The death of Steve Jobs was covered by the media in a manner usually reserved for heads of state. But, the truth is that he probably affected your life more deeply than most presidents or prime ministers. If you use Apple products, you hold the contours, colors, buttons, and menus that Mr. Jobs personally obsessed over and approved.
Even if you didn’t use his company’s products, you use features that his competitors obsessed over and hoped would enable them to compete against Apple products.
Take a look around your workspace or home, and count all the Apple or Apple-wanna-be products and features around you. You’ll find lots of obvious examples like iPhones and iPads, but there are scores of others you might not be aware of. Mr. Jobs was listed as co-inventor on no fewer than 313 Apple patents; it is safe to say that almost any MP3 music player, smartphone, or tablet has several aspects that were either invented or inspired by Mr. Jobs. In other words, examples of his genius are with us every day, and will remain with us every day.
Perhaps even more important than the technology itself (although it was enormously important) was the aesthetics of the technology. At the dawn of the computer industry, the notion that technology could be beautiful technology was foreign to most everyone involved. Any artistic flair in that field was, in fact, discouraged as being contrary to the utilitarian nature of computers. IBM engineers famously met clients dressed in dark suits, white shirts, and “sincere” ties.
Mr. Jobs, dressed in his iconic Levis and black turtleneck, instinctively understood the importance of the aesthetics of the technology in our lives. He worked hard to make his computers literally beautiful. He even wanted their unseen interior spaces to be beautiful; when designing the original Macintosh, he instructed the engineers to use the colors of the Apple rainbow logo in the internal wiring. Reluctantly, he was persuaded otherwise.
That concern for aesthetics was a priority over his entire career. The elegant appearance (and hence easy operation) of the iPod challenged and then devastated all other current products built on the philosophy of feature creep. In contrast, his products were designed using clean pages, not upon layers of older products. His products weren’t just boxes with features, they were things you wanted to hold, and put in your pocket, and then take them out and admire them. He said that the iPhone was unlike any other consumer product and was more akin to a fine Swiss watch. It is that excellence of design, and attention to every detail, that makes Apple products so good, and demonstrates just how well Mr. Jobs understood technology and its role in our lives.
It is appropriate to rank Steve Jobs with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. His life and work were as influential as that of any businessman or industrialist or statesman. No matter what role technology plays in your life, his death is a loss to us all.
Leslie Shapiro has been an audio engineer for 25 years, with experience in television, film, and the music industry. She is also a member of NARAS, which gives her the coveted privilege of voting for the Grammy Awards.
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