Friday, October 07, 2011

Bye Steve

I never owned a product made by Apple so Steve Jobs never touched me personally. I was tempted several times starting back in 1977 when I bought my first home computer (IBM invented the term "personal computer" in the early 1980s). Most home computers were kits that had to be soldered together. The Apple II was part of the second wave of home computers - ones that were pre-assembled. The problem with the Apple, from my point of view, was that it was something like $1,600 and a Radio Shack TRS-80 without monitor was $400. I didn't have $1,600 so there was no real choice.

That happened several times over the years. Apple might tempt me but I ended up buying something equivalent for a fraction of the price. This eventually became know as the Apple Premium.

Then there was the cult of the Mac. People went into raptures over the thing. I've never cared for cults of personality.

The "I'm an Apple" ads never affected me much. I always liked the PC guy better. Plus, the ads lied. In one they had the PC using a spreadsheet to show how much he enjoyed his vacation while the Mac guy was able to create a slideshow of pictures. This is trivial on a PC but they implied that you had to have a Mac to do it.

Then there is the walled garden. By the time I could afford an Apple phone or MP3 player, they had established tight control over every aspect of the devices. This was the culmination of Steve Jobs's career. The Apple I was a kit. The Apple II was totally open. When it first came out they documented every part of it making it east for 3rd parties to make add-ons. The Mac was locked down. When it was announced you violated your warranty by plugging in a non-Apple printer.

But the iPhone, iPod, and iPad go beyond that. They are media consumption devices and Apple gets a cut of the media. That's why they don't allow SD cards or Flash - both are ways of delivering content without going through Apple's gatekeepers.

Microsoft made a few attempts at this sort of control in the 1990s but backed off later. Apple went far beyond anything Microsoft ever dreamed of. But because its users are convinced that everything Steve Jobs ever touched is "insanely great", no one complains.

When you get down to it, Bill Gates has touched my life much more than Steve Jobs ever did. Jobs's main contribution has been to give Microsoft some competition. They have always been at their best when facing a competitor.

The same thing happened with the touch phone industry. Smart phones that can run apps have been around for a decade. Apple improved them by eliminating the keyboard in favor of a large touch screen. But by the time the iPhone 4 arrived it was playing catch-up with Android. And there are some features, like Flash and an external SD card, that the iPhone will never have. Steve decreed it.

So, bye Steve. Sorry to see you go but I won't really miss you.

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