Those who know me, follow this blog, or even visit my office know that I have used Apple products for quite some time. Even in those dark years when Steve Jobs was not at the helm I used Apple products, mostly because they were still the easiest and best machine for me to use (particularly with Hebrew and NisusWriter). I have often been accused of being an “Apple Fan Boy,” but I reject that label. I simply like using great products that work well and reliably. This is the same reason why we have most often had Honda cars (and now a BMW). Great products that work well and reliably. And look great. That is what Steve Jobs gave us.
The passing of Jobs did not come as a surprise to any who followed the tech news. He had been battling pancreatic cancer, which took a friend of mine in 4 short months, for years. As so often in his life he beat the odds, at least for a time.
So now we eulogize him. That is not inappropriate. He rightly takes his position with such innovators at Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Like both of those men his inventions, or more accurately, his drive to create and bring brilliant minds together to create, transformed our world. When I was in grad school it is true, I was one of the few who used a Mac, a PowerBook 140, but today millions of people use an Apple product. I am not even sure how many iPod devices we have in our house now and almost all of the deans at my university are now using iPads. While the Macintosh operating system made computing far simpler than ever before, opening up its use to the masses of simple folks like myself who didn’t want to know command lines and coding language, the iOS devices have transformed how we interact with the world, do research, consume and produce media and content. It is really impossible to underestimate the impact this one man has had on the world in terms of commerce, culture, education, and … well, in just about every way you can imagine.
But like Ford and Edison Jobs was not a man without his shortcomings. Others will no doubt catalogue such shortcomings, but he was notorious for being prickly to the point of being abusive. When he first started Apple even those closest to him said that he was not fit to be a CEO. In an NPR story last month Sculley, whom Jobs had chosen to become CEO of Apple in 1983, stated that he greatly regretted removing Jobs from their board and leading to Jobs leaving Apple. Yet it was also what Jobs needed in order to become the great CEO that we know remember and celebrate. Jobs’ business practices have been vaguely criticized by many over the years. His passion for secrecy is legend as was his supposed ability to create a “reality distortion field” that kept the masses buying whatever it was he was selling.
He certainly thought differently, jettisoning the floppy drive and making machines in outrageous colors when beige and ports was what computers were all about. As Gateway’s retails stores were dragging that company down into the financial abyss he took Apple into the heart of retail. And into a market cluttered with devices he launched the iPhone so successfully that every smart phone is now compared with it. He and his company may not have created out of whole clothe any specific device they sold, they transformed them all such that the whole was more than the sum of its parts (plus a healthy profit margin).
Steve Jobs has left an incredible legacy, one we will be studying for years to come. At his core though he was a great visionary and a normal human. He had foibles, problems, and shortcomings. He was not the messiah nor the anti-Christ, but like all of us he had the potential to be a bit of both.
Oh, and he changed the world.