In light of Steve Jobs’ passing, there have been no shortage of articles exemplifying just how much of an impact this man had on the way people thought about technology. I count myself among them, though I didn’t really realize who he actually was until the late 1990s.
There is perhaps a little bit of irony in the fact that I had my first real taste of an Apple product after Jobs had been ousted as CEO. I was only about eight years old at the time in the 80s, and one of my school’s computer labs was outfitted with Apple II’s. A year later, in my Grade 4 classroom sat a solitary Macintosh Classic, of which I was pretty much the only one using it.
Naturally, I didn’t know it at the time, but this one-on-one time with Apple’s products was to shape my taste for technology for the rest of my life. The small box and diminutive screen with its blue glow was elegant for its time, and I liked the graphic user interface where a click and double-click served two different functions.
It was in stark contrast to the MS-DOS computer my dad had spent so much on in 1987. Typing in code and working with those big floppy disks wasn’t my cup of tea. I liked interacting with icons. I preferred opening and closing windows. I needed to feel like I was using an intuitive machine.
Though there was always access to PCs, which were in great abundance at every turn, a Mac was also firmly planted in my home, too. People thought I was nuts. “No one uses those”, they said. “They’re so expensive for no reason”, was another prevailing thought. And one of the best — “You know Apple is going to die, so why keep using a Mac?”
But Apple didn’t die, and the Mac began its comeback with the iMac in 1999. I used these in college and they were slick for their time. It was one of the first signs that Apple under Jobs was going to be bucking a trend or two. Gone was the floppy disk drive in favour of a CD drive. Mac OS 9 soon gave way to OS X, the operating system that paved the way for iOS on the iPhone and iPad.
But even as late as 2004-05, I was still hearing the “You actually use a Mac?” lines. Invariably, when I had retorted by asking if they had actually used one themselves, they shrugged and said that there was no software for the platform, so it wasn’t even worth considering. Funny how some of these folks were saying this with an iPod in their pocket.
I’m reminded of this because it’s exactly what Jobs managed to turn around. He changed the perception of not just the products Apple makes, but also that of the Apple brand. In the space of his second tenure at Apple, he also changed the game more than once. To go from being considered an afterthought to developers and vendors, to essentially dominating the burgeoning world of smartphone applications and accessories is the stuff fiction is made of.
But this is the real deal. Jobs took us all into a world that may have seemed like a labyrinth to some, yet ultimately simplified it before we knew it. What I admired most about this approach was that it had a lower tolerance for mediocrity. It wasn’t enough to just make a product, it was integral to wrap a lasting experience and feeling around it. I don’t think he ever used this analogy, but the way women buy clothes and shoes is perhaps a fitting example of what he had in mind.
I was never an “Apple fanboy”, whereby I had an almost cult-like devotion to the brand. And my job as a tech journalist made me even more objective, given how much product I work with. But I do understand where the feeling comes from. For a long time, Apple users were a fringe group, mocked and chastised by PC users who viewed them as mindless diehards.
Jobs may never have dreamt that Apple would become the most valuable company on the planet under his watch, but the post-Jobs era also marks the end of the prevailing mantra of “us against them” that kept the fringe alive. Apple isn’t the underdog anymore, and the conversation has changed. It’s gone from “You use a Mac?” to “Why don’t you have an iPhone?”
Regardless of brand loyalty or personal feelings, this shift should be applauded. Not just for the sheer magnitude of its accomplishment, but because it’s a clear indication that innovation is alive and well. It’s a clear sign that Jobs succeeded in getting a large mass of people to think differently about how personal technology can be.
In the end, I feel I owe Jobs a little gratitude because products he helped design were instrumental in helping me do just that. I’ve gone from being part of a fringe, so to speak, to being someone in tune with the latest and greatest in the tech world. I really felt I was thinking differently in the past, and I now realize that I still do.