What if Steve Ballmer was CEO of Apple?

I love the classic "What If?" series of Marvel Comics that altered one bit of a story and then showed how everything else would play out around it. So, of course, I love the idea of "What if Steve Ballmer ran Apple?". What if the Apple-is-doomed contingent forced Tim Cook out, and brought in the freshly-departed-from Microsoft Steve Ballmer? What various positives and negatives - everything is always a blend of both - would happen in just such an else-world? Clearly Ben Thomson does as well, as he's written it up brilliantly for Stratechery:

Ballmer would do more than catch enterprise accounts that fall in his lap; he would aggressively court CIOs and make changes to the iPhone to accommodate them. Ballmer would expand the iPad range to multiple screen sizes and price points, and would push for every school district in the world to standardize on them, far more aggressively than Apple is today. Ballmer would leverage iTunes, and all those credit cards, by making a play for payments and identity. As for computers, well, the XMac might even become a reality. [...]

And yet, under Ballmer, everyone at Apple would be working so hard, and be making so much money, both for themselves and for Apple's shareholders, that they would ensure that Apple never again reinvents consumer computing.

That idea, that you can't maximize profits on current products while simultaneously innovating new disruptions, is central to the stories of both Microsoft and Apple, and to Thompson's exploration. Press some coffee or pour some tea and read the whole thing.

Source: Stratechery

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

What if Steve Ballmer was CEO of Apple?


I don't like when people criticise this man, he is a bit "too much" but you don't get to be the 15th richest person in the world being incompetent.... When you'll achieve 1% of what he has done you will be able to criticise (and have 15 BIllion * 1% = 150 Millions $)...

I don't like it when people base their valuations on someone based on their net worth.. Just means he likes money; not much else.

Not that I'm agreeing or disagreeing with you, but what exactly makes you think he *didn't* do a good job at Microsoft?

I'm genuinely interested, not trying to be sarcastic.

I'm sorry but the first answer was "it's not all about money," and now the argument is the stock capitalisation (like the less logical thing the human invented)...

Maybe the years as a CEO wasn't the best, but you have to look the past 30 years too..

I'm not a pro-microsoft, but say that he's bad because he's from microsoft is really stupid sorry...

Exactly. 330 billion dollars in fact. I can't fathom the apologists defending Balmer's loss of a third of a Trillion (with a T) dollars on his tenure as CEO. What should he have lost to be considered a failure? 1 Trillion? 2?

I like money, guess I am on the path to being 15th richest person in the world!! Yay!!

Look at his wealth as being passed down. Gates created a monster for him to lead when it was on top. He didn't have great new ideas for consumer benefit. He just had good ideas for leveraging what was already there for profits. Everything that has become a standard of living today, was made fun of by Ballmer. He didn't think that any of the new ways would take off. Ballmer is blinded by the business side of things, jobs wasn't blinded by business, but by the way products were going to be laid out for the consumer. Therefore, Microsoft will nickel and dime you to death with software and Utilities for that software, while Apple will nickel

The value of Apple would drop by half. (That's what happened while Balmer was CEO of MS. Use to be worth 500+bil USD, now it's under 300bil USD...) I'm sure he was brilliant, but not for this generation.

What if Steve Jobs had been CEO of Exxon? We'd be paying $55 / gallon for gas, but it would be REALLY good gas!!

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Gas would come is 4 colors, White, black, graphite and Champagne and this years gas would be slightly better than last years gas.

I don't see Tim Cook as being the innovator Steve was. So what he is doing is simply leaving the creation of new products to the more experienced staff like Ive and Eddie. What Tim seems to be doing a fairly good job, is in managing his staff and ensuring that they work well together, while managing the company's supply chain side.

In this context, so long as Ballmer doesn't try to interfere with product development, I think Apple should still be okay. Oh, and he should stay away from Keynotes. Tim at least, was a zero-sum game (he has the charisma of a cardboard box); hearing him speak is as good as not hearing him speak at all. Ballmer would actually make things worse.

I think that will be seen.
Steve had been grooming Tim for a long time. And Steve being Steve and we all know...
Wouldn't have felt comfortable if Tim didn't display that passion that Steve had.

It was all about PASSION with Steve, and a sprinkling of OCD and perfectionism... lol

Over rated, under appreciated.

Steve is Steve. And for all the bad that he is called, you can't deny he has fire.
He just doesn't have the ability to FIRE up the geeks. Code hacks and developers.

If you look at early M$ ads that he did, well , hell, look at all late night infomercials.
He created and designed the rule book for the liking s of Ron Popeil, and SHAMWOW!

Unfortunately, software doesn't sell that way. Bill was never a showman, but the ULTIMATE GEEK.

How do you sell GEEK!

They have chased every marketing campaign and cliche that Apple/Chiat Day created and all have pretty much been a flop.

But you have to hand it to Steve, he has passion and that is priceless.

I could see ballmer maybe allowing crapware on iphones to "value add" and other things that I wouldn't want. I hope this never happens, neither him, nor anybody like him.

iPhone already has crapware on it that Apple won't let you git rid of or in one case even allow you to hide away in a CrApps folder.

What did Microsoft do in the past that was innovative? They are the greatest copycat in the industry. Steve has been up there for too long. When he presented the Windows Tablet, it was like slumping it into your throat. It is not about users' experience and users' needs, according to him, this is the best and you should switch and use it!!

What? No developers comment? Ok:

Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!

There you go. Can't have a ballmer article without this somewhere. XD

Sent from the iMore App

Bottom line for me is this comment by Ben Thomson: "Amazon famously makes minimal profits; Microsoft made more money last year than Amazon has made ever, yet Amazon too is far more relevant in the consumer market today than is Microsoft."
The name of the game -- long-term, is Be Relevant. Gotta love that!