Random Thoughts From the Biography of Steve Jobs | Technology as Art
There are so many things that have run through my head since I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs. I want to take several (maybe many) posts to write things that have occurred to me during the reading and after having finished it.
An understanding of technology as art. I became an Apple fan after years of trying to keep my wife’s Windows XP Dell in good working order. I bought her a first generation Intel iMac, and have had no problems AT ALL with that computer.
But though I knew Apple products worked well, I didn’t understand the commitment of Steve Jobs to integrate technology with the humanities, to see every Mac or iPhone or iPad as a work of art, until I read Isaacson’s book.
The theme is gently woven throughout the entirety of Isaacson’s work. For Jobs the pursuit was not to sell the most items, nor to lock in a market. Though people have ridiculed Apple through the years for being closed, and for only allowing their OSes to run on hardware Apple actually manufactures (save for a few years under John Sculley’s leadership when Jobs was not at Apple), the point of that was not to lock people in or out. It was to create a truly excellent device. It was to create art.
For close to two decades, Microsoft has dominated the computing landscape. They got as big as they did because their first goal was maximizing lock in by customers on to the Windows platform, and they really could care less about who made the hardware.
But that was the source of their current situation. Though they have the largest installed base, they have not gained market share in a real sense in years. Microsoft has sustained its lead not by making excellent devices or excellent software (though they have certainly made some excellent software), but by the lock in they established in the enterprise beginning in the mid 90s.
Microsoft only cared tangentially about the user experience because user lock in made the cash pour in. I think this is the same road Amazon.com is taking with the Kindle Fire.
All of which magnifies the insight that Jobs had at least as early as 1982. The user experience is every thing. Even the pieces of a computer that no one will ever see were designed and manufactured to be aesthetically pleasing. That says nothing of the boxes those devices arrive in.
And that attention to detail, that pursuit of the perfect experience is what has set Apple apart from Dell, HP, Sony, and Microsoft. Technology is art.
I remember the first time I ever worked on a Mac Pro, one of the very few Apple products that were ever designed to allow an end user casually open. I had been providing computer repair services to earn a living for a few months, and a client had a Mac Pro that needed more ram. The first time I opened the case of the Mac Pro tower, I was stunned at how very different that device looked from the beige boxes of Windows world. Everything was flawless in its look and the manner in which it could be accesses. Engineering was of an order of magnitude difference from the beige boxes.
As I have come to use Mac OS X beginning in 2006 with the first Intel iMac to my Macbook Pro, to an iPad to the recent purchase of iPhones for the family, I have come to appreciate that they simply do what you expect them to do. You rarely have to wait for an Apple product to respond to a click or the typing on a keyboard or the touch on a touch screen. You never pay the time tax with Apple products like you do with Windows (though better than its predecessors, even Windows 7 is a dog in comparison to Apple Mac OS X).
Back to Microsoft. One thing you will be reading a lot about these days is the growth of Apple in to the enterprise (business). Enterprise used to be the sole territory of Microsoft. The cloud and Apple have changed that. When you hear phrases like “BYOD” or “Bring Your Own Device” read that to be: Employees have cracked open the enterprise first via iPhone, then via iPad and now via all Apple products. BYOD is to Microsoft what kryptonite is to Superman.
What Steve Jobs got so very right was knowing that people wanted to work with the technology they owned, not work on it to keep it functioning. User experience is all that matters, and it matters forever.
For an excellent synopsis of Isaacson’s book, please visit this post over at Yakezie blog.