The results are in: Some 35% of readers voted the death of Steve Jobs as the
biggest technology story of 2011. In second place was political hacking, with
almost 23% of the vote.
A couple of days before the introduction of what
we now know as the iPad, I read a vigorous online debate in which a blogger and
dozens of readers were trying to guess the name of the product. Although Apple
didn't announce in advance of its January 27, 2010 presentation that it would be
introducing the iPad (hard to believe it was barely just two years ago), it was
common knowledge that Apple would be presenting its tablet computer – and the
debate on the blog surrounded what this device would be called.
Apple's penchant for snappy, easy to remember names – as well as its affinity
for the “i” prefix in terms (iPad, iMac, etc.), numerous readers made educated
guesses as to what Apple would call the product – iTablet, iDevice, iReader. But
not one guessed “iPad” - which, of course, is the one that makes the most sense.
Interestingly, this debate seemed to be taking place on many blogs, I discovered
later – and in the follow ups that I read, not one reader claimed to have come
up with the name “iPad.”
Top technology story of 2011
Lessons from the brutal truth of Steve Jobs
You know someone is a marketing genius when you
see a product they designed, hear the name they chose, and say “of course!”
Considering how clunky and geeky computer products can be, have always been, and
are supposed to be, it takes a marketing genius to look beyond what is, and
foresee what can be. What should be. And to the victor belongs the spoils; when
that marketing genius starts selling the products that make so much sense, its a
sure thing that people are going to flock to those products, making their
marketer – and the company that markets them – rich.
That's why the loss
of Steve Jobs – the man, the marketer, the Apple leader – is, by far, the top
tech story of 2011. Anybody can invent a music player, and anybody can try to
sell them. Jobs did neither; he did not invent music players, and he did not try
to sell them. What he invented and sold was a music ecology, an easy to
understand, easy to use, and easy to listen to infrastructure, doing the “heavy
lifting” of searching, buying, and updating for busy consumers who just want to
listen to music in peace. That's genius, being able to envision something as old
as time itself in a new light.
And here's the kicker; he called the music
manager “iTunes,” and the device to play the music on the “iPod.” Get it? “I,”
as in “me, mine, chilling out the way I like,” together with “tunes” - and
played on a little device that looks like a “pod.” Two syllables – emphasis on
the “i” - and you've got not a product or a piece of software, but a concept, an
infrastructure, a guaranteed winner. Ditto for the iPhone, iPad, and any other
“i's” Jobs managed to put into the pipeline before his death. All of them are
based not on the product, but on a concept – and those concepts have changed the
world of computing beyond anything any of us could have envisioned. Except for
Steve Jobs, of course, who knew all along just where he was taking us.
I was preparing this story, I did a little Googling to see what others are
saying about Jobs's legacy at the end of this fateful year – and I found some
surprising stuff. For example, a page discussing Jobs's impact on the auto
industry (Smartphones slowly but surely turning dedicated GPS devices into
outmoded relics, dedicated iPod connections on car radios replacing CD players);
the sports industry (the iPhone as a device to take video at games, making
fantasy sports, statistics, etc. more accessible to fans); the media (iPads
reviving the fortunes of news sites, streaming Internet radio anywhere and
anytime); and others. Those are the fruits of the revolution that Jobs
As are the explosion of tablets from Samsung and Amazon, the
entire Android phone business, and Amazon's cloud. And let's not forget
Microsoft Windows, inspired, at the very least, by the Macintosh operating
system. It's certainly possible that any or all of these innovations would have
come about without Apple showing the way – but it's unlikely. Microsoft was
quite satisfied with MS-DOS for the longest time, and five years ago the phone
everyone was trying to emulate (or duplicate) was the Blackberry.
course, critics will dismiss some, or even most, of this paean to Jobs: Apple
ripped off the Mac OS from Xerox, Jobs's dictatorial personality shows itself in
the “walled Apple garden” that demands tight control of the software you can
install on iPhones and iPads, the iPad is just “a big iPhone,” Jobs just took
existing products and “touched them up,” never actually inventing anything new –
etc. That's OK – its the critics' job to criticize. But even they have to admit
it: When they hear a cellphone ringing with that distinct iPhone ringtone
(called “Marimba”); when they see a sleek laptop with the Apple logo lit up on
its cover; when they see a jogger with those white earbuds attached to an iPod;
or when they're sitting on a plane next to someone watching a movie on their
iPad – they take a second look.
Nobody takes a second look at a Samsung
Galaxy Tab, or an HTC cellphone, or a Coby MP3 player. No offense to any of
these fine companies – but they're not “i” products, and they don't have the
Jobs touch. That touch is what we lost with Jobs, and it's going to be very
difficult – if not impossible - to replace.
That could be why Apple is
planning to open an R&D center in Israel
. Israeli hi-tech has come up with
so many genius ideas, Apple figures that it's about time they got in on the
action. Because ultimately, all of its competitors have a significant presence
in Israel. Microsoft and Google have been here for years, and Amazon's Kindle
was basically invented here in Israel (at Oracle, formerly Sun, in Herzliya).
Why did Apple wait until now?
Because until now Apple had all the genius it
needed. That genius is Jobs's legacy, and now that it's gone, innovation just
won't be the same.