Five years is a long time in the world of technology. Five years ago, phablets were a rarity, Nokia was still a formidable force in the world of phones, the BlackBerry Boys were alive and well, and Windows was not designed for touchscreens.
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Five years ago, a single man still held the tech world in thrall every time he came on stage. Dressed in what had become a trademark black turtleneck and jeans, he was in the eyes of his faithful, pretty much the closest thing tech had to a messiah. In the eyes of his enemies, he was a ruthless manipulator and profit-chaser.
So who then was Steven Paul Jobs? And why do we still need to talk about him, five years after he passed away (he breathed his last on October 5, 2011)? Has not the world moved on?
Yes, it has. And yes, we do need to talk about Apple’s co-founder even now. For, love him or hate him (and there are ample forces on either side of that very thin line of sentiment), what cannot be denied is Jobs contribution to the world we live in today. Yes, he was involved in the manufacture of great products like the Macintosh, the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad and Mac OS. Yes, he made technology more accessible and dragged it out of geek territory, making things like touchscreens, computers and apps mainstream, rather than the preserve of a select, geeky few.
But his real contribution in my opinion was to associate tech with an adjective that nobody would have dreamed of pairing it with before him.
Steve Jobs made tech “Cool.”
If that sounds difficult to digest, then consider the fact that before the Macintosh, computers were considered to be something that belonged to labs rather than living rooms and studies. Before the iPhone, touchscreens were the preserve of those who used Palm and Windows Mobile devices, with a stylus in tow. Before the iPod, no one ever thought of carrying their entire music library on a single device, or of being seen as a style icon just because of a pair of snow white earbuds. And if people carry notebooks comfortably in their hands today, the iPad and the MacBook have played a role in that state of affairs.
And interestingly, almost every cool Apple product that had Jobs stamp on it violated some sort of tech tradition. The first iMac came without serial ports. The iPhone and iPad never had expandable memory slots. The Macintosh could fit into a carry bag. The iPod used a scroll wheel rather than conventional buttons for navigation. The MacBook Air had very limited ports. It is a long list…
Helping Jobs sell these concepts was the fact that he was a rare blend of those two people: innovators and marketers. The man could not only come out with a different product but could also convince millions that it was just what they needed. Not just because it was useful – many of the products he launched were not the first of their kinds – but simply because they were a blend of aesthetic style and experience.
Some people termed his ability to convince others as a “reality distortion field,” others called it charisma and still others called it shameless lying and manipulation. But even his sternest critics would agree that but for his vision, people might not have been pinching to zoom in and out of pictures or been downloading apps to their smartphones.
Today, there is perhaps no single person in the world of technology who command the sort of attention that Jobs could on stage, something that was all too evident when Google was launching the Pixel a few days ago – there were efficient and enthusiastic people on the stage, but none evoked the kind of audience response that Jobs did. One of the better tech presenters of the current age, Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra, claims he watched Jobs’ videos for hours on end to get his own performances right. “I sometimes come close,” he once confessed with a smile.
And so synonymous is he with radical innovation that breaks away from tradition that many of Apple’s critics invoke his name to criticize the company’s new range. “Steve Jobs would not have agreed to a larger phone,” “Steve Jobs would not have had so many products…” and so on. It has been five years since the man left us, but his impact persists. And thanks to YouTube, it can be savoured again and again.
One of my younger colleagues was wondering what the Jobs hype was about. I showed her a video of Jobs launching the first iPhone. Of him giving that – THAT – speech at Stanford. Her response sums up the aura of the man. Ironically, although I doubt she realized it, what she said were also the last words he ever said.
“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. “