure to say that he has nothing but respect for Steve Jobs’ ability to lead a company. “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.'”
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike the Cult of Apple. I didn’t buy an iPod back in the early 2000s because I thought it was overpriced white plastic, and that has informed my purchasing decisions ever since. Plus, iTunes is an infection that you can never be rid of. So I rejoice to hear Trip Hawkins bash Apple and Mr. Jobs, even though I have the same grudging respect for the CEO. But if he is surrounding himself with yes-men and chummy lieutenants than Jobs will soon be remembered by geeks with as much fondness as George Lucas and his stupid prequels.