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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5 Responses to “Is There a Steve Jobs Backlash?”

  1. Al says:

    If such things mattered to customers then Facebook should have gone out of business by now.

  2. Peter says:

    I’ve mostly ignored the coverage. Jobs was an amazing public speaker and was smart enough to surround himself with talented engineers and inspire them to do insanely great things.

    That said, when things get a bit too ridiculous, I just bring up the Apple III. That was Steve’s baby. It was crap. I also remind people that the Mac, when it first came out, sold far below Apple’s estimates. It wasn’t until Jobs was gone and other people came in that the Mac succeeded by doing something that Steve wouldn’t do–listen to customers.

    So, gosh, Steve did some great things. He also did some bonehead things. Just like the rest of us.

    In regards to Android, I’m not sure the “free” aspect of Android was ever really a consideration for vendors. While the operating system is free, the Google services are not. They pay Google to have the Maps application, the Google Marketplace, and various other Google services. You can do a “bare bones” Android install for free, sure, but the “bare bones” Android machines haven’t sold nearly as well as the ones that include all of the Google services (of course, the Kindle Fire might be an exception).

  3. DaveD says:

    I was saddened by Steve Jobs’ early departure. To his credit, he was honest about himself showing the good and bad sides. We all know that no one is perfect, no company is perfect. It seems that perfection was his ultimate goal in life. There can be no doubts that he rebuilt Apple from a faltering niche computer company to becoming a massive force to change how we use and appreciate technologies in our daily lives.

    Apple’s products are easier to learn, use and pleasing to the eyes. I had made my choice (we still have choices today) a long time ago. I fully appreciate and enjoy using my 2011 17-inch MacBook Pro every time as have the prior PowerBooks. Yet, I know the Mac isn’t perfect. When it comes time for another hardware/software upgrade, it gets even closer to perfection.

    I will read his book one day. From what I gathered is a sense of betrayal experienced from dealings with Adobe, Microsoft and Google.

  4. I found it interesting that Jobs’s biographer attributed what he perceived as Jobs’s sense of privilege and that rules didn’t apply to him to being told as a child that yes, he was adopted, but he was chosen, and therefore special. Adoptive parents were told to say that in the 1950s even though even a moment’s contemplation by a nine-year-old will see through the lie. Chosen? Yes. Abandoned? Yes. Unwanted? Yes. My best friend was a ‘chosen’ child and he exhibits some of the same traits as Steve Jobs, a kind of selfishness and outsider’s attitude toward authority and the establishment. It’s clear to me that Jobs’s arrogance and selfishness were stewed in a cauldron of anger and rejection.

    Steve Jobs was a tragic figure.


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