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Steve Jobs Resigns from Apple
Saturday, 2011 August 27 - 2:58 pm
... but his legacy lives on.

As a kid whose first computer was a Commodore 64, I reacted to the announcement of the Macintosh in 1984 with some disdain. In my head, computers were something reserved for a privileged inner circle of nerds. If everyone could use computers, then people like me would no longer be special. We had a term for people who used windows, icons, mice, and pointers: WIMPs. "You're not real computer users", we said to them.

I think that kind of thinking lives on in the heads of a lot of engineers and geeks today. There's a level of self-worth from believing that you are only one out of a hundred people who knows how to configure a "cron" job or manually repair a Windows registry. For people like this, the more complicated something is, the more they can distance themselves from the unwashed masses by mastering it. And so when engineers build devices or write software, they presume that customers will think as they do, taking joy and pride in being able to tweak every setting and twiddle every knob, even if it takes ten years to figure out how to do it.

When I finally started using a Macintosh, in college, it was something of a revelation. Here was a system that was both enormously powerful but also incredibly elegant in its implementation. Each program had a consistent interface. Things like printing just worked, with things coming out of the printer just like they appeared on screen. Coming from a Commodore 64 where every program used its own keyboard conventions and printing was an utter crapshoot, I was astounded at how much more productive I could be when the technology got out of my way and worked for me. It struck me that this was what the goal of every engineer should be: making something complex and powerful so magical that one doesn't have to be an engineer to use it.

There are very few technology companies that grasp this concept. Most of the computer and phone manufacturers today tout their devices with an extra knob here and a built-in widget there, and present those features as the reason their machine is the best one. "We put an SD card slot in our phones, because you might want to carry a bunch of SD cards with your phone!" "Our PCs still can use your twenty-year-old PS/2 keyboard!" "With Linux you can use 'awk' and 'sed' to customize the text output of all your command-line programs!"

And then there's Apple. Apple's message is, "You do not need to use SD cards with your phone. You do not need to use a PS/2 keyboard. You do not need to use 'awk' or 'sed'." I can already hear the voice of engineers saying "but… but… we might need those things, sometimes, in some very specific circumstances." But really? What we actually need is to get things done. Yes, there are times when I need to write a Perl script in order to accomplish something, and in those instances I'm glad that Perl is available to me. But what if I had something that made it no longer necessary to write Perl scripts ever again? I would jump on that in a heartbeat.

I think that philosophy is embedded in the soul of Apple, and that's mostly thanks to Steve Jobs. Apple finds technology that is difficult to use and makes it simple. Even going back to the Apple I, this was the case. Before then, a home computer was something people had to assemble by hand, from kits. Before the iPhone, cell phones had horrible user interfaces and, if you were lucky, a mobile web browser that would let you see a text-formatted version of 0.1% of the Internet. Before the iPad, tablets were devices that required a stylus to manipulate screen elements designed for use with a mouse and keyboard. No one ever described pre-iPhone cell phones or pre-iPad tablets as "magical".

I honestly don't understand people who make Apple out to be some sort of evil hyper-controlling company. Perhaps people believe that the world would be better off if Apple were just like, say, Samsung? They'd avoid rocking the boat, and they'd make tiny incremental improvements on other companies' designs. Is that what people really want? Remember the days of buying a CD only to get that one good song from it? Remember when your phone had a one-inch screen and your cell service provider controlled what you could put on it? Remember when all computers were ugly plastic boxes? I do not want a return to those days.

I am fairly confident that Jobs has left enough of his mark on Apple that they will continue innovating and creating devices that let us get things done. Every time I have to use the on-screen keyboard on my cable box to find a show, I am hopeful that Apple will turn the TV industry upside-down. Every time I have to deal with a paper receipt, I am hopeful that Apple will figure out a universal mobile payment system. Every time I pull out a keyring loaded with keys and electronic fobs, I am hopeful Apple will come up with secure electronic home and car locks. There are a million problems still to be solved, a million ways our lives can be improved. If Apple stays true to Jobs' vision, we can all be hopeful that Apple will solve at least a few of them.

Apple's stock has hung in there pretty well in light of Jobs' resignation. I think investors believe that Apple will still be Apple in the short- to medium-term. A big part of that is the decision to promote Tim Cook to CEO. This is a guy who has been with Jobs for a long time, and who understands what Apple is all about. The way you will know that something has gone wrong at Apple is if they hire some external CEO to come and shake things up. Apple does not need another John Sculley; they do not need a Leo Apotheker.

And what of the "vision" thing? Let's remember that Steve Jobs was not solely responsible for every product idea to come out of Apple. I think his biggest contribution was his maniacal obsession with detail and taste, and a refusal to settle for anything half-baked. As long as someone can fulfill that role, I think Apple will be just fine.

To Steve Jobs: thank you for your contribution to the world. Please take care of your health and your family, and enjoy your retirement. Be thankful that you will never again have to give us "one more thing". You have given enough.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch


Comment #1 from Noelle (Guest)
2011 Aug 27 - 10:57 pm : #
This was very well written and just lovely.

Comments are closed for this post.

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