The late Steve Jobs was undeniably passionate about what he wanted to achieve, and more importantly, passionate and driven about how. Many of those who have worked with him, both inside and outside of Apple, have expressed surprise at how fast Apple made design-oriented decisions. This was largely because of What Steve Says Goes.
As Isaacson has chronicled, Steve Jobs built Apple Computer up from two guys in a garage to a company with billions of dollars in turnover selling iconic products that are instantly recognisable. He had a vision of computing made easy, but not by asking people what they wanted. Instead he would create something new, different and compelling. The Apple that Apple became after it bought NeXT, and therefore, Steve Jobs, was focussed in a way it never really had been.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the product range. Jobs clearly believed that a multitude of products in a marketplace was not the way to go. When they introduced the iPod, there was just one model. Compare with Sony’s adventures with MiniDisc: the last major iteration (the 1Gb format) had at least five models. It was difficult to distinguish the various models apart.
Apple also observed that sales of their iPods drove sales of their Macintosh computers. This has also been observed with the iPhone and iPad: you need to develop on a Mac to write apps for the iPhone or iPad. But I’ve also seen people go down the Mac route for their computing “because It Just Works”. Hmm.
Apple is passionate about a good end-to-end computing experience. People like that. But just like I can respect what AC/DC did for the rock industry, I don’t have to like them.
I happen to dislike a number of Apple’s technology choices. Unsurprisingly, this was not Steve Job’s forte. Sometimes this is because I have investments in other technologies. The first one was that my music was in Ogg Vorbis long before AAC and the iPod appeared. Other times it is a difference in politics. Nowhere is this more prominent than in their curation of iPhone and iPad apps. But I grew up where once you owned the hardware, you could do what you like with it. This is why I run Linux on my PCs.
But it does make me wonder about the sacrifices necessary to honour an investment in passion. Steve Jobs firmly believed in that and made choices, unashamed at alienating people and their opinions. As a result, Apple believes that. I wonder how long that will remain true.