Three Ways Steve Jobs Made Technology Cool, Stylish and Accessible
This morning I was scheduled for a conference call with one of my clients and I knew I was running a few minutes late. My laptop was not with me and I didn't know the client's email address by heart. Fortunately, I had my iPhone. I opened it up, found a recent e-mail exchange between myself and my client, copied the e-mail address into the mail software and e-mailed them I was running late. Problem solved.
As soon as I did this, I realized that Steve Jobs made this happen. He didn't invent e-mail or even the concept of the smart phone. But he did make that technology accessible to the average person and that changed everything.
When the Macintosh computers were first introduced, they were met by the computing community mostly with bemusement. They were often called "toys" because of their easy-to-use graphical interface. Before that, computers had primarily been the domain of nerds and business. No normal person had ever thought of the computer as fun or something that would make their lives easier. Quite the contrary, they were things you used at the office to do data entry or do calculations; things you went home to avoid.
Jobs understood that computers were something we all should be able to use without a degree in computer science. It's ironic considering the elitist label that has followed Apple for many years that, in effect, Jobs was a populist. He took what was difficult to use and made it easy. He forced computer companies to recognize that the masses didn't care about how it worked; they only cared that it did.
3. Form Over Function When the iMac was introduced -- that multi-colored, plastic bubble -- computer experts scoffed. "What idiot would care about how their computer looked? They are for complex calculations not for home decor!" Yet, people did care. Computers were finally becoming part of every household and the big, gray tower was an eyesore that had furniture companies designing desks that hid them away. Giant credenzas were built to encase your massive, off-white monitor in a shroud of secrecy.
Then came the iMac and computers got style.
Virtually every computer and computer device since has been focused, at least in part, on the way it looks. As these machines became a greater part of our daily lives, they occupied more prominent space in our homes and offices, places we want, vain as it may be, to look nice. Jobs convinced us that computers could be more than just a functional requirement, they could be a stylish accessory.
2. The Populism of Accessibility But, the reason people have computers is not as a conversation piece. People own computers to use. Once the world wide web came into existence and the world shifted from mail to e-mail, from Yellow Pages to Google, computers began to tumble out of the domain of nerds and into the everyday lives of the rest of us. Jobs understood that the way to hasten this transition -- and open up a market that exponentially increased the number of potential customers -- computers and technology, in general, needed to be easier to use.
The Apple operating system did that. Think for a moment of all the things the graphical user interface (GUI) we now use every day on both PCs and Macs does we take for granted. We mouse-click on things that once required command code. We can copy and paste text, images and files in between complex software programs. We can drag and drop virtually anything.
All of this is controlled by millions of calculations that run quietly behind the scenes while we type away furiously, looking at a pretty, bright screen populated with images and icons we've come to recognize and use daily. The GUI is virtual shorthand. Without it, we would all need to be code experts.
Jobs went further and convinced us we needed all of this stuff on the go. He took what had been a business-friendly, but complicated smartphone and created the iPhone changing the way we the phone. Not only does it work well, it syncs data and allows us to do things we've never done before -- like locate a client email to let them know you'll be late for a meeting.
Suddenly, computers had gone from your desktop to your laptop to your pocket.
1. The Power of Cool And, let's be honest, that's pretty damn cool. As a kid back in the stone ages of the `70s, I used to carry records to friends' houses whenever we wanted to listen to music. I would choose a dozen or so of the bulky vinyl discs and hope that was all we wanted to hear. Now, I can take my whole damn record collection anywhere I want on a device the size of a credit card.
That is the power of cool and no one in the technology industry harnessed that as well as Jobs. He turned boring software developer conferences designed for geeks into rock concerts watched by millions. He was the ringmaster and we ooh'ed and ah'ed at his announcements like we were watching a high-wire act.
He used this platform to deliver the message that technology can look good, be easy to use and, above all else, be really, flipping cool. Before Jobs, technology companies didn't really understand the influence popular culture wielded over the world and young people in particular. They were busy churning out boxes and touting gigabytes and RAM and processing speed while Jobs was holding an address book, a dictionary, an entire e-mail database, GPS maps, thousands of songs and diverse software applications we would all just call "apps" in a device about the size of a deck of cards. Hard to compete with that.
None of this takes into account how he revolutionized the delivery of music, how he re-invented animation, how he convinced us we don't need cables to connect our technology or floppy discs and CDs to store our data and how he made another "toy," the iPad, the future of personal computing.
His contributions to technology are far too many to list in a blog post. Suffice it to say, he changed the way we work, the way we communicate and the way we see computing. Because technology is such an important part of most of our everyday lives, he changed how we live in ways that are hard to calculate. As some have been want to re-tweet on Twitter, he was our generation's Edison and, like Edison, the world is better because of Steve Jobs.
Get the Weekly Newsletter