On Steve Jobs

I’ve been pretty hectically busy this week, part of it is ‘career’ related, and most of it is also due to family issues. Over the course of the week, the only time in which I could catch up on the news is late at night. It so happened that around midnight, I recieved a retweet from Associated Press which said simply that Steve Jobs had died. I looked on google hurredly to confirm (or corroborate) it and I found no precedent stories except a story about a hoax earlier in September reporting his death (not helpful). I later found about 6 minutes later that the reports came flooding in to confirm the story. News these days travels pretty fast, but not that fast.

Many people refer to him as an Edison like figure. The success of the two latest Apple innovations not only superceded the iPod franchise in terms of its hype and success, but set the playing field for its competitors. I often say how I am not an Apple consumer, but how is anyone not an Apple consumer? In the respect that the iPod set up the market for MP3 players and mp3 consumption, services like Spotify, or last.fm probably wouldn’t exist. By counterfactual, if we were to entertain the non-presence of Apple on the world, I’m pretty sure that the consumer market, and culture at large would be a vastly different place. The strange influence of Steve Jobs, I think, would be on even his reception among his competitors, and that is indeed a powerful influence.

One closing comment I shall make is this. Many of the innovations of the various Apple products over the years were hardly ‘invented’ by the team at Apple, but they did create a popular usage and mainstream market for innovations such as the MP3 player or tablet based computer. One of the innovations that most people may not acknowledge is the Graphical User Interface of the Apple II. Stephen Fry talks much about how revolutionary the GUI was when he first got the Apple II in his 2010 autobiography “The Fry Chronicles”. What Fry notices is how using a computer became immediately more accessible and opened up to a wider non-specialist audience wider than computer nerds and code fanatics (although they are a very important group). The popularisation of the GUI and the success of subsequent GUI based operating systems (such as the Windows family) is one of the great game-changers of the 20th Century, not just in terms of how we use technology, but in terms of how the consequences of such have changed our cultural and social behaviours, relationships and abilities in a way that cannot be reversed. Perhaps more than any of the innovations of Apple over the past decade, popularising GUI should be considered Job’s greatest achievement. It makes one think what possible game-changers will be next over the coming few years and decades.

Michael

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