Thursday, October 06, 2011

The real legacy of Steve Jobs

When people are going to talk about Steve Jobs, they will most likely point to his most recent successes at Apple, notably the iPad and the iPhone. They will talk about it bringing computing and the Internet to the masses, beyond the 'computer literate' or even the 'computer interested'. They will point out how it made using a computer be so natural that we have stopped talking about using a computer to just simply using it for something.
Some will even look beyond that and talk about him and the Macintosh. They will talk about how the Mac brought the GUI and the mouse to forefront and raised the standard of which how people expect to work with computers. Xerox PARC may have invented it, but it was the Macintosh that captured the imagination. People talking about Jobs will highlight the success of the Macintosh popularizing 'fringe' standards like a network connection built-in rather than as an add-on card and the 3.5 in floppy disk.
But to truly comprehend Steve Job's influence on computing and personal computers, you have to go back to the beginning. You have to go back to when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak set out to build and sell the first pre-assembled personal computer. Somewhere then, a spark went off that convinced a young Steve Jobs that this was what he wanted to do. This was what he wanted to shape and influence. This was where he would put his stamp on this world. This was his domain.
Apple Computer and Apple was an expression of Steve Jobs. Steve Wozniak was happy to be the engineer but Steve Jobs knew he had to be the lead, the one in the driver's seat. Think about everything significant that came out from Apple and there was Steve's stamp. Early on, he not only understood how to improve existing technologies to make them relevant to a wider audience and market them as products but also how to manage and handle engineers so that they could produce their best. He took on the image of the creator, basking in the light of adulation but also taking the heat of failed ventures, shielding the engineers away from the public's wrath (although according to some, not from his).
His passion was infectious and with it he sold dreams. Dreams that could only be realized through the computer Apple was making and selling. He understood that the computer was just a tool, unlike other computer companies then (and a few still now) that sold the computer on how beefy the specification were and how many features it came with. As a tool, he understood that the computer was really inconsequential. What the computer made was what really mattered. And the GUI was the first step in making the computer step out of the way and becoming a partner in that process of creation, the process of creating what mattered to the user.
As computers became more ubiquitous, Apple took it to the next level by looking for ways it's computers would positively affect their users, enhancing that relationship, further moving the computer's technicality into the background. The computer became colorful. The computer became beautiful. The computer began doing one thing very well. Until we stopped thinking about the computer and just did things with it. In every step of that evolution was one of Steve Job's imprint, his vision. He lead and others followed.
Steve Jobs also should be remembered for being the new CEO of a new generation. A CEO that understood that a company was about the quality of its people and not solely about the numbers in the balance sheet. He injected his passion in to his work as CEO, changing the notion of the CEO from the topmost manager to the driver, the leader of the company, setting it's path and navigating it through troubled waters. And that passion filtered down, regardless of what the company was facing. Apple was declared dead so many times (Michael Dell said on this month in 1997 that Apple should be shut down after Gil Amelio was fired as CEO), it is more than ironic that it is now is the biggest technology company in the world.
I've done my piece on Apple after Jobs so there is not much to add to that. But don't over look the other significant contribution of Steve Jobs. People should also remember that it was Steve's drive and money that helped kept Pixar alive long enough to fulfill it's full potential. And that is the other genius of Steve Jobs: the ability to know a good idea when he saw one. He saw the potential in the first Apple computer, the potential in the technology of the Xerox Alto, the need for a cheaper Apple Lisa (resulting in the Macintosh), the genius of the magicians at Pixar, the beauty that can inspire computer users that was the iMacs, the need for an easy and cheap way to get more music on to digital players, the desire to both communicate and do simple tasks on phones and the potential that a simple, mobile touch interface can change the way we work with computers. The legacy of Steve Jobs is not just at the birth of the personal computer but it's from there and the evolution of the personal computer to becoming part of who we are and what we do.
TWIT.TV special on Steve Jobs

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