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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, has admitted that he’s unwell 1 and so has stepped down from his job for 6 months whilst he gets better.

Obviously, no one would want anything other than for him to get better soon.

However, the outpouring of sentiments and statements, mainly from the US, is bizarre. Many feel that Apple won’t be able to cope without him and the share price has plummeted as a result. Many seem his a guru, genius, even a God-like figure.

But let’s rewind a bit…. Steve Jobs, as we know, helped created Apple. During this time, under his command, both the Apple III and the Apple Lisa were commercial failures and he had resigned by the mid 80’s. In both cases the computers looked good, were advanced but were expensive and riddled with problems.

After leaving, he moved onto form NeXT, where he created a technologically advanced workstation that sold badly due to its high price. They moved into software but after just 11 years the company failed and, ironically, was bought by Apple. This positioned Jobs back onto the board and after a top-level coup, he became CEO. Under his lead Apple went onto great success with the iMac, iPod and iPhone and the rest, as we know, is history.

But I don’t own a single Apple product. And for a good reason. What Steve Jobs has been able to do is to tap into the current “bling” market, where style is the most important factor. What the iMac/iPod/iPhone have in common is that they look great. But in many cases, the latter two in particular, it’s style over substance. But Jobs hasn’t been some genius in doing this – he’s been doing it all along. Even in the 80’s when he created NeXt he created an exotic, amazing looking office with floating staircases, $10,000 sofas and designer prints. He was doing it when the Apple III would overheart as it had no cooling fan or air vent (as suggested by Steve Jobs for quieter performance).

What all of these iProducts have in common is Apple locking the products to their hardware and their software. The iPod, for instance, has a non-replaceable battery. Indeed, if you can get the case off to replace it yourself, they often solder it in place to make sure you won’t get it out (although I’m sure they use a different excuse). It won’t be surprising to hear that Apple have a poor environmental record.

The iMac is known for its difficulty in being upgraded. The iMac’s graphics chip is soldered to the motherboard and many models make it virtually impossible for you to change the hard disk or optical drive.

The iPhone, like the iPod, has a non-replaceable battery and the operating system is designed to only run software that is approved by Apple (and downloadable from Apple’s “App Store”). Once a developer has submitted an application to the App Store, Apple holds firm control over its distribution so, if they want, they can halt the distribution of applications it deems inappropriate. For example, they have a habit of banning third party applications that enable a functionality that Apple doesn’t want the iPhone to have. Last year, for example, Apple banned Podcaster, which allowed iPhone users to download podcasts directly to the iPhone, bypassing iTunes.

The iPod is also locked to iTunes – a terrible piece of software in my opinion.

This level of “lock in” would get Microsoft pushed into court. Apple, however, seem to remain immune. Microsoft have been forced, particularly in Europe, to remove software such as their Media Player 2 because it can affect sales of third party products, yet the iMac comes pre-loaded with a whole host of applications. Again, they seem to remain immune to prosecution.

But then again this is the company that agreed with Apple Corps (the Beatles music company) that to keep its name it wouldn’t do anything music related.

Let’s get one thing straight, these are not totally bad products. The iPhone has a fantastic interface. However, it also has no way to change or improve its battery, no SMS facility, a locked and restricted, application store, no video capability, a poor 2MP camera… I could go on. But it sells like gold dust because it’s trendy and looks good. The same with the iPod which is sold by a terrible set of earphones, but people don’t seem to mind. Indeed, so trendy is it to be seen with a pair of white iPod earphones on, that many people don’t upgrade them for just this reason.

The way I see it is that Jobs has struck lucky by being the kind of person who helps design products that are perfect for a throw-away, fashion-obsessed culture. Some kind of genius? No.

Now I can look forward to lots of hate-mail from obsessive Apple fans.

  1. although strangely shrouding this in further secrecy by declaring it as “a hormone imbalance”[]
  2. and there’s further news that IE may be the next target[]