The forgotten failures of Apple Computer’s co-founder
make his successes that much more impressive.
by Dave Zornow
On a day when the world mourns the loss of Steve Jobs and the tech industry is iWriting about the iMac-iPod-iPhone-iPad, it’s valuable to remember that the original Man-In-Black didn’t always have the Midas touch. Which makes his successes that much more remarkable.
We’ve had an an Mac in our house since April 1984 — somewhat influenced by that iconic 1984 Superbowl spot introducing the first Macintosh. So, it’s fair to say we are fans from waay back.
On the day after Steve’s death, we remember the good times. But, to be honest, they weren’t always good times.
For years — maybe decades — we suffered the taunts of the IT Crowd who called the Mac “a toy.” In 1990, I remember a conversation I had with the head of the computer department at my employer about bringing in a Macintosh to help create the cutting edge presentations our clients expected — work that was not possible to do on our Wang Word processors. In no uncertain terms, I was told no. Actually, her specific words were, “Thou shalt not use the ‘M’ word here.” My employer at the time was MTV Networks.
Like I said, it wasn’t always easy being a Mac fan.
Steve made us suffer in the early years because he refused to conform to the wishes of the IT community. Or even go out of his way to sell to the US government.
Winner of the “didn’t you see that coming award,” his hand picked successor at Apple Computer, John Scully, led a successful coup which ousted Jobs from the company he co-founded. Steve Jobs is also the guy who brought us the Apple III, didn’t think there was a future in desktop publishing, championed the pre-Macintosh LISA flop and could never get his head around the idea that two buttons on a mouse might be useful.
Then there’s that whole flash thing.
This is the guy who was the first to take away our built-in dial-up modems, forced us to use 3 1/2 drives when the rest of the world was 5 1/4 and floppy and finally took away our disk drives completely. Oh, and after he left us with only a network port, he then introduced a tablet computer that had no network port at all.
It hasn’t been an easy ride. Although his computers are fashionable, it’s hard to idolize a megalomaniac whose idea of a fashion statement is wearing a black turtleneck. All of the time. For 25 years.
One of the funny things about that Superbowl commercial is that most Apple users who were born after the Macintosh spot probably wouldn’t guess that the Big Brother in that spot was IBM. The first 128K Macintosh was the David to the IBM-PC Goliath. No, kids, it wasn’t Microsoft. It’s another testament to how far Apple has come since 1984 — these days IBM doesn’t even make PCs anymore, having sold that business to Lenovo.
At last Spring’s commencement address, Ithaca College President Thomas R. Rochon noted that when the graduates were freshman the first iPhone was introduced. As they received their diplomas, consumers were waiting on the fifth version of this revolutionary product. One which paved the way for the equally successful Android phone, too. As consumers, we have received quite a tech education during the time these kids were getting their college educations. And none of this would have happened if it were not for Steve.
For years, people have been talking about slate computing. And now we have the wildly successful iPad and iPad2. Forget about the fact that its no more than an iPhone with a bigger screen. It took a lot of vision and guts to “make it so.”
Despite his failures (I can’t even remember what that Apple see-through cube computer fiasco was called), Steve Jobs transformed Apple, the IT business, the way we look at user interfaces, how we use phones, the way we buy and listen to music, and how “tech” products are marketed to consumers. But for Steve, it was never about the tech — it was always about the consumer. Which is a legacy which will live on far beyond the Cult of Steve.
Steve Jobs, for all of his faults and failures, created a phenomenon, got kicked to the curb, and then resurrected both his company and his career from the dead all while making the turleneck stylish again. Steve Jobs, RIP.