Is Apple already starting to lose its way without Steve Jobs?

The blogosphere erupted this weekend after former Apple designer Michael Margolis posted two tweets about the Apple TV interface.

The first one read, “I implemented much of the AppleTV 2.0 UI years ago. The new home page UI makes me cry.” The second stated, “Fun fact – those new designs were tossed out 5 years ago because SJ didn’t like them. Now there is nobody to say ‘no’ to bad design.”

For obvious reasons, the latter created quite a stir and was picked up by numerous blogs eager to speculate about whether Apple’s use of designs Steve Jobs rejected years ago is a sign that the company is already starting to lose its way without him.

Not surprisingly, Margolis, who left Apple in 2008, was caught somewhat off-guard once he found himself in the spotlight. That led him to write a longer explanation of his comments. That explanation is well-worth reading and provides a much-needed level of context. Yes, designs Jobs rejected are now being used, but just because Jobs rejected a design at one time didn’t mean that the design couldn’t resurface. In other words, a ‘no’ from Steve didn’t mean ‘no’ forever.

At the same time, it’s hard to dismiss Margolis’ comment that “Now there is nobody to say ‘no’ to bad design.” That’s quite a statement and it’s bigger than a single design which may or may not have received Jobs’ blessing today. While Margolis makes it clear in his follow-up that there are multiple designers on the consumer apps team at Apple, that doesn’t really address his additional comment about there being nobody around to say ‘no’ to bad design.

The just of this discussion: Apple doesn’t have a Steve Jobs anymore.

That’s not exactly the most insightful observation, but it’s also one that might not have quite sunk in yet for a lot of people. Apple is still flying high, and its momentum has delivered record-breaking sales for the new iPad. That means everything is good, right? Perhaps, but at the end of the day, it can be hard to fully appreciate the fact that the man who made the big decisions that brought Apple to where it is today isn’t here.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that Apple can’t succeed without Steve Jobs. By all accounts, Apple still has a leadership team most companies would kill for. That leadership team would have to try pretty hard to mess up what Apple has. So if Apple is going to falter, it is more likely to do so with a whimper and not a bang.

Knowing that, the big question is “Would we recognize the signs of decline?” It’s already apparent that Tim Cook is running the show his way now, but when it comes to what matters most, product, one question will continue to plague Apple: “What would Steve Jobs do?”

Nobody, of course, can know the answer to that, something that for obvious reasons is going to be frustrating and perhaps even problematic for Apple. But if Apple is to move forward, it’s a question the company has no choice but to avoid asking — for better or worse.