Apple‘s loss last week was enormous. I wrote all that I felt I could in the blog farewell on this website to a man I was lucky enough to know a little and admire a great deal. Most are probably now profoundly sick of hearing either how much he was under or overestimated as a man and as a figure of his times. I never knew of any human beings whose achievements were exactly estimated.
The word “estimate” is the clue here. I only know that if I had grandchildren and they heard me tell of my meetings with him they would feel as I might if my grandfather had told me about meeting Henry Ford, Rockefeller or Irving Thalberg. It might be, after all, that Aldous Huxley overestimated Henry Ford by making the dystopian future in his Brave New World name its calendar after him.
Some people become synecdoches, symbols or metonyms. Whether you think he was overpraised by some, underappreciated by others or whether you don’t give a hoot doesn’t really mean much to me. He mattered to me enormously. The standards he set, the passionate belief he had in the way that technology, the arts, design, fun, elegance and delight could all co-exist, the eternal pushing for higher standards, the refusal to accept standard paradigms in anything, either the conventional modus operandi of corporate affairs, technological matters or market practices was an example from which the world will continue to learn.
Believe me, there will be more than 500 books published in the next year which will claim to be able to teach you how to improve your business/profits/image/career by using the “Jobs example”. How he would have loathed that. I have sat on judging panels that have wanted to give him extremely prestigious awards. He only ever accepted awards on behalf of the company, not on his own. Whatever your view of him, huckster, snake-oil salesman, evangelist or hero, the whole point is that copying someone who disdained copying anything would be the dumbest joke of all.
The wider legacy will be determined by that bastard son of a mongrel bitch, history, but there is a short-term one. I had put into my hand a new iPhone 4S just eight or so hours before Steve Jobs left the world. You can imagine, I hope, the ambivalence I felt as I tested and trialled this phone in the knowledge that it was the last fully operational Apple device he would ever see.
Apple has always come up with new iPhone models at regular intervals. The very first appeared in June 2007, the following year saw the Apple 3G which allowed, as the name suggested, 3G data transmission speeds and introduced the idea of the App Store with the resultant explosion of third-party apps, whose imagination, range, variation and ingenuity still continue to astonish.
In 2009 came the iPhone 3GS. “Oh,” said the world, in a rather hurt, disappointed voice, “that’s rather odd. Why, it looks just like the 3G. It’s hardly different at all.”
The “S” stood for speed and some felt that a souped-up 3G barely qualified as a new phone at all. Why the need for the already tiresome cliche photographs of queues outside the 5th Avenue store in New York and the unhealthy sight of chubby, bearded geeks brandishing their new boxes? Surely Apple was exploiting this whole hype launch cycle without any real innovation to back it up?
In fact the release of the 3GS coincided with a new operating system, 3.0, which gave us the much-needed cut and paste facility whose embarrassing absence had been a distressing nuisance, it added MMS, and a whole new suite of extras, Voice Control and tethering, for example, all of which were also possible on an “old” 3G or even original iPhone 1 if they upgraded their firmware, but which really proved themselves on the 3GS’s faster Cortex A8 processor.
Despite the initial disappointment, the success of the 3GS was instantaneous, Apple sold a million units in the first weekend, and the model’s continued triumph created the conditions that allowed for the Apple iOS product line that followed: the iPhone 4 and the iPad. To put it crudely, the 3GS was such an outstanding win that it made Apple cash-rich enough to be able to move forward in all kinds of ways.