Steve Jobs and his lasting impact

    In the tech world, there's always a bit of a stigma that comes with using an Apple product. Programmers, engineers, and developers are so used to doing everything themselves that using a machine that puts the user experience first is a bit off-putting. It feels like you've lost control of your machine. In comparison to — for example — a Linux operating system or a rooted Android phone, that's probably true. Apple always designs with the average user in mind, not the tech wizard. So why is Apple the main focus of just about every tech-focused blog and news outlet around today? Because using Apple products, even during their dark 1990s, has been about the experience between the user and the machine. Remember when you tried touching the iPhone's screen for the first time? It probably felt a bit awkward, but also somehow right. Whereas every new Lenovo Thinkpad, Motorola Droid or Samsung Galaxy Tab focuses on bumping the speed, size and sheer power of the same machine over and over again, Apple innovates by putting design and user experience before tech specs every time.

    For some reason, that line of thinking is so counterintuitive in today's rapidly advancing technological world, even though the genesis of the personal computing revolution stems from the man who invented that style of design: Steve Jobs. The founder of Apple, who died at age 56 on Oct. 5, was not primarily a computer programmer. Unlike peer and rival Bill Gates, who famously oversaw every line of code in the first iterations of the Windows operating system (note: that's a lot of code), Jobs hardly bothered with such code. He just knew what worked. In the 1980s, Jobs pushed, almost entirely by himself, the programming language Objective-C, which is the same language that runs all of the apps you see on iOS today. With the introduction of the iPhone, Jobs famously decided not to support Adobe's Flash on the device, accelerating the ongoing HTML5 revolution and forcing Adobe to change its entire mobile platform. The result is a more efficient, usable and beautiful World Wide Web for everyone. If only Microsoft and Internet Explorer would play along.

    Jobs' intuition on what worked was one of the keys to his success. We scoffed at the iPad for being a giant iPhone without the phone, but it revolutionized news apps and the magazine industry, and it innovated new uses for mobile devices. The iPad has completely dominated the tablet market and probably will for years to come. He invested in Pixar — the animation studio responsible for Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E — back in 1986, and he was the primary stockholder until Disney bought the animation company in 2006. Pixar began a 21st century trend of 3D animation films that redefined the possibilities of animated films.

    Indeed, more than his computer products, Jobs and Pixar define the Jobs Philosophy completely. Just as a one-button device seems far too simple to be a fully-featured smartphone, an animated film seems too childish to deal with the overly depressing themes presented at the beginning of Up, but Up succeeded with children and adults alike. It was even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards-- the first Pixar film to do so. Jobs was a master of making the product for everyone. Search the iOS App Store for children's books, and you'll find a plethora of innovative apps that not only entertain children but push the boundaries of possibility on mobile apps. His black turtleneck fit in at formal and casual meetings.

    Perhaps more than anything, though, Jobs succeeded because of the consistency of his image. I can connect iPhone to Pixar and app store to turtlenecks because Jobs did everything the same way. The Onion, ever satirical, posted its obituary with this headline: "Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies". Jobs seemed so put-together because of his consistency. He appeared in that black turtleneck in literally all of his public appearances. Apple's 21st century products, from the 2001 iPod to the 2011 Macbook Air, share a sleek, defined aesthetic that puts simplicity and usability first. 

    Since Jobs died, there has been talk of Jobs as the most important American innovator since Thomas Edison. If we attribute the personal computer revolution to him, that's probably true. Like Edison, he worked with and against contemporaries striving for the same goal but achieved his goal first with a combination of durability (he and co-founder Steve Wozniak created the first Apple computer in a garage) and innovative genius. The results of the personal computer revolution are obvious, and the results of the invention of the iPod are obvious. Jobs' last great innovation, the iPad, continues to shape web design and media consumption, ushering us into what may be the "post-PC" world. It sounds ridiculous (every college student needs a laptop, right?), but every successful thing Jobs did seemed a little absurd at first, but finally clicked with everyone years later. Fittingly, Jobs described his own genius better than anyone in 1997, in this version of the famous "Think Different" commercials that never aired: the one who saw things differently.


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