Thirty years of Apple’s vision
Steve Jobs was a true business visionary, and the greatest marketer who has ever lived. Apple is a genuine wonder of the marketing art: a single, sustained, successful narrative for thirty blinking years!
Meaningful market share with one narrative for better than thirty years isn’t “good.” That’s crazy. That’s genius. It’s crazy. And that’s almost certainly the first positive thing I have ever written, spoken or communicated by expressive body language about Apple or Steve Jobs.
Tech in the veins
See, I’m a tech guy. In fact, I’m a third generation techie. Literally. My grandfather programmed computers when programming computers meant putting punch cards on one of these. My father was vital in the implementation – if that’s what we’re calling that – of OS/2, IBM’s entry into the operating system market. It tanked. Not OS/2. OS/2 absolutely tanked, don’t get me wrong; I’m saying IBM tanked.
The company that invented personal computing wiped the hard drive, hired a guy from Nabisco and started from scratch, in large part because of the product my father was asked to roll out. It wasn’t his fault, I promise.
Me, I’m the black sheep. English degree, haven’t worn a necktie in ten years. But I haven’t entirely betrayed the binary in my blood: I can hack in HTML, “hello world” in Java and, most importantly, I have never, not once in my life, voluntarily given money to Apple.
Apple is not for the tinkerer
Anybody within two degrees of separation of a practicing geek won’t be surprised by that last part. Anybody who isn’t? Geeks hate Apple. It’s nothing to be proud of, it simply is.
In part, it’s the reason geeks hate anything: we can’t futz with it.
Apple is designed to be used as presented. It is not to be customized, reformatted or experimented upon.
These words are dork blasphemy. My personal workstation is so nightmarishly custom, anybody else who wanted to use it would optimize their productivity by forgoing its use in favor of beating me about the head and shoulders with it until I do what they ask.
But mostly – it’s that we can’t futz with it. Isn’t that strange? Apple, right? Be yourself! Dance in silhouettes! Throw hammers at authoritarian video screens! But don’t change any aspect of our design, and don’t so much as glance at our code. Think different?
The vision isn’t what it was
There’s this phrase geeks know: “reality distortion field.” Sounds Star Trek, right? Well, it is. It’s also a real thing. In the words of Andy Hertzfeld, architect of the original Mac OS, RDF is:
“…a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If one line of argument failed to persuade, he would deftly switch to another. Sometimes, he would throw you off balance by suddenly adopting your position as his own, without acknowledging that he ever thought differently.”
Look at the last two words.
Steve Jobs, of course.
“A confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, an indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand” is a working synonym of “greatest marketer who has ever lived.” Jobs was a visionary. His Apple was a vision, a statement of how things should work. Interlocking, smooth, open. Different.
To date, the fact that Apple products do not work in that way has not meaningfully impacted its market share.
But Jobs passed. That remarkable mind is now elsewhere. The RDF is powering down, and employees seem to be feeling its absence. There’s an old techie motto they seem to be embracing instead.