Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs is Dead-Now What?

I hated Apples as a kid. I found the GUI so patronizing--were they implying that their users weren't bright enough to deal with a command line interface?

I continued to hate them (but for different reasons--they crashed all the time) until I got my first real job after college working for a company in France that did PR for a Formula 1 team. True, the Macs still crashed daily, but aside from that, they were so easy to use and to hook up to other things (anyone remember AppleTalk?)

When I bought my first Macintosh computer I had a bit of an existential crisis--I'm a PC desktop support professional--was I going to be okay with using a Mac at home? I wasn't going to be able to tweak it to a faretheewell the way I could a PC. On the other hand it would "just work" and I wouldn't have to do any of the stuff I do at work in order to access the Internet, wordprocess, print and watch movies. This has proved more or less true, and I love my Mac.

I also love my iPhone. I am not gadget-crazy (for example I do not yet own an iPad.) I bought the iPhone because it became apparent to me that I really needed a device that provided the services that an iPhone did. Since then I've watched Droids develop and change, but I've never been tempted to swap my iPhone for one of them. The nicest thing anyone has ever said about one of them is that "this model might be able to give the iPhone some competition." Seriously--"might?"

And then there's the iPad. Yes, it's a giant iPod touch--but it has set the benchmark and other hardware vendors have only attempted to copy it so far. When I go to conferences now I don't see laptops anymore--I see iPads.

This is not a commercial for Apple. Steve Jobs was a control freak's control freak--I've heard stories of him visiting Apple stores to make sure that the white background color was exactly the white color he had in mind.

In business school (or for that matter in real life) I have learned that it's generally not a good idea to have a corporate structure that is so dependent on one individual, in the way that Apple was dependent on Steve Jobs. It's just plain wrong. I could go on about this at great length, but suffice to say that B school and life teach that part of the point of building up a company is so that you can go on vacation and trust that things will run in your absence. In fact, being a control freak is inefficient--because then you are the limiting reagent-the single point of failure for any transaction.

Most of the time when this happens at a company, we roll our eyes and agree that one of the owners has "Master of the Universe" syndrome and that he/she would do best to get over it.

Steve Jobs appears to have been an exception to that rule--or rather maybe he really was a Master of the Universe (as far as development at Apple is concerned.) I joke with my geek-friends that while being a control freak is not generally a good business model it works out well if you're designing hardware.

But where do we all go from here? Our tour guide to the future of mobile gadgetry has departed from this plane. Does this mean that the baton gets passed to Google?

That is somehow...unsatisfying--and not just because I hate Droids. I have learned to love Apple in the past 4 or 5 years because with Steve Jobs back they were back to kicking ass and taking names. Maybe it's because I'm a geek but I love my Apple hardware and I feel saddened that the man who provided the chutzpah to "make it so" is dead now.

I worry about the future though. Someone else needs to step up and be the man or woman who will create and show us the new most awesome thing ever the way Steve Jobs did.

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