Apple, Technology

Protestant Gadget Ethic

After my previous unfortunate episode in an Apple store, it should come as little surprise that I didn't last very long before I broke down and bought an iPad mini. No, it doesn't make sense for me to be throwing my credit card around as if I were the CEO of Papa John's or something. I've already got a perfectly fancy tablet computer that's not just functional, but really quite terrific. It's not like I'm getting paid to write reviews of these things, and even my typical “I need it for application development testing” is sounding increasingly hollow.

What helps is a new metric I've devised, which measures how long it takes me after a purchase before the appeal of the thing overwhelms my feeling of conspicuous consumption guilt over buying it. It's measured in a new unit: the Hal (named after Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Jordan who does have willpower).

By that standard, the iPad mini clocks in with a new record of 0.03 Hals, or about 30 minutes after I opened the box. Because this thing is sweet, and I pretty much never want to stop holding it. I'm writing this post on it, as a matter of fact, even though a much more functional laptop with keyboard is sitting about three feet away from me at this very moment. But to use it would mean putting the iPad down.

The “finish” of the iPad mini, with its beveled edge and rounded matte aluminum back, is more like the iPhone 5 than the existing iPads. It makes such a difference in the feel of the thing that I can talk about beveled edges and matte aluminum backs without feeling self conscious, as if I were a tech blogger desperately seeking a new way to describe another piece of consumer electronics.

It’s about as thin as the iPhone 5, and almost as light. With the new Apple cover wrapped around the back, it's perfect for holding in one hand. There have been several times that I've made fun of Apple, or Apple fanatics, for making a big deal about a few millimeters difference in thickness, or a few ounces in weight. And I joked about the appeal of the iPad mini, as if the existing iPad was unreasonably bulky and heavy.

But then something awful happened: I had to fly cross country four times within two weeks. And reading a book on the iPad required me to prop the thing up on the tray table and catch it as the person in front of me kept readjusting his seat. All my mocking comments were flying back in my face (along with the iPad, my drink, and the in-flight magazine), in the form of the firstest of first-world problems.

“Version 1 of the iPad mini is for chumps,” I said. “Check back with me once you've put in a higher resolution display, Apple.” In practice, though, the display is perfectly sharp. “Retina” isn't the make-or-break feature I thought it would be. You can certainly tell the difference when comparing the two; I'd assumed that squabbling over pixel density was something best left to the comments sections of tech blogs, but the difference in sharpness is definitely visible. It's really only an issue for very small text, though. Books, Flipboard, and web pages are all clear and legible.

And speaking of Flipboard, it and Tweetbot are the two apps that get me giddy enough to own up to making another unnecessary tech purchase. Browsing through articles and status updates on a tablet that thin is probably the closest I'll ever come to being on board the Enterprise.

The phrase I've seen reoccurring the most in reviews of the iPad mini is some variation on “this is the size the iPad is supposed to be.” And really, there's something to that. I'm not going to give up my other one; the larger size really is better for some stuff, like drawing, Garage Band, and reading comics or magazines. But overall, I haven't been this impressed with the “feel” of a piece of consumer electronics since I saw the original iPhone. Realizing that this is just version 1.0 is actually a little creepy — apart from the higher resolution display, I honestly can't conceive of how they'll improve on the design of the iPad mini.

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Apple, Technology

They Don’t Love You Like Google Loves You

Dalijapancenter
Just days after the entire developed world sank into a depressive ennui due to Apple’s boring new smart phone, society was rocked to its foundations by the unmitigated disaster that is iOS 6’s new Google-free Maps app. Drivers unwittingly plunged their cars into the sea. Planes over Ireland crashed into nearby farms due to mislabeled icons. College students, long dependent on their iPhones to find their way around campus from day to day, were faced with a featureless blob of unlabeled buildings and had no option but to lie down on the grass and sob. Huge swaths of Scotland were covered with an impenetrable fog, and the Brooklyn Bridge collapsed.

Throughout the entire ordeal, Tim Cook only stopped giving the world the middle finger long enough to go on Saturday Night Live and rip up a picture of Steve Jobs. Jobs’s only recourse was to haunt the homes and workplaces of thousands of bloggers, commenters, and Twitter users, moaning “You’re the only one who truly understands what I wanted. Avenge me!

At least, that’s the way I heard it. You want proof? It’s right there in the video, the one where they say “The Statue of Liberty? Gone!” while showing a picture of the Statue of Liberty. (Psst… hey, The Verge people — it’s that green thing in the middle of that star-shaped island). You think just because it’s “journalism” they have to have sources to show that it’s a serious, widespread problem? Check it, Jack: a tumblr full of wacky Apple maps mishaps.

And no, it doesn’t matter that the vast majority of those are complaints about the 3D Flyover feature, which was universally acknowledged as being a “neat but practically useless” feature of the maps app as soon as it was released, because shut up that’s why.

Of course, since I’m a relentless Apple apologist, I’m focused, Zapruder-like, on one tiny six-second segment of that three-minute long video: the part that says “For walking and driving, the app is pretty problem free.” And I’m completely ignoring the bulk of the video, which shows incontrovertible evidence that not everything is 3D modeled and lots of things end up looking kind of wavy.

Sarcasm (mostly) aside, my problem with this isn’t “oh no, people are picking on Apple!” My problem is that the people who are supposed to be authorities on tech — and to be clear, it’s not just The Verge, by a long shot — keep spinning the most shallow observations into sweeping, over-arching narratives. (And no, I haven’t see a single Verge post about Apple in the past week that’s neglected to find a way to link to that 73-degrees-Apple-is-timid post).

The tech journalists are the ones who are shaping public opinion, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an attention span of longer than a week and a short term memory of longer than a year. And as a result, I’m going to hold them responsible every time I read something dumb on the internet.

To be fair, even though the video just says “Apple’s supposedly been working on its version of Maps for 5 years, and it’s resulted in an app that’s inferior to what was there before,” and leaves it at that, the article does mention that Google’s data has been public for 7 years. And points out that the data gets refined with the help of location data from millions of iPhones and Android devices.

But why make it sound as if the decision to break free from dependence on Google was an arbitrary decision on Apple’s part? By all accounts, Jobs had a preternatural grudge against Google for releasing Android. But it’s not as if the Maps app on iOS 5 and earlier was feature equivalent to the Google maps on Android, and Apple’s deciding to roll their own was a completely petty and spiteful decision. Android’s had turn-by-turn directions for a while now, and there were no signs that it was ever coming to the Google-driven app on iOS.

Was that a case of Google holding out, or Apple not bothering with it because they knew they had their own version in the works? I certainly don’t know — it’s the kind of thing it’d be neat for actual tech journalists to explain — but it ultimately doesn’t matter. The licensing deal with Google ran out, so Apple’s options were to reassert their dependency on their largest competitor, or to launch with what they had.

And incidentally, whenever someone says “Steve Jobs would never have allowed something this half-assed to be released!” it’s the tech journalists’ responsibility to remind them that the iPhone released without an SDK and nothing but Apple’s assurance that Web apps were The Future. Or that Jobs had no problem releasing the original iPhone without support for Flash video, even though there was an outcry that Flash was crucial to the user experience.

I installed iOS 6 on the iPad and tried out a few practical searches. It found everything I needed, and it actually gave me more relevant information than I remember the Google version giving me, since I was looking for businesses, and Yelp automatically came up with business hours. Of course, my experience means very little, since I happen to live in the one part of the world that’s going to be most aggressively tested by Silicon Valley companies. I have little doubt that Europe and Asia are going to have a harder time of it, and obviously they’re not markets to be ignored. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all problem, so it’s silly to treat it like one.

Apple has no problem calling Siri a beta, so they probably should’ve called Maps beta as well. It’s a huge part of why people use smart phones, so it’d be foolish to imply that serious inaccuracies are no big deal. Regardless, it’ll work well enough in a lot of cases for most Americans, and in the cases where it doesn’t work, the web version of Google maps is still available (and you can set up a link on the home page with its own icon, even). Maybe Google and Apple will reach enough of a détente for a third party Google Maps app to get released. Maybe it’ll even finally bring turn-by-turn directions, or Apple will even allow third party apps to be default handlers for links!

Until then, maybe we can stop with the melodrama and the hyperbole, and just appreciate Apple Maps as version 1.0 mapping software with a neat extra feature of peeking into an alternate reality where Japantown in San Francisco has been overtaken by giant spiders.

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Apple, Technology

Everything is amazing and nobody’s insightful

Ouroboros pressI understand that if you’re writing about technology and/or gadgetry, a significant part of your job is taking a bunch of product announcements and reviews, and then fitting them into an easily-digestible, all-encompassing narrative. Usually, though, there’s at least an attempt to base that narrative off of reality, “ripped from today’s headlines” as it were. Lately, it seems like writers are content with a story that’s loosely based on actual events.

For the week or so building up to the iPhone 5 launch and the days after, the narrative has been simple: “The iPhone 5 is boring.” Writing for Wired, Mat Honan says, essentially, that it’s boring by design. And really, fair enough. Take Apple’s own marketing, remove the talking heads on white backgrounds, remove the hyperbole, and give it a critical spin, and you’ll end up with basically that: they’ve taken the same cell phone that people have already been going apeshit over for the past five years, and they’ve made it incrementally better.

Take that to its trollish extreme, and you have Dan Lyons (the creator of the “Fake Steve” blog). He wrote a “provocative” take on Apple’s past year including the iPhone 5 announcement for BBC News, in which Lyons (who wrote for Newsweek and also a satirical blog in which he pretended to be Steve Jobs) spends a couple of paragraphs reminding us why we should care about his opinion (it’s because he wrote a blog in which he was “Fake Steve”), and then mentions that he dropped the blog out of respect for Jobs’s failing health, and then invokes Jobs’s memory several times. In an “analysis” of Apple that’s as shallow and tired as you can possibly get without actually saying Micro$oft — he actually uses the word “fanboys.”

We can all acknowledge that to give him the attention he needs and then move on; there’s absolutely nothing there that wouldn’t get him laughed off of an internet message board. Lyons doesn’t even have the “I speak for Steve Jobs” thing going for him, since everybody has an opinion on how things would be different if Jobs were still in charge.

What’s more troubling to me is seeing writers who are usually worth reading instead take a similar approach: building a story that’s driven mostly by what other people are writing. Any idiot can regurgitate “news” items and rearrange them into a cursory non-analysis. (And that’s worth exactly as much as I got paid for writing them). (Which is zero in case you couldn’t tell already). Is it too much to ask for insight? Or at least, wait to see what the actual popular consensus is before making a declaration of what popular opinion should be?

If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway Because it Has Grown Tiresome to Me

On The Verge, Dieter Bohn found a perfect analogy for the iPhone in its own Weather app icon. He turned Honan’s piece from a blog post into the “prevailing opinion” about the announcement. But then he takes Honan’s reasonable but back-handed compliment and turns it into an accusation: the iPhone isn’t boring but timid. Sure, the hardware’s fine, but whatever: where Apple has failed is by showing no willingness to experiment with the core operating system or UI.

The mind-numbingly tedious drudgery of having to close multiple notifications under iOS (which, incidentally, I’ve never once noticed as a problem) proves that Apple’s entire philosophy is a lie. You’ve got a reputation for “sweating the details,” Apple? Really? Then how can you possibly explain this?! — as he thrusts a phone full of email notifications into the face of a sheepish Tim Cook, while Jobs’s ghost shakes his head sadly.

I honestly don’t want to be too harsh with any of the writers on The Verge, since I visit the site multiple times daily, and I really like their approach a lot. But I don’t think it’s particularly insightful to be aware that interface consistency isn’t just the dominant driving factor of UI design, but of Apple’s philosophy since the introduction of the Mac. We’ve been using “version 10″ of the Mac OS for 10 years now, and while the appearance and the underlying hardware have changed dramatically, the core functionality is largely the same. Intentionally. It’s only with the still-new Mountain Lion that Apple’s made changes to how things work on a fundamental level — and, in my opinion, it hasn’t been all that successful. (I don’t understand all the people whining about faux leather while saying relatively little about changing the entire structure of document management for the worse).

On top of that, though, there’s the fact that The Verge has spent at least a month covering the Apple v. Samsung trial, in which Apple was spending a ton of time, effort, and presumably money to defend the UI that Bohn claims needs a dramatic overhaul. Yes, Microsoft has done considerable work to dramatically rethink the smart phone UI. That’s how Apple wants it. They spent a month saying, “this is ours, we made it, we like it, stop copying it.” Could it use some refinement? Of course. It always can, and some of those good ideas will come from other attempts at inventing a new cell phone OS. Does it need a dramatic re-imagining? No, unless you’re irrationally obsessed with novelty for its own sake, as a side effect of being steeped in cell phone coverage 24/7 to the point of exhaustion.

The Audacity of Swatch

Speaking of that, there’s Nilay Patel’s write-up of the new iPod Nano. Again, I think Patel’s stuff is great in general. But here, he carries on the “boring but actually it’s timid” idea by linking to Bohn’s article, and then goes on to build a story about what it says about Apple in general. Essentially, they’ve become The Establishment, too afraid of change to take any risks. With a product that’s changed dramatically in design in just about every iteration since the original.

“But that’s the old market, and the old way.” Apple isn’t about profiting over the planned obsolescence and impulse purchase cycle — which is news to all of us who have now become conditioned to buy a new cell phone every 2 years and a new laptop every 3 or 4 — but to pioneer new markets. The last iteration of the nano heralded a future of wearable computing. The last nano could’ve been the harbinger of a bold new market for a more forward-thinking Apple: wristwatches.

Let’s ignore the fact that Patel himself acknowledges that the nano wasn’t a very good watch in the first place. What about the fact that smart phones pretty much killed the entire wristwatch business? I’m about as far from being fashionably hip as you can get, but I still get considerable exposure to what’s actually popular just by virtue of living in San Francisco. And I don’t know anyone who still wears a watch. It’s been at least five years since anyone’s been able to ask for the time and not have to wait for everyone to pull their phones out of their pockets or handbags. Why would Apple go all-in on a market that they themselves helped destroy?

(Incidentally, Patel quotes watch band designer Scott Wilson as saying “The nano in that form factor gave me a reason to have three iOS devices on my body.” I can think of the iPhone and the iPod Nano-with-watchband; neither Wilson or Patel make it explicit what the third device is. And now I’m afraid to ask, because I’m not sure I want to know what this third device is exactly, or where a person would enjoy sticking it).

Saying that the MP3 market is dead fails to acknowledge what killed it: that functionality, along with that of the point-and-shoot camera, has moved away from a dedicated device and towards the smartphone. Smartphones are expensive, even with a contract, and the more info we put onto them, the more they become irreplaceable. There’s still a market for a smaller, simpler, and relatively inexpensive MP3 player. There’s a clue to that market on Apple’s own marketing page, and the most prominent icon on its home screen: “Fitness.” Joggers and people who work out — at least from what I’ve heard, since I have even less familiarity with the world of exercise than I do with people who still wear wristwatches — want a music player they can take for a run or take to the gym without worrying too much if it gets lost or broken. They’ll get more use out of that than from a too-large wristwatch that has to be constantly woken from sleep and needs a headphone wire running to your wrist if you want to listen to music.

That’s where the new market is, ripe for Apple to come in and dominate: stuff like the fitbit. I don’t have the actual numbers, of course, and I don’t even have any way of getting them, but I can all but guarantee that Apple sold more of the iPod nano armbands than it ever did with watchbands. And I imagine it’s the same philosophy that made them put a place for carrying straps on the new iPod touch: it’s not even that Apple doesn’t want to take risks with its flagship product, it’s that customers don’t want to take risks with the one device that handles all their communication with the world. For them, the iPod is an accessory.

Speaking of Consistency

But if you’re going to be making up stories, you should at least try to be consistent with them. On Slate, Farhad Manjoo has some serious issues with the new dock connector. He repeats the idea that the new iPhone is boring, but he uses the magic of sarcasm to make his point extra super clear. The problem is that so many details about the new phone leaked out weeks before release. By the time of the actual announcement, the world had already seen everything and stopped caring.

Got that? Apple’s problem is that it’s got to keep a tighter lid on its plans. Classic Apple, going blabbing about everything all over the press, flooding the market with product announcements. It’s boring everyone!

He’s bored by all the leaked information and the lack of any big bombshells in Apple’s announcement. Except for the big bombshell of the new dock connector. It’s pretty boring but also very impressive. It doesn’t take any risks but completely and unnecessarily changes the dock connector, destroying an entire industry of accessories. Apple has a long history of invalidating what it deems outdated technology, but this is different. Manjoo has to get a new alarm clock.

Also, the new phone is remarkably thin and light, “the thinnest and lightest iPhone ever made, and the difference is palpable.” But how could Apple possibly justify changing everything just for the sake of this new, thinner dock connector?

Back on The Verge, Vlad Savov describes all the leaks that bored Manjoo, and he mentions how embarrassing they must be for Tim Cook. He says that the problem is all the points of potential leaks in the supply chain, which have “drilled holes in Apple’s mystique.” In the same article, Savov links to Verge’s own post about every detail that was leaked ahead of time.

Isn’t it a little disingenuous to be on a site that publishes front-page posts of pictures of new iPhone cases, a detailed report of the new dock connector, and a compilation of all the rumors and leaks to date, and then comment on the unprecedented demand for leaked information? It seems a little like prom committee chairman Edward Scissorhands lecturing everyone on their failure at putting up all the balloons.

And of course, on the first night of pre-orders for the boring new iPhone that nobody’s interested in, Apple’s online store was overloaded, and the phone sold out of its initial order within within two hours.

On the topic of pots, kettles, and their relative blackness: I wasn’t that interested in the new iPhone, and I still chomped on the pre-order like a starving bass. I was much, much, much more excited about finally ditching AT&T than I was about the device itself. (So eager to get rid of AT&T that I’m willing to run into the arms of a company that’s no doubt almost as bad). Now that Apple’s not talking about magic, I can take their advertising at face value: I’m pretty confident that it is the best iPhone they’ve ever made. I’ve got an iPhone, and I like it, so I’ll get a better one.

What does that say about the state of gadget obsession that “I’m going to buy a new expensive device every two years even though I don’t technically need it” comes across as the most pragmatic view?

I can still remember when I first saw Engadget, and I thought the concept was absurd. A whole ongoing blog devoted solely to gadgets and tech? Is that really necessary? Then, of course, I got hooked on it, and started following it and now The Verge and quite a few Apple-centric sites. If I’ve reached a point of gadget saturation just reading the stuff, what does it do the folks having to write about it? It seems like it’s creating a self-perpetuating cycle of novelty for its own sake, which then drives commentary about this bizarre fixation on novelty for its own sake. You can’t even say “maybe just step away from it all for a bit;” it has to be a stunt, completely giving up the internet for an entire year while still writing for a technology-oriented site.

Whatever the case, it’d probably a good idea to step back a bit. I’ll start doing that just as soon as I get my sweet new extra-long phone next week.

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Apple

Like I’m going to read in direct sunlight with a $600 tablet. COME ON!


Not even 24 hours after Apple’s new iPad announcement, John Gruber at Daring Fireball resumed his vicious assault on female tech bloggers by quoting “Apple’s Press Conference Showed a Brand Unraveling” by Jolie O’Dell at VentureBeat.

It’s an op/ed that says there were no major problems with the presentation, just “a few minor but glaring inconsistencies” that were worth spending several paragraphs describing in context and explaining how they foretell the imminent downfall of Apple Inc. as we know it. For want of a tucked-in shirt, the $540 share price was lost.

The article’s actually not much worse than the bulk of the tech punditry circling the product announcement. Sure, it does try to make the case that Apple is falling apart after Jobs’s death, and it does so by making spurious comparisons between products released now and products released when Jobs was already no longer CEO of the company. I suppose it’s less compelling to acknowledge that it’s been a couple years now since Jobs was in charge of day-to-day operations, or to point out that Apple hasn’t actually released an industry-changing product every year since Jobs took over.

And it’s easier to write:

Last time Apple was without Jobs, it came out with a lineup of duds.

as long as you conveniently forget about the Apple Hi Fi.

But I guess it’s inevitable for a charismatic leader of a company to get praised for all his successes while the not-quite-successes get conveniently ignored. I just hope that it doesn’t reach Disney fan intensity, where 55 years from now we’re still having to hear “What would Steve think?” And I hope that people, even people surrounded by tech “news” all day, still have enough of a handle on reality to recognize how silly the complaints are.

O’Dell complains about the word “resolutionary” as something Jobs’s perfectionism would never have allowed. I think it’s goofy, but no goofier than anything else Apple marketing has done in the past 15 years. Maybe it’s just a case of their thinking differently.

One thing O’Dell doesn’t complain about, although it seems just about everyone else has, is that the announcement was just a “modest” or “unremarkable” update. As if it’s no big deal that they were able to quadruple the resolution of the iPad screen. Except the entire device is a screen. People have apparently forgotten back to a few weeks ago, when the speculation was that a “retina” display on the iPad would be kept to a much more expensive “HD” model. I’ve got to wonder whether releasing the new model without a significant price bump somehow undermined what an achievement it is to get that kind of pixel density on a mobile screen.

I’ll admit I was getting a little excited about the rumors of haptic feedback, even though they were based on pretty implausible speculation (all that just from the words “and touch” on an invitation for a touch screen device?) But that’ll probably come in the 7th or 8th revision of the iPad.

Which will apparently still be called the “iPad.” And we’re all supposed to be upset about that, for some reason. I’m not just singling out O’Dell here, either; this is something several people are actually complaining about.

O’Dell says that calling the new version “new iPad” is an inconsistency in branding that wouldn’t have been allowed under Jobs’s reign, even though it’s the weird iPhone naming pattern that’s inconsistent throughout the line of Apple products. Did you remember that the iPhone 3G is actually the second version of the phone? Followed by the iPhone 3GS? And the iPhone 4, which was actually the fourth iteration of the phone and not to be confused with “4G” cellular networks? And the 4S, which was the fifth iteration but dropped the “G”. Not since SimCity has a franchise shown such a reckless disregard for numbering.

O’Dell gets it right by saying (the obvious) “Likewise, the Apple brand stood for beauty in simplicity.” What could be simpler than “iMac,” “iPod”, “iPhone,” and “iPad?”

Icecreamsandwichguineapig

What struck me the most about the article, though, was this bit:

But Apple’s ethos is about so much more than hardware and technology: It’s supposed to be, as this outsider sees it, about aspiration, dreams, desires, the future, even Utopia. In a word, it’s only 30 percent about the tech and 70 percent about the branding.

(psst… “it’s only 30 percent about the tech and 70 percent about the branding” is 13 times more than “a word.”)

I’ve seen this claim made hundreds of times over the years, but this is the first I’ve seen it made by someone speaking favorably about Apple (Steve Jobs-era Apple, anyway), instead of being followed by complaints about the “Apple tax” or intellectually bankrupt words like “sheeple” and “fanboys.”

I’m assuming (and I’m being charitable in the assumption) that it’s rooted in a mis-interpretation of a talk Jobs gave about branding around the time of the “Think Different” campaign launch. But the point of that wasn’t that branding is more important than technology. The point was that the company’s core values are more important than specifications and speed bumps.

At the time, even the idea of a tech company having “core values” was unusual. The environment at the time was more like the various Android phones and tablets trying to differentiate themselves for having 4G LTE and Ice Cream Sandwich with an AMOLED screen and a 1.5GHz single-core processor instead of focusing on what you can actually do with them.

Pointing out that the new iPad has a higher resolution screen is talking about specs. Launching the new higher resolution screen along with a mobile version of iPhoto, showing how the better screen, faster wireless networking, and cloud storage can help you organize and share your photos as journals — that’s Apple branding. And “iPad HD” or “iPad Retina” or even “iPad 3″ is diametrically opposed to that branding. Saying “The iPad is the best tablet you can buy, and this is the best version of the iPad, and hey look at this happy family and their adorable children” fits the brand perfectly.

It’s been going on for well over a decade, but it still surprises me whenever I see someone making the claim that Apple’s appeal is mostly marketing. So much tech writing describes MacBooks, iPods, iPhones, and iPads as “status symbols,” taking it as a given that people buy them for the huge, shiny (or glowing) Apple logo on the back as opposed to what’s inside. That kind of knee-jerk reaction is baffling to me, and I’m someone who often has a hard time getting past the preconceived notion that anybody who drives a BMW is a douchebag.

Every Apple computer I’ve ever bought has turned out to be the best computer I’ve ever owned. (Except for the mice; the mice all universally suck). Every time I’ve tried to go with a Windows PC to save money, or to get some feature that’s not available on the Apple equivalent, I’ve gotten burned — burned enough that I’ve actually lost money in the transaction. I couldn’t care less whether it says Apple on the outside, as long as it works as well as I’ve grown accustomed to expect. Saying that it’s “only 30 percent tech” is pretty ludicrous, when no other company handles the technology as well.

Are there really people who buy these things for the logo, or because Steve Jobs told them to?

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Apple

iLife

I try to stay wary of Apple’s marketing lingo: as much as I like using the iPad, it’s not “magical;” and for all the Apple-branded products I have scattered around the house, in various states of obsolescence but each one the best device I’ve ever owned, I’d never describe any of them as “insanely great.”

But Apple’s brief memoriam is absolutely right in calling Steve Jobs “visionary.”

There were plenty of obituaries and eulogies popping up across the internet within minutes after the official announcement of Jobs’s death; most ghoulishly composed right after his resignation (if not sooner) and polished off with an edited date and time. There were a few insightful ones as well; the best I’ve seen being Slate’s analysis of the wide reach of Jobs’s vision and a more personal thanks from Stack Overflow on behalf of all computer programmers.

But the best obituary was provided by Jobs himself, his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. You have to wonder at the time whether he was aware he was delivering what would become the best summation of his life, not content with letting other people handle it.

That wasn’t the first time Jobs provided his own retrospective; the Think Different campaign for the Macintosh was every bit as much about Jobs’s own philosophy as it was about a computer brand. Jobs says as much in that video. And that ad campaign is a better testament to his legacy than any number of rote obituaries checking off his career achievements.

It may seem crass to associate a life’s work with a product marketing campaign, but I think it’s an outstanding symbol of Jobs’s vision, that his public life and his ideals are so inextricably linked with the Macintosh. It’s because of Steve Jobs that we can even think of computers and mobile phones as having “ideals” at all.

Even the tired criticisms of Apple echo the criticisms of Jobs himself. People decry Apple devices as being overpriced status symbols, while most of us who depend on Macs and iPhones use them simply because they do everything we want and do it well. People criticized Jobs for being an arrogant, stubborn, and sometimes ruthless; while he consistently described his perfectionism as a desire to reject the less-than-perfect in favor of making something that would genuinely change the world.

People are quick to point out that technologies existed before Apple used them, or that other devices have better technical specs — more slots, faster processors, more “open” technologies. But Steve Jobs’s greatest achievement was staying true to a holistic view of computing: individual specs aren’t as important as how they all work together. Technology isn’t the focus, what you do with technology is the focus. Xerox PARC first developed the GUI. But would Xerox have produced MacPaint and HyperCard?

It was the work of hundreds of hardware and software engineers, industrial designers, and graphic artists, not just Steve Jobs, that “invented” the Mac, iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But without Jobs’s dogged fixation on Apple’s core philosophy, they never would’ve come together as an integrated product line — not a phone, or an MP3 player, or a computer, but a line of technological products that could inspire you and enable you to make something great.

Getting that right once or twice could be dismissed as a fluke. Getting it right over and over again can only be genius. And it’s only by “connecting the dots” over Jobs’s career that you can see the remarkable consistency and devotion to that philosophy. How much did he influence the direction of Pixar, for example? It’s always a mistake to give too much credit to one person, but then you have to realize: Pixar was the studio that developed the most advanced computer animation and put it to use not as pure spectacle, but for storytelling. Again, it’s not the technology that’s important.

I never regarded Steve Jobs as a hero, and I barely knew anything about him before I read the retrospectives after his resignation from Apple. By most accounts of his management style, I would’ve hated working for him. I tend to be annoyed at the level at which people worship him. And I absolutely reject the ideal of the auteur, and I’ve seen far too many cases of people being treated poorly for the sake of staying true to one man’s arrogant “vision.”

And still, I’m more profoundly affected by the news of Steve Jobs’s death than I’d expected to be. His arrogance doesn’t seem just dogmatic, but inspirational: not just for the people making the computers, but for all of us using them. And “think different” no longer seems like just an opportunistic marketing plan to inspire people to buy computers and cell phones; but a genuinely-felt philosophy intended to inspire us to do great things with them. Maybe Jobs’s greatest achievement was understanding that business and art don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Jobs invented the personal computer. And I’ve only just recently started to have fleeting moments of awareness of how profound that is: getting directions from my cell phone while I’m listening to music after just playing a game or reading an article, and having the sudden realization that I’m living in the future.

From now on, when I watch Apple ads, I’ll try not to see ethnically-diverse models on skiing trips or vacations to Paris, or hear the carefully-selected focus-tested music in the background as actors pretend to be a father talking to his wife and daughter. Instead, I’ll try to appreciate the bigger picture, and understand the vision Jobs wanted us all to see: friends and families using innovation to make their lives better.

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