Jobs is gone.
Now what? Is this the end of iStuff?
I don’t know much about his successor, Tim Cook, apart from the fact that he fits the profile for obsessional CEOs of huge companies everywhere, getting up at four in the morning to send emails, working out in the gym till he collapses and bullying everyone around him. This is known in some circles as a work ethic, and in others as having no life. Not much change from Jobs then, but is Cook’s reality-distortion field as powerful? Can he bend the cold light of day? Can he persuade everyone at Apple that his vision for a web-browsing, lawn-mowing toaster is going to change the world?
I don’t know.
Jobs was always a bit of a chancer. He was more salesman than engineer and only for Wozniak, he might have been nobody, but he did have one clear vision: ordinary people should not have to wrestle with geeky shit to make their equipment work, and for this I like him.
Years ago, we struggled with desktop machines running ridiculous things like CP/M and even more ridiculous mainframe behemoths running I have no idea what. Even then, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I couldn’t understand why anyone should have to know even one line of code to make something work after they had paid huge money for it. If CP/M was silly, MS-DOS made it even worse: Gates’s ludicrous operating system couldn’t address more than 640k of memory, which meant that after buying the computer for gigantic money and then buying some absurd word processor like Word Perfect which forced you to remember dozens of commands to do the simplest task, and which forced you to imagine what your finished document was going to look like, you still had to go out and buy something like DESQview and QEMM to make the thing work even half right.
Unix was better, but only in the sense that it didn’t keep falling over like DOS. On the other hand, you had to remember even more ridiculous commands like awk and grep and finger. You still do, because geeks and nerds don’t care about ordinary people as long as they get enough Slayer t-shirts, pizzas and bootleg copies of computer games.
Jobs saw that this was all bullshit. When you put your clothes in the washing machine, you don’t have to rewire the pump. When you start your car, you don’t have to calculate the spark voltage or estimate the viscosity of diesel. It just starts.
I’ll never forget the first time I played poker on an Apple. It was nothing fancy: just a game of cards, but they looked like real cards and I didn’t have to remember to type Ctrl-anything. The machine just did what it was supposed to do and I was so entranced by the thing I played it all night.
Why was I entranced? Because I was used to terrible DOS-based PCs and astounded that a machine might just work, with no complicated commands or IT geeks looking down on me because I didn’t choose to learn their stupid language.
For one reason or another, I never actually bought an Apple of my own. It didn’t suit me to do so because I needed to be in the Windows world for work and other reasons, and yet there are geeks in my life today who say that an ordinary laptop can easily be transformed into a Mac with a few simple modifications. I don’t know about that, because I know little of the underlying hardware, but I believe them.
Maybe the Apple build quality is superior, but I doubt it. The difference is in the style and the approach, which is why I bought myself an iPod as soon as I could, but not before making the mistake of getting a Creative Labs thing the size of a brick with a horrible interface that never worked properly. I was glad when I accidentally dropped it while it was still running. By contrast, the iPod was clean and white and sexy. I liked it very much, even though I knew Apple were playing with my impulse-buttons. I didn’t need an iPod. I just wanted one, and who wouldn’t?
It was the same with the iPhone and the iPad, though I didn’t personally find myself quite so seduced by them. My HTC is better than the iPhone, and having seen the Asus competitor, I won’t be getting an iPad, but that’s not the point. Jobs imagined the concepts or at least, he reimagined them after Gene Roddenberry, and he beamed his micro-managing insistence at his staff, his fellow board members and his friends until they all crumbled under the power of his mind-wave.
My neighbour has an ultra-sleek Mac on his desk. It’s more than a computer. It’s a sculpture. A statement. A bookmark in space. If I had a Mac like that, I’d need to buy a New York loft apartment, a Saluki and a full set of Hüsker Dü vinyl for the days when Philip Glass just doesn’t cut it.
That’s Apple for you, and that’s the reach of Jobs’s reality distortion field. He makes me think I have a karate black belt, drive Gary Cooper’s Duesenberg and live in a converted Brooklyn bank.
Bill Gates never made me think any thoughts apart from murdering him.