What a busy day for news; just came back from dinner, only to see at the top of my Outlook inbox an email from CNN’s PR person with the following subject header: “CNN reporting on death of Steve Jobs.”
I’m probably the last Windows guy at PJM, but Allahpundit has a moving encomium at Hot Air:
We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.
Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.
His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.
Apple’s homepage tonight is a requiem for the departed. I’m straining to find a cultural analogy for Jobs and am struck by the fact that I have to leave the business/tech fields entirely to do it. You can do it if you go back far enough — Henry Ford and Edison pop to mind, but … that’s awfully far. The obvious modern comparison is to Bill Gates, but that doesn’t work. Gates, like Jobs, is capital-I Important to the computer age, but in sort of the same way that ancient cave painters were important to the development of art. Jobs started out as a cave painter too but kept at it until he turned into Rembrandt. I think Lileks is close to the mark in comparing him to Walt Disney; my first thought when I heard the news was that only Steven Spielberg’s passing today would hit quite as hard. The common thread among those three is that they all made magic, but Jobs put it in your hands so that you felt like you were the one making it. That’s the crucial difference between Apple and Microsoft — Gates made computers easier to use but Jobs made them objects of wonder. He made magic, literally. There’s no greater epitaph.
The first computer I ever used was an Altair 8800 at St. Mary’s, around 1976 or so. (One of our math teachers built it from a kit and mated it to first an old teletypewriter, and then to an old black & white TV set.) But as marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout once wrote, nobody remembers the Altair 8800 as being the first personal computer, because of how difficult it was to built and program. Not to mention the name. Right from the start, Jobs knew that style and ease of use were the keys to success, as Stephen Green writes at PJM:
With the Apple II, Jobs made personal computers useful. In the mid-Seventies, home computers were build-it-yourself hobby boxes, useful only to the nerdiest nerds. By the time I entered middle school in 1981 there was an entire lab filled with Apple II Plus machines, and lots of fun software to run on them. The first computer “clone” wasn’t Compaq’s copy of the IBM PC — it was a cloneof the Apple II. An industry was born.
Three years later Jobs made the personal computer approachable with the Macintosh. He didn’t invent the GUI or the WIMP metaphor but he and his team made them useable and affordable. What most computer users took for granted in 1995 was deemed a “toy” by many critics when the first Mac arrived in 1984.
And last year, Jobs made the personal computer ubiquitous with the iPad. This third revolution is only beginning, yet still many critics deride this “toy” as a “media consumption device.” I do most of my photo editing on my fat, slow, first-generation iPad — and I’m outlining a novel on it, too. Others use it to create music, paintings and video. That’s some “consumption” going on.
As Noah Wyle said, portraying Jobs in 1999’s Pirates of Silicon Valley, passing by some protesting hippies, “Those guys think they’re revolutionaries. They’re not revolutionaries, we are.”
That seems equally apropos today, given the Occupy Wall Street types similarly stuck in a reactionary sixties time warp. But then, as Virginia Postrel recently wrote, by the early 1980s, “Steve Jobs Made Business Cool Again.”
That’s not a bad epitaph for an entrepreneur, either.
Great question by the Anchoress: “I wonder if [Jobs] is the last capitalist we’re going to be permitted to admire for his creativity, his invention and his sheer genius?”
Update: Read. The. Whole. Thing.