Steve Jobs, Apple Inc., and Consumer ElectronicsBy: jmb275
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 . Historically, if you wanted more freedom and power, you chose Windows, and if you really wanted freedom and power you chose Linux .
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 .
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.
 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.
 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.
 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.