I’ve been a tech geek since before I can remember being anything else. We had a computer in my house when I was 6. It was a Vic-20. Nothing to write home about. It got the job done, but it wasn’t special. When I got a chance to use an Apple II at school, that changed. There was something elegant about the way it did the same things my Vic-20 did. The first macs? Felt the same way. They were so different and so refreshing compared to the IBM PCs I had around the house. So much more functional without all of the tinkering.
As a teenager and young adult, tinkering was cool. I wanted to build my own PCs. I wanted to manage all of my own dip switches and memory banks. I wanted to know the refresh rate of everything and troubleshoot the problem of every strange noise and whir my computer made.
Until I bought my first real mac. Bought during the dark times of Steve Jobs exile to NeXt. The power mac 6116. It was a great little machine. Fast. Intuitive. Everything my IBM workstation wasn’t. It was far from my last mac. I went on to own a few older 68K macs, a Powermac 8500 (which is in my basement), a Cube, a powerbook 5300, and just about every Apple laptop since. I was in attendance the day they announced the Titanium PowerBook G4 and bought one that morning. I am officially an Apple fan boy.
What did I learn from all those machines? They were tools. Elegant tools, but tools. They allowed me to get my job done without having to worry or tinker over every little things on my machine. When Steve returned to Apple, his mission in life was to change how we used computers and more broadly how we integrated technology into our lives. He brought the NeXT OS, NeXTStep, with him to Apple and birthed Mac OS X. The iMac, iBook, iPod. iPad. iPhone. Macbook. MacPro. iTunes, iWork, iLife. MobileMe (and mac.com before it) and the various iterations of iOS that have been released into the world. Each and every one building from the success of its predecessor. Each one innovating the field again. All of them refining what a computer could be in our lives.
It wasn’t that Steve wanted to put a shine on an existing device. He wanted to reshape them. He removed the floppy drive. Eventually, he’s removed the DVD drive as well. He waited to add USB until it was useful/ubiquitous in favor of Firewire. He insisted that Thunderbolt be used in place of USB 3 because he saw a future in Thunderbolt and thought USB 3 was just the result of ‘me too’ design. The iMac wasn’t the first all in one in the world. It clearly wasn’t even the first all in one Apple ever produced, but it was so stylish and so easy to work with that it showed up everywhere. (ignore that stupid hockey puck mouse). The black powerbook was a trend setter in mobile devices. The current brushed aluminum look showed up on powerbooks and soon was everywhere.
It wasn’t sufficient for Steve Jobs to make things different just to say they’re different. They had to be different for a reason. A lesson I’ve since learned on my own and use that mantra in my daily life. The flurry of buttons and switches that exist on PC laptops? Nowhere to be found on a Macbook. Removable batteries? Gone because they can design larger batteries if they remove the latch mechanisms. DVDs? Gone because they can deliver software digitally through the App store. With every iterative change, there is a reason. Each change, leading to more and more simplicity.
Steve Jobs made me fall in love with Apple Computers when I was a kid. When I was old enough to buy them on my own, Steve had been sent off to create NeXt Cubes that I couldn’t afford. My love for Apple remained. Steve returned and made it cool to own an Apple device. Now? I wake up daily regretting the day I switched from my iPhone to an Evo. It wasn’t about the speed or power of the devices he dreamed up with his cast of designers and engineers in tow, it was about making every thing simpler. Making our lives and jobs a little bit easier.
Every time I’m asked who my hero is or was, I’ve never had an answer. Given my reaction to hearing that Steve Jobs has passed, I never realized I actually had an answer. His influence in my life and my career was obvious but subtle to me. He’s my hero in the same way my parents are my hero. It’s easy to take that kind of influence for granted. Now he’s gone. RIP Steve Job 1955-2011