Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: End of an Era?

I've never been a fan of Apple since they left their Apple II+ roots.

However I feel about the company, they have been an innovation driver. Was it all due to Steve Jobs? Probably not but I think that he was a main driver behind their success. When Apple was running into trouble, they brought Steve back out of retirement. I don't think that their subsequent turnaround was entirely coincidental.

I think that Steve Jobs made Apple the master of its niche but I also think that he limited Apple to a much smaller niche than it needed. That began with the first Macintosh and grew worse as more business decisions were made. The first Macintosh had decent graphics (terrific at the time) but they came at a huge expense. The higher cost and the lack of any significantly better business programs got it labeled as "not a business computer" when the two main buying groups were businesses and home game players. Their focus on graphics did earn it a reputation and create a new group of buyers: artists.

The other thing that limited them to niche status is the fact that they were almost draconian in maintaining their vertical market. No one could produce hardware or software for the Macintosh except Apple. They did ease upon the software but it is still part of their corporate culture (just look at how hard they still try to keep people from running "unapproved" applications on their iPhones). The original Macintosh needed a custom 13 inch long screwdriver just to open the case. They took a page from Sony and probably would have ended up like the Betamax if it weren't for the fact that their artist user base turned the Macintosh "hip". Steve Jobs created a user base that was willing to pay a higher price tag with a limited choice just to have the bragging rights of owning a Mac. Genius.

Jobs managed to do it again with the iPhone. He had people lining up for days for the release of the phone. Then when the initial wave was over, he lowered the price. Instead of howling, people were bragging that they got it on the first day. Genius.

And then he did it again for the next version of the iPhone with the same results. Genius.

Can Apple keep it up without Jobs or will they lose focus again as they did when he retired? Will the Geek Chic care? Only time will tell.

If it weren't for Steve Jobs, Xerox's graphic user interface might never have left the lab. That is something for which I shall be eternally... ...ambivalent.

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