Steve Jobs, Apple Inc., and Consumer Electronics

by: jmb275

October 19, 2011

Steve Jobs passed away on October 5, 2011 at the age of 56 from complications arising from pancreatic cancer. At the outset of this post, let me say, Steve Jobs is a game changer. Love him or hate him (and he is quite the polarizing figure for some reason) if you’re reading this he has impacted your life and the way you use technology. If you’ve ever seen a Pixar film, or used a touchscreen smartphone, or a computer with a windows-like interface, or a web browser based on WebKit, then you have reaped the benefits of his remarkable career.

But this post isn’t about Steve Jobs. It’s about Apple Inc. Apple Inc. was founded on April 1, 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne. It set about to bring the personal computer to the masses.

Since its inception, Apple has had a way with the public, creating a massive following of the sort unparalleled in the world of personal electronics. One of the primary complaints against Apple is the “fanboi” following who seem to gobble up whatever Apple puts out whether the product has merit or not. To be fair, Apple creates amazing consumer electronics with a strong focus (near obsessive if you ask insiders) on user interfaces. A major complaint is that Apple fanbios will defend flawed products, and excuse away complaints, gripes, or problems. In their eyes everything Apple does is brilliant, and everything it touches is gold.

An important side effect of the flawless user interface Apple tries to create is a set of tools that attempts to encompass the needs of the users. Basically, Apple creates a sandbox that it hopes will fit your needs. All the tools in the sandbox work great. As long as what you need to do fits within that sandbox, your experience will be fantastic. They build the hardware, the software, the primary applications you will use, and they ensure those components interface nearly perfectly. However, this creates the complaint that one size does not fit all. If you need to do something outside the sandbox…well, forget it [1]. Historically, if you wanted more freedom and power, you chose Windows, and if you really wanted freedom and power you chose Linux [2].

Part of Apple’s attempt at creating the perfect user experience has been to incorporate new technologies into consumer electronics. This often comes across in the media and from fans as if Apple invented technologies that it merely leveraged. Apple didn’t invent the touchscreen, or the multi-touch gesture. And despite Siri (the new voice interface for the iPhone 4S) Apple did NOT invent voice recognition (nor many other technologies they aggressively try to patent and protect). Indeed, touchscreen (even multi-touch) has been around for nearly a decade. And the Android platform (via Google’s voice recognition) has had a fairly reliable and accurate voice activated personal assistant for at least 2 years. Nevertheless, from the hype, media attention, and Apple’s own presentations, you would think they invented those very things!! This is another gripe from Apple critics. Apple appears to take credit for ideas that it did not innovate [3].

But Apple has a way with selling not only its products, but itself as a company. If you have ever watched an Apple keynote address you have probably rolled your eyes more than one time at the self-aggrandizement in the first twenty minutes of the presentation. Invariably Apple spends a nontrivial amount of time reminding the audience of how great they are, how much profit they made, how many songs they’ve sold, apps they’ve sold, percent market share their products have gained, etc. And many of these facts are repeated throughout the presentation. Indeed it has often been said that Apple could sell sand to the Saudis! At the end of this cheerleading you’re left wondering how anyone could doubt whether or not Apple makes the best products or has a monopoly on technological innovation!! Of course this gives critics another complaint. Apple aggrandizes its claims, neglects key facts, and spins a tale that enhances their image.

I love Apple. I really do. They make great products. I have owned, own, and will continue to make Apple products a part of my life because they provide useful tools that enable me to accomplish my goals. I have never been one to get wrapped up in the Operating System debates of Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux. For me, each one of them does some things better than the others. Each is a valuable tool in my toolbox. I do not own exclusively Apple products. I have a Windows PC, and a home server running Linux. I have an Android smartphone and appreciate the power that comes with rooting it and flashing a superior ROM in place of HTC’s stock ROM. Each platform serves a purpose in my life, and I find it difficult to conceive of a situation in which I would have use for only one of them.

[1] To be fair, Apple, recognizing this fact, has worked hard to give freedom to developers, and create a platform for which there are a great many applications and programs. The creation of OS X around the BSD Unix kernel (the Mach kernel) has enabled Linux and Apple to share a common heritage and therefore many common tools.

[2] Interestingly, this landscape has changed as well as Windows and Linux (a la Ubuntu) has tried to become more user friendly. At this point, IMHO, it’s hard to tell which platform (even in the mobile sphere) allows more freedom, choice, and power to powerusers.

[3] Giving credit where it is due, Apple takes innovative technologies and applies them in new, fascinating, and most importantly user accessible ways. Surely that, in and of itself, is innovation.

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27 Responses to Steve Jobs, Apple Inc., and Consumer Electronics

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 19, 2011 at 7:01 AM

    It was interesting to see how Apple pushed something, Palm ate their lunch and then Apple came back and took the field back from them.

    At least Apple finally quit trying to charge everyone runtimes …

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  2. hawkgrrrl on October 19, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    I must have bloggernacle brain because I totally thought you were going to make this into a church analogy. Apple is the church. Steve Jobs is the Q12. The “sandbox” is what the correlation committee gives us. Or some such thing.

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  3. Jake on October 19, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    I don’t get the issue with a sandbox. If you own a PC or Linux you are still limited by a sandbox. Just this box is in the form of a elitist technical ability. Sure, you may be able to do anything on Linux BUT only if you have the ability to programme, understand the framework and know how to do it. For most people this means that it is far more limited then an Apple product as they don’t have that knowledge. How many people really need to customise and do all the things that a windows based OS or Linux based one can do?

    I guess I see Apple products and their focus on user friendly as being more democratic then others. It may not be infinite in its tools but everything it can do can be done by EVERYONE. It does not exclude the non-specialist or make things more complicated, ie. my nan can use a mac no problem to do most things give her a PC and she can’t do anything. Is it really more freedom in power in real terms for its users? It seems to be its just theoretically more free but in reality is more restrictive then apple.

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  4. Will on October 19, 2011 at 8:19 AM

    A tech post. Yea….

    I too am a tech junkie. I have owned Windows based products since 1987 (from Windows 3.0) and have never owned an Apple until the IPhone & IPad. I think my IPhone is the best piece of technology ever created.

    I also have fairly extensive experience with Unix based products as well. The best OS I have ever worked with in terms of reliability is the Open VMS platform. I ran a database company that necessitated we have 5-9’s uptime. We ran Oracle on DEC servers with VMS as the OS and a multi-threaded socket server created in DEC C. This dates me I know, but that system never went down. Never. It was the most reliable OS ever created by a country mile.

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  5. KLC on October 19, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    I’m with hawkgrrrl, I thought you were going for the church analogy. And add to her examples the fact that we like to tout our goodness and growth and numbers, something that energizes the faithful and irritates the non.

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  6. Bro. Jones on October 19, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    #2, #5: The beauty of parables is that listeners may draw many conclusions from them.

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  7. Mike S on October 19, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    I think they all work well, and have converged in many ways as they adopt each others’ features. I tend to be a PC person, but have a fair amount of Apple blended in.

    I started programming on a big IBM computer, and also used an Apple II with a whopping 48K of RAM. I wrote my first “professional” program for IBM in 1982 in Compiled Basic. I’ve since programmed in assembly, COBOL :-), Fortran, Pascal, C, C++, C#, and several other proprietary languages. For many years, I was exclusively a DOS/Windows person, but now use everything interchangeably.

    For example, now in our house we have a server with 4.5TB of storage, 4 PCs/laptops, 2 MacBooks, 1 Ubuntu laptop, 1 iPad, 3 iPhones, 2 Android phones, 8-9 iPods in various stages of working status, 4 wireless hubs, etc.

    Like hawk, I expected this post to be related to religious things. Just like computers, at their core, the fundamental basics of all religions are very, very similar. There are different “interfaces”, but they all try to achieve the same thing – helping an individual touch the Divine.

    And just like the convergence in the computer industry, many of the religions are jettisoning their unique things. We jettisoned polygamy. We gave blacks the priesthood. Hinckley said he doesn’t really know what “As man is, God once was…” even really means or that we even teach that. We are converging…

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  8. jmb275 on October 19, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Re #3 Jake-
    As I tried to allude to in my footnotes, I think technically speaking, the differences between them have become negligible. Ubuntu is very user friendly, as is Windows 7, and OS X Lion. Each of them is very capable (Linux and Mac more so than Windows IMHO). Historically, however, people have seen Mac ownership as a limit on use. So that was the perspective I was taking. But yes, I think you’re right.

    Re Will-
    Yeah, it does date you a bit! I haven’t even heard of some of that and I have worked in the industry (but I’m pretty young). I left out Solaris, and most mainframe systems in the post.

    Re Bro Jones #6-
    Indeed.

    Re Mike S-
    Well said Mike!

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  9. Jeff Spector on October 19, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    One of the things that made Steve Jobs so effective was he was not afraid to fail. Along the way, Apple made some terrible products, made bad decisions, but were able to recover nicely from them.

    Really, there are two Apples that existed over the history.

    1. The Beginning – Apple to to Mac.
    2. The IPOD/Iphone Apple

    There as a significant gulf between the two periods where Steve was in charge. That is when they almost went under and were bailed out by Bill Gates.

    but the Apple III, The Lisa, the Newton, MAC Servers and the failure to license MacOS were all big blunders from which was learned valuable lessons.

    They know where they play well and that is their focus. Sheer Brilliance!

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 19, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    I was programming in machine code in 1972 …

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  11. Will on October 19, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    Mike S,

    4TB of storage in a house that is mind boggling, awesome, but mind boggling. For the system I described above I spent $750,000 in 1994 on memory, storage space, three servers and that day’s equivalency of a load balancer and firewall. All told, I think we had about 250 GB of useable space. It was a true cluster, RAID 1+0 and SCSI Drives in each member of the quorum, but still the advancements in technology are unreal. My CIO at the time was telling me we would never surpass the 50 GB mark on a single drive without quantum computing.

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  12. Jon W on October 19, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    I loved my iphone 4 but sold it recently and got a Google Nexus S when I returned home. It is frustrating because I like the Android system but I miss some things on the iPhone. They both seem to work very well and I have respect for a technology that can accidentally get thrown into the washer and still work 3 days later more or less fine.

    Now we just need an Appldroid iNexus phone which would either be an abomination or the best thing ever. If nothing else google and apple are peeking my interest.

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  13. tosaneara on October 19, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I’m thinking it is a nice break to have a post that takes us away from church issues for a minute.We can all benefit from a mind shift on occasion and the church is certainly still gonna be there.

    Thanks for the mental health break.

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  14. tosaneara on October 19, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    Steven M…I know you commented already and may not see this. You gave me an answer on the last post about the gray thumbs.

    If I comment it always comes up gray thumbs & many times I have no votes…meaning I did not vote for myself. I appreciate that you gave me an answer. I think there must be more to it.

    Idea for me: ponder the universe and not the gray thumbs.

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  15. Mike S on October 19, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    tosaneara:

    I don’t know if this answers the question:

    – You are not allowed to vote for yourself. So if it is your own comment, it will be grey.

    – You are not allowed to vote on a comment where you already voted. So those will be grey too.

    To test this, go to a random article on the site where you have neither commented nor voted. You should see Green and Red thumbs. If you don’t even see them there, there is probably an issue with browser compatibility. Make sure your browser is up-to-date. I use Google Chrome primarily and it works fine. It also works with the latest version of IE.

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  16. Mike S on October 19, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    Will:

    You’d be surprised at how fast you go through TB after TB. I have over 130,000 songs on iTunes at 400+GB and probably 600-700GB movies. And these are each duplicated on the server so double that and you’re already at 2TB.

    Add in nightly incremental backups of all of the other computers in the house (some of which have non-full 1TB drives) and voila, 4.5TB gone in a flash…

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  17. Jake on October 19, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Mike S, how on earth do you have so many songs? There is no way that you could ever listen to that much music in a lifetime. I thought I was a music geek and had a lot of music but that has completely shamed my collection.

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  18. tosaneara on October 19, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    Mike S.

    Thank you for the answers. Not a big deal..I just couldn’t put together a pattern. I will do what you suggested.

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  19. jmb275 on October 19, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    Re #17 Jake-
    Yeah, I asked this of Mike S last time we talked about music. I am still dumbfounded. I have over 3000 songs and I thought I had a pretty big library. Apparently not.

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  20. Douglas on October 19, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    I remember programming Fortran 77 on the Fresno State student mainframe back in ’78 with a stack of cards. Holy Schenikes….
    Apple did innovate some things, others it co-opted. What they’ve usually done well is make a quality product that works easily and seamlessly as possible with related Apple products, and convince the public to pay top dollar. Apple’s philosophy seems to be that you don’t need a degree in Mechanical Engineering (which I myself have) or be a mechanic (I’ve long done my own repair work on my iron) to drive a car, so why should you learn to “program” a computer? I do have a Mac, and the wife has an iPad and iPhone, but the rest of the house is a mix of Ubuntu and Windows laptops and desktops.
    What Steve Jobs did at Pixar may well eclipse, in term of the market capitalization, all of the considerable work that he did at Apple. And yes, some of his ideas flopped, but so did some of Bill Gates’…
    Like many other successful people, Jobs was a driven man. Unfortunately, this caused him to not marry the woman that bore his first child (which supposedly the Lisa computer was named after), and fairly much ignore the girl when she was little. Fortunately, by both Steve and Lisa Jobs’ accounts, he saw the error of his ways and did more as a father than send child support checks. That, IMHO, is a far more telling endorsement of the man than all the tech and business achievements.

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  21. Mike S on October 19, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    Card stacks… nice.

    Re: gathering music – I play a number of instruments, have been in bands, and have a project recording studio

    I also tend to gather much more than the “studio albums” – ie. remixes, covers, live versions, etc. For example, I have around 900 songs just by U2. 1000 by Pink Floyd & their members. 400 by Radiohead. 700 Bob Dylan. And so on. I have old albums by Robert Johnson, Basie, Coltrane, etc. I have albums from last month from the Chile Peppers, Jay-Z / Kanye West, Adele, Opeth, Steven Wilson, Wilco, SuperHeavy, Mastodon, etc. Over the past few decades, it starts to stack up. It’s nice to not really have any repeats…

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  22. Douglas on October 20, 2011 at 5:39 AM

    The biggest change, which Jobs contributed in no small part, is the ability to retrieve and process information so readily by “Joe Average”. No longer do we need the computer “Priesthood” and a great deal of money (and when we did, it was then a technological marvel as well), we can do it for ourselves, quickly and cheaply. Can a music buff like Mike imagine having a “man cave” full of LPs, or reels, or even 8-tracks, cataloguing them all? Instead, it can all go on a $25 memory fob, or be burned on a few DVDs…and you can use voice-activated software to just find your tunes.
    Where I’ve been helped is getting a voice recognition program to write my fan fiction, A more recreational pursuit, to be sure, but it’s amazing what I can crank out when the muse is upon me.

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  23. Glenn Thigpen on October 20, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    It’s really all about competition. Apple started out with the ideal to make computers available for the masses, and even published the schematics for their products. But Apple became more successful, its products became more expensive and incorporated a closed architecture that shut out many developers and hardware manufacturers.
    IBM came along and built a computer inferior in many respects to the other offerings on the market, using an operating system from Microsoft (which bought the operating system known as QDos and rebranded it as MS Dos) but with an open architecture that anyone could make products for and develop programs for. That really gave the home PC industry a kick start.
    Apple almost died several times, even though its products were technically superior to those of the MS-IBM mold. The Imac was the product that seemed to resurrect Apple. It made a computer that was “sexy”, visually appealing as well as superior in function.
    The Ipods, Iphones, Ipads, etc. although not unique, have been packaged adroitly and have made Apple the 800 pound Gorilla of the tech world, and has Microsoft taking a back seat, which it will continue to do so if it does not actually start making innovative products (something it really never has done).
    I use Linux myself. I do not see it ever being a dominant player in the desktop field, but it has something for everyone that wants it and offers an alternative for those who do like to tinker, to customize, and explore their systems.
    As long as that balance id maintained, we will continue to see innovative and appealing products.

    Glenn

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  24. jmb275 on October 20, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Re Douglas #20 and #22 –
    Yeah, I get the impression that Jobs really did try to repent for what he did to his first child. As his life came closer to an end it appears he really stepped up his game with his family that’s for sure.

    There’s no question that Apple has leveraged the work of others (who hasn’t) and in some cases they may have co-opted ideas. Where I give them credit though, is where they shine – in putting together a complete package for the user. Multi-touch gestures existed before the iPhone, but guess what, no one used them, no one had access to them in a usable form. That’s Apple’s genius – in putting together technology that people can use. The problem comes when it feels like they’re making the claim that they invented it. In their defense, I think most of that is caused by hype from the media and fanbois.

    Re Glenn-
    I use Linux a fair amount too. I have a problem with it though, and it keeps me from adopting it fully. Most of the time I think about my computer as a tool to help me accomplish my work and goals. To that end, I think both Windows and Mac do a better job of making the computer more transparent to that goal. Linux has the hang up that stuff doesn’t “just work” you have to often coerce it to work, spend long hours on forums trying to figure out how to get your wireless adapter to connect, or to mount a USB drive. Some of those kinks are now worked out in Ubuntu, but there is still too much of that (ever tried to install a font on Ubuntu? It’s a real lesson in frustration).

    For those moments when I want the power, and want to tinker, of course I come running to Linux. As I mentioned in the OP I have an Ubuntu server at home, and it’s rock solid. The price I had to pay, however, was a fair amount of time learning how to configure it to work the way I wanted.

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  25. Henry on October 20, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    I noticed on the bus yesterday alot of people just spellbound by their smartphones. We don’t even talk to each other anymore.

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  26. Will on October 20, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    JMB

    Great post. It was so good to have a post where you can just talk tech without and the mental gymnastics of the politics of religion. Thanks again.

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  27. jmb275 on October 24, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Re Will-
    Mostly I’m glad there’s a market for these types of posts. Often, because of the reputation W&T has for being at least tacitly related to Mormonism, my more technical posts don’t get much attention. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Since my primary objective in blogging is to discuss what I enjoy, and since I am a nerd, there will likely be more.

    I’m currently planning one that discusses the AirFrance crash a few years ago.

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