Though I have never met Steve Jobs personally, if I had to count the people who have influenced my life the most, other than my immediate family, he would certainly be in the top ten if not the top five. Hearing the news today that he abruptly resigned as Apple’s CEO made me terribly sad, knowing full well that it has to do with his pancreatic cancer. He looked so weak and chronically ill at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco this past June. I knew then that the end was near.
I am moved to reflect on just when and how I was touched by Steve Jobs and Apple.
Toledo had a computer company called Abacus II. I used to go there to drool over the new computers until I finally bought the first one for our family in 1984, an Apple IIc. I remember thinking I wanted my kids to grow up with computers so they would be second nature to them. Megan was 4 years old at the time and Ginny was 3. Kelly was born later that same year and Kevin a year after that.
Here’s what the Apple IIc looked like:
It was Apple’s first effort at a (sort of) portable computer, which was not at all portable by today’s standards. Notice the 5.25-inch floppy disk drive on the side. You had to load the operating system with several floppy disks every time you turned the computer on. I think the entire operating system was a few kb’s. That’s kb’s! Not mb’s! In fact, the computer came with 128 kb RAM standard, upgradable to a full mb! Unbelievable! The programs were all pretty simple, and also came in one or more floppy disks that you had to load each time you ran the program. We all did what was called “the floppy disk shuffle!” The operating system was written in Apple DOS or ProDOS. The flagship program was AppleWorks, which had integrated word processor, spreadsheet, and database programs. I also remember a little painting program and a few games.
Shortly after buying the IIc, Apple came out with a cool external 3.5-inch floppy drive. It allowed us to load the entire operating system and programs all at the same time, and much faster. The drive looked like this:
and the floppy (no longer floppy, really) looked like this:
Notice the entire disk was 1.44 mb, and it was able to hold a lot a lot of stuff!!!
The Apple OS rapidly evolved, getting gradually bigger, but we were able to use that computer for almost 10 years! I remember even hooking up to our bank back then, with one of those old fashioned dial-up modems. I think I will always remember the little tones, hisses and noises the modems made!
And I almost forgot about our first printer! We had an Apple dot matrix printer! Remember those old dinosaurs with the perforated edges and the continuous fan paper? Geesh, makes me feel kinda like a dinosaur myself!
But let’s go back to 1984 for just a bit longer! Even though I bought the Apple IIc, Apple came out with a MIND BLOWING product that same year. It was beyond drooling! It was dizzying, palm sweating and heart palpitating! Also, expensive as hell. This new machine introduced some CRAZY IDEAS and a CRAZY new piece of hardware called a MOUSE. The crazy ideas were boiled down to phrases like “point and click,” “drag and drop,” “cut and paste.” Try to imagine a world without those words, a world before Steve Jobs’ 1984, a world before MACINTOSH! It introduced what came to be known as the GUI (pronounced “gooey” and standing for Graphical User Interface.) It was an operating system for computers that used a picture (graphic) or other screen element to represent a command. All one had to do was to use the mouse to place the cursor over the picture, and click! It was revolutionary!
This is about when the world separated into two camps. You either subscribed to Apple’s (Steve Jobs’) vision, or to what was then called “IBM-compatible” running the Microsoft OS. Even then, Microsoft was an Apple wannabe, an Apple copycat. Microsoft stole the Apple Macintosh user interface idea and named their version “Windows.” Apple sued but Microsoft won the right to do it. Highway robbery! Yet Microsoft Windows was always clunkier and klutzier. It was always many steps behind the Apple OS. It was always more expensive. Compared to the real deal, Apple’s OS, Microsoft Windows always sucked.
Our family got our first Macintosh in 1993, the Mac Centris. I have been a faithful and loyal Mac zombie ever since.
Little by little, seemingly every aspect of our lives had a corresponding software program. They were at the same time more comprehensive and easier to use. Programs which were so basic before now took on a special richness. For example, I got to see the evolution and blending of word processors and “page layout” programs. The kids started writing all their school papers on it. The dot matrix printer was replaced by our first color inkjet.
But the feature that opened up the universe for us was the World Wide Web. Again, it’s hard to picture a world without the web, but it was developed in the late 1980’s and came to be in the early 1990’s. Our Mac Centris was the perfect vehicle to take us around this new virtual world, and for us, that vehicle was fueled by America Online. Remember all the AOL disks we would get in the mail?! My kids still use their original @aol.com email addresses, which seem so cool/retro now! AOL was basically our first internet browser. Later we would use Netscape Navigator. We all still used modems, but they were getting faster and faster, too. And our Mac Centris seemed blazingly fast back then, compared to our old Apple IIc.
Steve’s next big hit was the iMac. We jumped on the bandwagon when they first came out in 1998. We purchased it in the original color, called “Bondi Blue.” It was the first “all in one,” in that the computer and the screen were all one unit. That was another Steve Jobs/Apple innovation. It looked just like this:
By then, the kids were 18, 17, 14 and 13 years old. The older two, Megan and Ginny, were old enough to drive and were naturally always out with their friends, enjoying their new found freedom. But Kelly and Kevin rocked this computer, especially with AOL’s “Instant Messenger.” I can still see them sitting at this computer, with about fifty windows open (and I’m NOT exaggerating,) in “conversations” with their many friends. Their keyboarding skills were already awesome, and their fingers would fly from window to window, updating the conversations. Another cool thing about that was that through this medium they met many kids their own age who went to different schools. By the time they started high school, they seemed to know everybody.
Kevin and I started downloading music on this computer. We pushed the envelope, on the cutting edge with Napster, sharing/uploading/downloading a bunch of music, sort of illegally. Nobody got hurt. It was kinda fun looking back on it. And we could download a song in something like 5 to 10 minutes! Ha! And we thought that was awesome!
Steve Jobs had already changed the world with a successful launch of a personal computer company, and especially with the creation of the Macintosh user interface, which I have already mentioned was (poorly) imitated by Microsoft “Windows.” Apple computers had already built a reputation for quality and reliability in personal computers. That alone would have been enough to cement him in history as a successful innovator. But Steve didn’t stop there! His impact on me and on my family continued…
My son Kevin has been an enterprising person ever since he was a kid. So in 2001, when the first iPod came out, he had money in the bank to buy the very first model.
No one has to say how this tiny machine revolutionized the world… but I will!
It wasn’t just the natural progression of Sony Walkman… to Sony Discman… to MP3 player. The iPod was created as the final leg of a three-legged stool masterfully designed by Steve Jobs. iTunes was the first leg. It is the best software for storing and managing your digital music library. The iTunes Store, the second leg, is the place where one can use iTunes to purchase music. They were both rolled out in early 2001. The iPod, Apple’s music player that jives perfectly with iTunes and the iTunes Store, was the final leg and it came out in late 2001. It was another world changer! It sold by the millions. People used it to play songs that were downloaded by the millions. Other companies (poorly) imitated it and tried (unsuccessfully) to match its influence. Disc players disappeared. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, the offerings of the iTunes Store grew and grew, as the industry realized this was the NEW WAY to sell music. The big four corporate music labels (Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI) had to rethink the whole process of how music is created, owned, produced, marketed and sold. We don’t buy albums, we don’t buy tapes, we don’t buy CD’s, we buy digital music MAINLY because of what Steve Jobs accomplished with iTunes, the iTunes Store and the iPod! World change number two!
I started a new business in 2005. I went Apple crazy at that time! I bought my first PowerBook laptop,
a Power Mac server,
an AirPort Extreme Base Station for wireless transfer of files between our computers,
and two updated iMacs,
I now felt Steve’s presence at home and at work!
On June 29, 2007 I stood in line for 3 hours waiting for the AT&T store to open. I remember feeling nervous because many others had been waiting in line all night long, and I was about 50th in line. We had all been nail biting for months in anticipation of Steve Jobs’ latest creation, the Apple iPhone! I managed to get the next to last iPhone that day, so I can always say I’ve been a proud owner since day one!
No one needs to say how this recent piece of technology has changed the world… but…
When Steve announced the coming of the iPhone, about half a year before it started selling, he promised a gadget that was three things in one: a widescreen iPod, a revolutionary phone, and an internet machine. Critics liked the iPod and thought the internet part was okay, and they said the phone was weak, like an afterthought. Critics have always flocked around Steve Jobs. Critics generally suck. – The iPhone has been a raving success. Again, competitors rushed to get a copycat out to market. Again, no one has come up with anything close. The iPhone delivered much more than Steve originally promised. In less than two years, the Apple App Store delivered over a billion apps, and the iTunes Store has sold well over a zillion songs. In this short period of time, the iPhone and its imitator “smart phones” have become deeply ingrained in worldwide culture. All because of Steve Jobs. World change number three!
I can’t tell you about my iPad because I haven’t bought one yet. It’s on my wish list, and at this point I’ll wait for iPad 3. But I’ll mention it only because it has the potential of being world changer number four!
Stop to think about that for a minute. How many people get to change the world? How many people do it twice?! Three times?!?! Four?!?!?! Who in history can match that?
But I will tell you about the many other ways in which Steve Jobs has touched my life.
A big part of the reason for Apple’s success is that not only does Apple produce phenomenal hardware products, but it also controls the development of the operating system and other major software components. At the recent Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Steve alluded to the hardware products as the heart of Apple, and the operating system as the soul. The tight integration of hardware and software sets Apple apart from other computer makers. And I would add one more metaphor. I believe the team that Steve put together, the people of Apple, are the spirit! Apple is a company with a creative, positive, happy spirit! If you have ever purchased an Apple product you know what I mean. The experience of it, from the box and packaging of whatever product you have bought, to the manuals, to the related web sites, to the associates at an Apple Store if that’s where you purchased your item, all reek of coolness! Apple computers are cool, and they are friendly! The startup tone is pleasant and happy. From the beginning you feel like this:
For all you non-Mac zombies, that is the “Happy Mac.” Apple products are famously intuitive. Most of the time you don’t need an instruction manual. You feel the pleasure of things working as they should, and with cool style. You admire the beauty of the graphics. You feel the pride of quickly learning how to use a new product or software, and of owning a product that is obviously very well made. You feel… happy! I get to feel that way over and over again, many times a day, every time I use my iPhone and work/play on my laptop. Thanks, Steve!
I use my iPhone to wake me up in the morning. I use Apple’s Email and Calendar every day before I leave for work. I use Apple’s Safari as my Internet browser. I use several iPhone apps every day, and dozens of them over the course of any week, for both work and play. I keep my music on Apple iTunes and my pictures in Apple’s Aperture. I use Apple’s Pages as my go-to word processor and Numbers for spreadsheets. I have used Apple’s Dot Mac, later to be called MobileMe, as Apple’s “cloud” service since 2002! We enjoy our Apple TV. All of it makes me happy! Thanks, Steve!
This last section is about things I’ve learned from Steve.
Steve and I were born within three months of each other. We are generational brothers. And since he has lived under the public microscope for most of his life, I feel I have grown up with him. He has taught me several things by fine example.
He first came into public focus in the mid to late 1970’s, when he and Steve “Woz” Wozniak developed the first Apple computer out of their garage and brought it to market. The stories that are told about that early effort, dropping out of college, selling all their few little possessions, and following a crazy idea that was right up their alley of interest and ability, were (and are) fascinating to me. I was not like that. I followed a traditional, single minded, narrow path. I went to high school, college, and medical school with the clear focus of becoming a doctor. The idea of dropping out of school and getting a temporary job to raise money to go to India for a spiritual trip was never there. I learned from Steve that people can be successful with what they already know and love at any age, regardless of their level of education. I learned that it takes confidence, taking risks and hard work.
Steve is the epitome of “thinking out of the box.” He has consistently either come up with popular new ideas or appreciated the importance of others’ new ideas and technologies and packaged them up for us. Besides what I have already written, there have been countless little things that don’t go unnoticed. As an example, if you look way up on this post at the second picture, the one of the external 3.5 floppy drive, you’ll see an “old” SCSI (say “scuzzy”) connector. It was the ubiquitous interface between pieces of computer and peripheral hardware. And then one day, the latest/greatest Apple computer did not have a SCSI connector! That was shocking and disturbing to many. People had printers and hard drives and other devices that hooked up by SCSI, and now they were worthless if you wanted to stick to using Apple computers. Steve knew people would have to junk their devices and buy new ones to work with the new interface. He knew he would upset people. But he saw that technologies better than SCSI had been developed and made the change for the better. He did not feel compelled to stick with the tried and true, the industry standard, even at the risk of pissing off his customers. And he has done that over and over again. I learned from Steve that changing for the better requires continuously forming new ideas and fighting the status quo.
Steve is not God. He is human. He has had his share of challenges and failures, again all analyzed, sliced and diced for public consumption. But I don’t have a single image of a “depressed” Steve. What he has done over and over again is to bounce back with something new. A new idea. A new product. A new company. And in the end, the victories have far outweighed the failures. I learned from Steve about the entrepreneurial spirit. I learned to accept the dips and bumps in the road and to keep driving forward.
One of the basic properties of any Apple product is quality. You can expect your Apple product to not only be cutting-edge technologically, but to be built to the finest specs and to be beautiful! Like all of my favorite products, Apple makes stuff that is appealing to my artistic sense. I believe that is one of the main reasons for their mass popularity. I learned from Steve that what I give to the world should be my best stuff, and that I should deliver it as beautifully as I can.
I’ll finish with the final gift I have received from Steve. I am using it to write this post. I bought it earlier this year, my MacBook Air.
It is the best and most beautiful computer I have ever owned. That’s what I expected and that’s what I got. It doesn’t have a SCSI port. It doesn’t have FireWire. It doesn’t have a built in CD/DVD drive. It doesn’t even have a hard disk! What it does have is all the latest and greatest. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s fast and works flawlessly. It runs the best operating system in the world. It’s just the best, period! Classic Steve Jobs! All of it!
Thank you, Steve, for everything!
You will be missed!
Peace and love, brother!