Dying at the age of 56 is truly a tragedy, especially of a man who was beginning to epitomise modern, and most importantly, stylish computing. He made technology seem, at least to most, cool. His death has sparked an immense amount of media interest in his life; in particular, his life achievements. One that particularly struck me was his successful submission of 317 patents. I was curious, so I actually checked this out. I looked through the patent submissions for the iPhone 4, the macbook air, the ipod; every piece of apple equipment I could think of. I was honestly surprised; every single one had his fingerprints on. He is credited as an inventor on almost every Apple product we use today. So perhaps he does deserve this veneration. Perhaps he does deserve flowers, post-it notes on his store fronts and iPhone cases with his face on. Perhaps he really was as enigmatic and innovative as everyone says.
I find comparisons always useful in situations like these. Immediately I thought of Google. It is, after all, one of Apples biggest competitors. Android constantly battles iOS in the smart phone and tablet market. Suppose, instead, Sergey Brin and Larry page died. Fingers crossed you know of them. I, personally, would be mortified. I use these guys’ technology every day. On my phone, on my computer, the amount of information they have freed and made available for consumers is utterly astounding (they even have a patent search, which I found particularly useful). But I can say with some confidence that there would be nothing of the outpouring of emotion we have seen this week in the news. Speeches and tributes on Jobs appeared from Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev, Bill gates, David Cameron, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg etc., the list is quite literally endless. So what makes Steve Job’s so different? He’s just another head of a tech company that makes them computers and that?
Even more interesting are the comparisons which have surrounded Jobs himself. I’ve heard Da Vinci, Einstein, Edison, J D Rockerfeller and Henry Ford all related to the god in the black turtleneck. I even heard a genuine comparison on a few blogs between Johan Gutenberg and Job’s creation of the ipad2. Now, I loathe Apple, but I can confirm fairly impartially that 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. So what was Steve Jobs? An inventor? An artist? Or as 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. I believe Jobs was two things. He was, at least initially, a pioneer. He was developing software in a world without mobile phones, laptops or even compact disks. Undoubtedly a smart man, Jobs entered a complete technological abyss when few others did, and, remarkably, succeeded. Secondly he was a designer. I’m no artiste, but I can understand that what Apple has created fits perfectly into what people think is trendy. There is little argument that Apple products are overpriced and contain utterly unremarkable technology, but they do seem to have something special. This and their sleek marketing campaign were almost certainly spearheaded by Jobs, and for that he truly deserves praise, albeit begrudgingly.
Another of my thoughts occurred while I was trawling through the patent directory, I checked out the other designers on the submissions. Each one contains the names of 12-15 other people that had a hand in designing each piece of Apple technology. Some appear quite frequently. Students of History will tell you that a fixation on ‘individual genius’ is a bad thing. What of those accomplices of Jobs who will be completely forgotten by history or the touch screen technology which invigorated their Apple’s products? Presumably the world leaders will also have tributes for them.
Steve Jobs death, especially at such an age was sad. We are beginning to lose the generation of those Silicon Valley pioneers, and for all my utter detestation for Apple, its products and practices, he brought basic computing, high quality design and most recently Smartphones to the masses. Most importantly though he enthused people with a love of technology and created products that excited people. Clearly, I don’t like Apple, but anyone with these ideals and courage most certainly deserves some restrained adoration but certainly not immortalisation.