A common myth about the late Steve Jobs was that he came up with pretty much all the bright ideas that Apple implemented after he returned to the company he co-founded in 1997. Whether an all-new product, a feature, or a new service, he just snapped his fingers and it all magically came into existence.
Forgetting for a moment the real creation process at Apple, what happened if a product didn’t succeed? What about all the versions of Apple’s cloud-based service before iCloud arrived? iTools? .Mac? They all went by the wayside after a few years, and don’t get me started about Apple’s failed online service of the 1990s, eWorld. Based on AOL technology, it hung around for two years o rso before being shuttered. Jobs has nothing to do with it, since it debuted in 1994, and folded in 1996. I didn’t even get a chance to write a book about it.
Let’s not forget the infamous Power Macintosh G4 Cube. It appeared to be based on the original NeXTcube concept, and it was also unsuccessful. The Cube was criticized for being underpowered, overpriced, and lacking proper expansion features. Why not just buy a Power Macintosh G4? Well, the Cube looked nicer.
In any case, the Cube stuck me as little more than a pet project from Jobs. Regular readers will recall my recollections about the official MacOS X rollout media event in 2001. During a brief Q&A session, one reporter dared to ask Jobs to comment about rumors that the Cube would soon be discontinued. Jobs heatedly denied it, barking, “you don’t know what you are talking about!”
But the reporter had it right. The Cube was discontinued that summer.
Even when terrific and incredibly successful ideas emerged from Apple, that doesn’t mean Jobs immediately agreed to everything. Sometimes he had to be persuaded.
So there’s a published report about the creation of the Apple Store. This highly successful retail chain was cooked up by Jobs and retail genius Ron Johnson. Well, Johnson, whose tenure at J.C. Penney after leaving Apple failed miserably, claimed that he and Jobs “clicked from Day One,” during an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher.
In telling the story of how the Apple Stores were developed, Johnson recalled how Jobs at first had his own ideas about one of the most important features of the fledgling chain.
“I remember the day I came in and told Steve about the Genius Bar idea and he says, ‘That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!'”
Johnson said that Jobs told him, “Ron, you might have the right idea, but here’s the big gap: I’ve never met someone who knows technology who knows how to connect with people. They’re all geeks! You can call it the Geek Bar.”
So Johnson made his case. The very next day, Jobs reportedly contacted Apple’s general counsel to apply for a trademark to the phrase, “Genius Bar.”
An even more telling example is the App Store. When the iPhone was launched in 2007, Jobs vetoed the idea of supporting third-party native apps. Instead, Apple touted so-called web apps that would integrate with the Safari rendering engine. Jobs gave all sorts of reasons, such as the difficulties in policing app developers.
Web apps went nowhere, and Jobs finally caved. By October of 2007, he announced that Apple would release an SDK, software development kit, for native iPhone apps the following year. The App Store debuted in July, 2008. Nearly nine years later, history shows the App Store has been a major job creator and income producer. The latest estimates have it that some 1.4 million jobs were created, with total revenue of $60 billion generated over the past nine years.
Did Jobs even conceive of the ultimate success of the App Store when he finally agreed to give it a go? I recall his modest expectations for the iPhone, when he remarked that he would be happy to see the product garner one percent of the worldwide mobile handset market by the end of 2008.
Do you ever wonder whether the Apple Stores would have succeeded as it did if the Genius Bar was launched as a Geek Bar? Sort of reminds me of the Best Boy’s Greek Squad. I think the Genius Bar actually gave the stores more credibility with the general public.
When it comes to the App Store, Apple’s wasn’t the first. But it was designed in a way to ease the process of choosing and buying apps for the iPhone, and later the iPad. Many apps were free or really cheap, but it’s not that the App Store is necessarily perfect. You can complain that finding apps that aren’t being specially highlighted can be difficult, though Apple continues to attempt to improve the search feature.
The App Store has also served as the prototype for similar software repositories from other companies, particularly Google Play. But not everyone has been successful. The Microsoft Store continues to stay under the radar.
None of this denigrates the contribution Jobs made to Apple, although he had faults aplenty. But he also had an uncanny instinct for success, and he was right far more often than he was wrong. Still, it’s clear that he sometimes had to be persuaded to do the right thing.