“He achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: He changed the way each of us sees the world” said President Barack Obama in his speech to commemorate the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died last Wednesday at the age of 56, from cancer.
“The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented”. Sought of a bittersweet irony isn’t it? I am writing this article on a Macbook pro, Nouse is made on six Mac computers. Jobs himself created the technology to facilitate our constant “update” culture. This time the update was of his death, which has sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief. He wasn’t exactly a celebrity in the sexy sense of the word, but something about the death of the father of the grey slinky objects we’ve adopted as a sort of digital pet, has really gotten to us.
But why are we so affected by the passing of the CEO of this computer company? Andy Ryan, a technology blogger, tells me he thinks it’s all a bit much. “It is truly a tragedy, but suppose Larry Page (founder of Google) died, he has given us as much access, yet the emotional outpouring wouldn’t be anywhere near as grand. Job’s has even been compared to Edison and Einstein, which is quite some kudos. To be honest, comparing the printing press which is seen as one of the greatest developments in the world and an unremarkable tablet device which has been sued numerous times for patent infringement are not the same.”
Humanity in general may not have been advanced hugely, but the way people feel about the progress and cool-status of their own technological lives has.
And everybody sympathises with a success story too. Jobs founded Apple with his childhood friend Steve Wozniak in his parents’ garage at the age of 20, and the two marketed what was considered the world’s first personal computer, the Apple II. After 10 years, in 1985, a bitter feud with their appointed CEO, had him thrown out of the company he created. He said in his commencement speech at Stanford University that, “it was the best thing that ever happened to me”. After buying Pixar, and founding NeXT, he returned to Apple 11 years later to transform it into the most valuable company in the world, now producing $65.2bn a year in revenue.
People often overlook the extraordinary legacy of Apple in so many industries; the way we view technology, the way we listen to music, the way we communicate, the way we think about art, design and invention.
In the PC world of the first personal computers, Mac was the only competitor to take on Microsoft. In the retail world, the Apple stores opened in 2001, and were the envy of all shop front designers worldwide, and they still have not been successfully cloned. In the music industry, Jobs’ influence is exponential; Apple is the largest music merchant in the world, after his persuading of labels to sell records for 99 cent, rendering record and CD companies irrelevant and bankrupt. The legacy of Steve Jobs, is not merely the popularity of his brand, or the scale of their usage, it is the products themselves. Blake Seely, a software engineer at Apple said though, “his legacy wasn’t any specific product, it’s Apple.”
Either way, Apple’s legacy may be due to Steve Jobs’ revolutionary ability to combine beauty and technology. He made computers personal and more importantly, fun. He made the information revolution accessible, “everyone can use Apple’s products to do their jobs more efficiently, whether they’re a street inspector or an NYPD detective”, said Micheal Bloomberg, New York City Mayor.
The Apple aesthetics are profoundly humanistic; the insight is that you, the human, are the most stunning creation, not the computer. This insight into Apple technology is what has redefined our work and leisure culture. Instead of being glued to a screen at home, the iPhone, iPad and iPod are designed to let you get out and about; they only reinforce the positive image of the Age of the Internet. Indeed, the digital relationship with an Apple product, as opposed to any other, is a human one. And Jobs achieved that with the beauty of his design.
The beauty of the soft aesthetic has redefined domestic design. Every Apple product is sleek and glossy, as if harboring the same good genes from the same family. The corners are round, the lines are soft, the weight perfect. Everything about the screen and keyboard is in remarkable proportion, design that only a true futuristic vision and zeal for calligraphy could have engineered.
But it is not technology that has the cold, impersonal edge of futuristic technology. It is comforting, stimulated by the genius use of light such as the almost living pulse of the faded silvery battery. And of course, the Apple itself, a piece of fruit, symbolizing the most natural process. It isn’t rotting, but is has a bite taken out of it (a homage to the Bletchley Park genius Alan Turing who committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple), as if there is an element of flawed perfection. But perhaps the Apple colours were the greatest flag-wavers of the originality of his design. The flare and attraction of the eye-popping purple, turquoise and fuchsia pink propelled the Apple products from objects of genius design, to objects of fashion, and sexy fashion at that.
Jobs made Apple products easy to use, and democratic. Sean O’Neal is a support technician at Apple, and said that, “more than designing modern computers he designed modern life. By making technology so user friendly he changed the methods of how we work, communicate, enjoy entertainment and create our own innovations”. Andy Ryan is keen to dispel the romanticism though, “Apple products are overpriced and contain utterly unremarkable technology, basically it’s the sleek marketing campaign that’s special”.
But what he has done is reshape modern culture by branding the products not as pieces of efficient machinery, but as exquisite luxury. Consumers appreciated the fact that he put a price on that luxury, and they were prepared to pay. Jobs never compromised quality for consumer demand. In fact, he never even used focus research groups, because his business mantra, was not to give people what they want, “for something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times”, he once said, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Contagious magazine have dubbed Jobs the “father of the modern creative class”. Indeed by creating things that consumers came to desire, he was predicting the market in an extraordinary way. The genius of not making what was conventional became the appeal of Apple; no one knew they wanted an iPad, before Jobs invented one, thus proving how the success of innovative invention is what can predict market value better than catering for the lowest common denominator.
Our culture now has a very ingrained sense of the fact that morally, quality ought to come at a cost. High Street fashion is the worst perpetrator of unethical, mass-produced, poor-quality goods. Apple has shown how not everything can, or should be made for free, and if you expect excellence, you have to pay for it. The cheapest products should not dictate free-market chains.
Many believe that Apple became the largest company in the world because of Jobs’ stubborn adherence to this principle that he refused to give quality away for free. Indeed, his massively tight control of Apple’s copyrights, was precisely what propelled the company to its’ success as opposed to hide it away as a little niche business that partook in no open collaboration.
One of the most profound aspects of the Apple brand is the brand loyalty. It is like no other. It is probably because of its’ accessibility, quality and appeal. But there has to be something else, in our brand label obsessed culture, that keeps consumers coming back and buying products, that are slightly better. Jobs had the ability to replace his own products on the market; the evolution of Apple has a short-term memory for that which it leaves behind- for example, the Mini was whipped off the market when the superior Nano came along.
As with any brand which commands loyalty and enthusiasm from it’s customers, it is because there is a product of substance behind it. We know that when we buy an Apple product, it is a reliable investment in a brand we understand the ethos of, along with it’s consistency of quality.
But perhaps as History tells us, it’s the individual we’re attracted to, that sends a brand flying. Jobs was the genius, the turtlenecked face of Apple. But Andy Ryan sympathises with the dozens of accomplices who’ve invigorated Apple’s products too, “whom presumably the world leaders will also have tributes for too”.
So what was Steve Jobs? A pioneer? An inventor? An artist? “The main stream media, world politicians and every coffee blogging hipster with a pitchfork would have us believe, the hand to heart best thing since sliced bread. I think we need to detach ourselves from the ‘mactrix’, and honestly consider what Steve Jobs was”, says Andy Ryman.
Is the venerated God of iCulture worthy of immortalisation for making cool, sexy products, and is it not really about the technology at all? Maybe, but even if you aren’t a techie, and you only use Word and Safari, it’s about the look and the feel or your digital pet.
Ultimately, Jobs was an inspirer. The speech he gave at Stanford was simple, symbolic and powerful, like his products. “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life”, he said post-cancer.
So, as you embark on your degrees at York, Jobs’ legacy is for all of us; make your time as creative, innovative as possible, to change the way we see the world. Heed Steve’s best advice, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. M