The buzz generated by Steve Jobs’ announcement of his departure was unprecedented in the history of the industry. This is hardly surprising: even Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and one of the most respected executives in the country, acknowledged Jobs’ uniqueness. Apple’s singular presence is undeniable, and, as one of the most prestigious companies in the world, it is a rare example of prosperity amidst a global economic crisis.
Visionaries create evidence: In 1984, Apple rocked the world with its now iconic commercial to introduce the Mac. These days consumers have at their disposal a wealth of Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads to express themselves away from the watchful gaze of Big Blue. Steve Jobs changed the world with a sledgehammer. His revolutionary success – one irreverent to the status quo – was unthinkable twenty-five years ago, but visionaries are, after all, those who are able to make us take for granted previously impossible ideas.
Democratizing magic: Of course Steve Jobs himself is a fascinating figure, but what is even more fascinating is the revolution he put into motion when he began to humanize technology in several domains: personal computers, music, animated film, telephones, and information exchange. Perhaps only Edison has had such a deep social impact through his inventions. Innovation in both cases is not simply the application of new technologies, but the art of adapting them so that they cause an evolution in consumers’ behaviors. In other words, while inventions can make geeks rejoice, they go down in history when they impact the lives of lay. Most users don’t buy iPhones because of its technical characteristics, but because of the magic it offers to users.
Memorability, or history anchored in the real world: Early adopters of Apple (of which I was as the founder/CEO of a company that put out the first graphic relational database for Mac, 4th Dimension) are now a very small minority of the millions of fans the company has accrued. And these fans are not ghostly usernames on anonymous chat rooms but living humans crowding into stores: the most prestigious tech company in the world is also the least active in social networks, opting instead to open dozens of popular physical stores at a time when everyone is cutting back or completely eliminating his real world fingerprint. But the success of Apple stores everywhere is due to the opportunity they afford people to touch and try out goods in a lively and aesthetic environment – people go to Apple stores to hang out. This real-world anchoring is gratifying for would-be buyers and guarantees the company’s perennial success. This year IBM celebrated 100 years – when Thomas Watson created the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation. Apple still has sixty-five years to go before it can celebrate this touchstone, but, even if it true that technology evolves at an exponential rate, there is little doubt that it has created a lasting legacy by giving people the ability to use technology without having to be techies and by demonstrating that consumers love beautiful objects. In other words, mass consumption is not at odds with the feeling of luxury.
Note on the illustration. The “Steve Icon”: In 1983, Andy Hertzfeld started to work on the icon editor that Susan Kare was to use to create icons for the Finder. I strongly recommend his book on the history of Macintosh, Revolution in the Valley (2004).