I am not a fan of the Mac and I don’t own any IProducts, but there was a lump in my throat when I learnt of Steve Jobs’ passing. Perhaps it was the resonance with a friend’s battle with pancreatic cancer at the same time. More likely, it was the sense that the world had lost a visionary of the rarest kind.
My introduction to the Apple phenomenon was fairly recent, when the products of the company stepped out of the realm of computer geekdom and became hipster accessories. The IPod, with its then-sci-fi design of a single wheel operation, was confusing to me, a Luddite brought up on the comforting tactile experience of a Walkman. But even as I struggled with the unfamiliar controls, I could see family and friends adapt and adopt with ease, as if this was what they had been waiting for, and they hadn’t even known it. Watching a popular YouTube video of a baby manipulate the functions of an IPad with ease, even a skeptic like me gets a sense of the synergy between the human brain and Apple’s revolutionary design sensibility.
Jobs had his detractors, of course. Apart from those who were put off by Apple’s monopolistic attitude, its ripe-for-satire paranoia about intellectual property, and its lack of functionality and support for gaming enthusiasts, there are others who suggest that the true heroes of Apple’s meteoric rise are its unheralded inventors and designers, in particular Steve Wozniak, who designed the hardware and operating system for the Apple I computer, and Jony Ive, the British designer responsible for the iconic look of Apple’s products. But “Woz” may still have been working at a computer company, building better versions of existing technology, had Jobs not persuaded him to leave and develop his own computer. And Ive’s strategic position in Apple was a result of Jobs’ decision to make design the core element of the company’s strategy. That keen sense of the zeitgeist, and the conviction and confidence in ideas that were ahead of their time, were what made Jobs such a fascinating study for both sociologists and marketing gurus.
A new biography promises intriguing details from Jobs’ unusual life, but no account can shatter the turtle-necked mystique of a man who demanded audiences with presidents, but went trick-or-treating in his neighborhood like any other dad, who once roamed India as a hippie but later went on to wage tense battles with corporate competitors. He believed he would die young, and therefore wanted to accomplish a lot quickly so he could “leave a mark on Silicon Valley history.”
You did, Steve, you most certainly did.