Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Few individuals who could be called an "industrialist" have ever been as beloved by their customers as Apple CEO Steve Jobs – this is clear from the reaction to the news of his death yesterday at the age of 56. The reason for this lies in the experience owners of Apple products have, a feeling that there is a vision behind the product and the company, and the knowledge that their user experience is the most important consideration the company has when designing its products.

My first Apple product was the Apple 2e, and it was purchased because the company was one of the few computer makers that wanted you to be involved with all aspects of the product. The top of the Apple 2 was designed to come off so that you could see the technology inside, so you could share, even a little bit, the excitement of computing felt by its inventors. One of the things Apple customers most complained about with the Mac, though this is often forgotten, was that the Mac was closed – yes, there was magic there, but now you were on the outside.

Apple's own website tribute to its co-founder, Steve Jobs.

As someone who hates the concept of "celebrity" I've never shared in the idea that Steve Jobs was Apple. I felt this way because it was in the very early nineties that I became a lifelong Mac user, and continue to believe it is the best consumer computer platform today. But Steve Jobs was not at Apple then, having been fired a half dozen years earlier (he returned in 1996).

But for me, knowing Steve Jobs was at the helm was incredibly important. No other corporate executive could be counted on, it seemed, to drive innovation, to reach for something new, and most importantly, to insist on quality when all around executives were cutting corners, and cheapening their products.

But Jobs didn't just insist on quality and innovation, he also believed that a successful company "ships"; that is, actually gets that new product to market. For those who question the idea that Jobs was a perfectionist by pointing out Apple's blunders, this is the explanation. The iPhone 3G, for instance, was for me a step back in design, with its cheap plastic back. But the design was in response to pressure to lighten the phone, improve its reception – all good goals and attributes, but the design suffered. No doubt Jobs was that much happier when the iPhone 4 came out.

Apple's role in the publishing business is so enormous it is hard to describe without appearing to exaggerate. TNM was created in order to keep me informed of developments in mobile media and now tablet publishing. Both platforms are the result of Apple launching products that make them possible. It is as if one company was responsible for radio and television.

But, of course, Apple did not invent either the smartphone, nor the tablet – but today Apple's versions of these products are considered the leaders. This is the pattern with Apple – it didn't invent the PC, it invented a better PC.

Many journalists are comparing Jobs today with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison – those are good comparisons because each of them expanded on the ideas of others, worked with colleagues within a company they led, and all three profoundly changed the world.

It is sad to think that with the passing of Jobs we have lost so much. Yet it is amazing to know that we have lived in a time of such incredible change and innovation thanks to Steve Jobs and the companies he has led. Thank you, Steve. And thank you Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue, Scott Forstall, Ron Johnson, Bob Mansfield and all the others who worked with Steve Jobs, and continue to lead Apple today. And thank you Steve Wozniak, for being there at the beginning and building that Apple 2e that Steve Jobs then sold me.