Apple Inc debuts its fifth generation iPhone this week minus its visionary leader for the first time. But CEO Tim Cook may already be thinking ahead to his greatest challenge: repositioning the company's fabled marketing apparatus to safeguard the brand.
With Google Inc Android phones gaining momentum, Cook is likely sticking to established battle plans at this critical juncture. But longer term, he may be better off moving the company out from under Jobs' gargantuan shadow. The Apple co-founder bequeathed a mystique and cachet to the brand that will be near-impossible to replace, cultivating a community of fans hooked on ease of use and rich content.
It's those perceptions Cook - who in two months on the job has already shown Wall Street and Silicon Valley glimpses of what an Apple without Steve Jobs might look like - must focus on preserving rather than the inimitable aura of the co-founder who died last week at the age of 56.
"There's no question Apple is going to go through a time of transformation. There's a lot of risk around the brand," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management who has advised clients like Eli Lilly & Co. "A lot of pressure will fall on Tim Cook to step up. The hard part is, he's not Steve Jobs, nor can he try to be."
Cook has the luxury of time to ponder his next step. Advanced sales of the iPhone 4S - despite disappointing fanboys and pundits hoping for more than an enhanced iPhone 4 - surpassed one million in its first 24 hours globally, smashing the 600,000 for the iPhone 4, though that model was sold in fewer countries.
Sales in stores begin Oct. 14 in Japan, Australia, France, UK, Germany, Canada and the United States.
Some analysts expect fourth-quarter iPhone shipments of as much as 30 million or more, almost double from a year ago.
The fifth iteration of the iconic smartphone comes with a faster processor and a better and more light-sensitive camera, but little else to separate it from its predecessor. But tech experts say the real gems lie beneath the phone's familiar sleek casing.
Influential reviewers Walt Mossberg and David Pogue raved about "Siri" -- a voice-command activated assistant that understands and responds to spoken commands and questions in context, such as queries about the weather or a friend's phone number. Pogue called it "crazy good, transformative, category-redefining speech recognition."
"Despite Siri, the iPhone 4S isn't a dramatic game-changer. Some new features are catch-ups to competitors," Mossberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "It isn't perfect, and is labeled a beta, but it has great potential and worked pretty well for me, despite some glitches."
Both reviewers marveled at Siri's ability to hold conversations, from basic "give me directions to ..." to quirkier discourses.
"When I asked it, 'What's the best phone,' it said, 'Wait ... there are other phones?'" Mossberg wrote.