Let me preface this by saying I’m not an Apple guy. My problem with their products was never quality – that would be absurd. They’re polished, functional, and a pleasure to use. For me, it’s just been that Apple limits options, and to me the joy of technology is playing with and learning about the guts inside. I’m not the only one that feels that way. Apple has a thriving business which hinges on everyone doing things their way, and more power to ’em. The Apple Way (and some might say the Steve Jobs Way) is clearly good enough for a lot of people.
Whenever Steve Jobs would use the word “magical” in a keynote, or “revolutionary” was plastered in ads to describe new gear, it just reinforced the fact that actual technology was secondary to image. Generally I brushed the terms off as crass hyperbole only usable by Apple’s marketing department because they were making emotional appeals to people who didn’t know a thing about gadgets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s the only way to popularize obscure tools traditionally limited to hardcore geeks.
The word choice still irked me. Revolutions are when people die for ideals. They are real things that happen, and shape nations. An iPod plays Ke$ha for you. Magic is the thing my right mouse button does in the Diablo 3 beta. It uses up mana and casts fireballs. But to all the shoppers that don’t care to know about the endless days, months, and years of work burned up to build these phones and computers, Apple might as well have had a stable of unicorns somewhere punching out circuit boards. Of course, that’s taking Apple’s angle a bit too literally – the message was more that technology should inspire wonder and change the way people live – but that never stopped anyone from taking it all at face value and being wrapped up in nigh-religious devotion to the company.
Having said all that, I can’t help but be disappointed when I imagine Steve Jobs hearing about the iPhone 4S launch before his final moments. Maybe he managed to get through an e-mail on his iPad about the reception: yawning boredom and the stock down 5%. After directing countless thousands of man hours over the last couple of decades, it’s easy to see him muttering “Fuck ’em.” I prefer to think that he mustered a shrug, thought “That’s too bad,” and drifted off to some place less fickle.
The outpouring for the death of Steve Jobs has been incredible. I’ve never seen my Twitter feed so unanimously occupied with a single subject, and I think it’s because there are a lot of tech press out there that have witnessed the palpable passion of Steve Jobs first-hand. A day ago, many an Apple fan was whinging that the iPhone 4S was going to be a rip-off. There’s a disparity in sentiments here that needs to be addressed.
Apple has spent so much time fostering an image of “magical” and “revolutionary” products that I think many everyday consumers have lost a sense of value for the technology in their lives. One minute, the internet is full of complaints that the iPhone 4S sucks because it doesn’t have LTE, NFC, and a 4-inch screen, since consumers expect every new toy to be leagues ahead of the previous generation. A revolution every month, feasibility be damned. The next minute, Steve Jobs is dead, and for some people every little thing he ever had a hand in making is now imbued with a saintly glow.
So, let’s find a place somewhere between those two extremes where we can reasonably remember Steve Jobs. The man worked his ass off day-in and day-out to make things people loved. He had the opportunity, means, and ambition to start and run a hugely successful company. He made risky decisions that mostly paid off. He had a gift for communicating, which captured a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise bought the kinds of products Apple was offering. This, in turn, sent shock waves into a number of industries, and got many competitors to make their products more human.
It’s easy to look back on the life of Steve Jobs now, with a deluge of retrospective pieces, old keynote videos, and interviews popping up, and see a man who cleanly personified passion for technology. Though the products he put into the world may not be literally “magical” or “revolutionary”, I think it’s important that we don’t forget that Steve Jobs and people like him (though perhaps lower profile) have spent their entire lives to make these wonderful little things possible. The phones we use are the products of so many diverse facets of mind-boggling intricacy that to use them without any sense of humility would be a disservice to the visionaries that set the stage for their creation, like Jobs, and the thousands of hands that make them a reality, like those at Apple.