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  • Is There a Steve Jobs Backlash?

    October 25th, 2011

    What the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, by author Walter Isaacson, confirms is that Apple’s late co-founder was both a genius and a jerk. While the details are far more extensive, and no doubt more accurate, than what you read in those unofficial bios, the same overall picture emerges of the amazing creativity, and equally amazing flaws of this era’s most famous corporate leader.

    Sure, there are surprises to be found, such as the fact that Jobs put off critical cancer treatment for nine months in a foolish quest to focus on exotic treatment methods, such as colon cleansing schemes and exotic diets, all because he didn’t want anyone to open up his body. But whether such delays shortened his life is anyone’s guess, as precious few people survive pancreatic cancer for any length of time anyway. I remember my late mother-in-law, who succumbed within weeks after her condition was diagnosed.

    But the new meme in the media, at least a small portion of it, has it that, now that the public realizes that Steve Jobs was not such a nice person, maybe they will somehow rebel and embrace other products instead. Besides, isn’t Apple going to lose its mojo now that their mercurial and micromanaging co-founder is no longer around to keep things on an even keel?

    For this theory to have even an iota of credibility, you have to consider whether the new revelations about Jobs would necessarily come as a surprise. Even though Apple has received over a million messages of condolence from people around the world, I think few of them had any illusions about Jobs. But they didn’t have to live with him, associate with him as business colleagues, and, except for a small minority, they didn’t have to work for him either. Their exposure to Apple came in the form of Macs, iPods, iPhones, iPads and so on and so forth. If they didn’t like the products, they wouldn’t buy them and keep on buying them. And I hardly think knowing that Jobs’ true personality was more extreme than they might have suspected is going to dissuade them.

    I suspect that, of the tens and tens of millions of Apple customers, few know or care about the intimate details of the life. Sure, many people know who he was, and perhaps have a broad sense of his personal quirks, but it still comes down to the quality of the product. If they didn’t like the stuff Apple builds, they wouldn’t keep buying gadgets with the Apple brand on them.

    What’s more, I do not see why, except in the minds of some ill-informed bloggers, that knowing the alleged truth about Steve Jobs would dissuade people from buying Apple products, or convince them to sell off what they have. Well, I can think of one blogger, but Apple will, as always, have to market their gear on the merits, with no guarantee of success in the court of public opinion.

    Also remember that, for quite a number of months since Jobs was first diagnosed and treated for cancer, Tim Cook was in charge. Sure, you can bet that Jobs was calling the shots in many cases, but not when he was under the knife, or otherwise incapacitated. The Isaacson book also makes it clear that Jobs heavily relied on Cook to do the right thing. Certainly Apple’s ongoing performance shows that the company is in good hands. And, after a curious drop in the stock price because inflated expectations of iPhone sales in the last quarter weren’t realized, I see the price has gone up again. Reality appears to be setting in.

    At the same time, it is interesting to see where Jobs’ head was at over the years, that, for example, his views about life and death influenced the way off switches, or the lack of clearly-defined off switches, found their way into Apple’s product designs. From pressing the power button on a Mac and having to wait for five seconds for it to turn off, to having to pull the plug on an Apple TV, it’s clear that Jobs didn’t want you to ever switch that stuff off. Idle (or sleep mode) was fine, but you had to work a little bit more to stop things cold.

    Jobs’ feelings of betrayal in the way that the Google Android OS mimics the iOS in a number of ways clearly influenced Apple’s decision to file lots of lawsuits against alleged patent violators. That Apple has been more and more successful in some of those actions only goes to show that Jobs was right. Then again, it may well be that the bigger threat to Android is the fact that Microsoft has coerced many of the handset makers who build gear powered by Google’s OS to pay license fees. One report had it that Microsoft has signed up 50% of the Android OS licensees so far. Once it becomes evident that this supposed free OS isn’t free, you wonder how many handset makers will try to roll their own, or go to Microsoft and license the latest and greatest Windows Phone system instead.

    But now I want to get back to that Steve Jobs bio. He was definitely a character, and I expect there will be more intriguing revelations beyond those in that book in the months and years to come.

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