I, like many in the tech world, was saddened at the news of the death of Steve Jobs. I had met Jobs a couple of times, but he hardly counted as a friend or even acquaintance. I’d experienced the reality distortion field around him, but his main impact on my life is on the computing environment that I use, and the gadgets that are part of my daily life. Even my choice of a phone (Android based) was made as a conscious decision not to buy another Apple product rather than a decision to buy something else.
But I’ve also found it a bit odd that everyone talks about what an innovator he was. He wasn’t, really. Apple didn’t do things first. Xerox PARC did the windows/mouse/icon interface well before Apple. Sony did personal and portable music before the iPod. Smart phones existed before the iPhone, and tablets were around for a couple of years before the iPad.
What Apple under Jobs did so well was to design products that were beautiful and a joy to use. Much of this had to do with the design aesthetic that Jobs brought. But just as important was that Jobs trusted his customers. He felt, in the face of all the business advice to the contrary, that building a beautiful product that was easy to use would be appreciated, and that his customers would be willing to pay extra for the beauty and ease of use. And he built a company around that, which was successful. You can see the same sort of faith in the customer in the products of his other company, Pixar– the animated movies didn’t condescend to the audience, but expected a level of intelligence and sophistication that differentiated those movies from the usual animated stuff.
I hope those now running Apple are allowed to continue on the assumption that their customers care about more than cost, and that design is important. We won’t know until the product pipeline that is currently filled has emptied out. I sincerely hope that they will, and that I’m given the choice to fill my computing world with objects that make me smile (mostly). Otherwise the world will have lost much more than just another innovator.
I still think the best exemplar of the Jobs attitude is the famous 1984 ad. This is how I will remember what Steve Jobs did to the technology industry, and I will always be grateful.