Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WORTHY!

Some people have held up Steve Jobs as a good reason why abortion is a bad thing (Jobs was adopted). Others have held him up as a hero, a visionary, the guru of cool, but I don't hold him up as anything but a regrettable example of a human being. Steve Jobs was not a nice person. He was childish, petulant, obsessive, given to tantrums, downright mean, and prone to crying when he didn't get his way. He abused people cruelly, not physically, but emotionally, and he followed utterly bizarre diets which could change completely on a whim, the previous diet being dismissed as though it were someone else's dumb idea. He refused to acknowledge parentage to his first child (and threw out her mom) until he was taken to court over it, and even then continued to deny it for many years. He probably contributed to his own early death by refusing to acknowledge how sick he was for many months, resorting to ridiculous and utterly useless New Age 'cures' which did nothing but let his cancer spread.

So why do I care about his biography? Well, I read this for the same reason I read Joss Whedon's: because I was interested not so much in the person per se, as in the mechanics of the thing. How did he get his ideas? How did he bring them to fruition? In Job's case, how did these products get conceived, put together, and brought to market?

The bottom line was that Steve Jobs was just as much an incompetent blunderer as he was a genius of design and marketing. He just happened to get it right more than he screwed it up, and even when he got it right, he screwed it up in ways not so obvious to the consumer - like producing under-powered computers that were hard, if not impossible to upgrade.

So while he did usher in the original Mac, his arrival on the Mac team was a punishment, not the result of anyone's inspiration! He did contribute materially to its design, but the original interface idea was not his; it was that of the Xerox corporation which didn't have any idea what it had. So after taking their idea and making it work, and making it cool, Jobs then had the nerve to go after Microsoft for "stealing his idea" when they came out with Windows! I'm no fan of Microsoft. I agree with Jobs that they're amateurs and kings of kludge, especially when compared with Apple.

Jobs did resurrect Apple after it misstepped badly with the Lisa (named after the very daughter he refused to acknowledge), and the Apple 3, and Jobs was tossed out of the corporation he founded. His incompetence was highlighted starkly when he was finally on his own at this time and able to give give free reign to his whims. He tried to bring the "Next" computer to the world and again larded it with unnecessary design expenses, and underpowered it, and hobbled it with poor specs and over-pricing.

'Next' folded quickly, but fortunately for jobs, he had by then grown an interest in another computer company, one named Pixar. Despite his dumb-ass idea that they could open stores and sell the Pixar animation machine for $30,000 each, he was smart enough to appreciate the value of the interest amongst employees in developing animated movies, and he was a really strong advocate for Pixar in its battles over its partnership with Disney, before Disney simply up and bought the outfit completely.

The Next operating system (Next Step) did come back with him to Apple when he was 'rehired' and ended up taking the reins (or the reign), but it was a while before it was integrated into Apple's operating system. His first really solid move was to push out the iMac, which was the first step in Apple's resurgence. He quickly built on this with the iPod, then the iPhone, then the iPad.

None of these ideas were original with him either. The iPod was a better version of music players already entering the market, but its sales were definitely bolstered by Job's iTunes, which was, in the form we know it, his idea. The iPhone was a result of development of the iPad, which was an idea he first heard from a Microsoft employee. The iPad was slow to the market for a variety of reasons, but the iPhone used its technology and came out first. When it finally arrived, the iPad was a huge success despite popular media skepticism and it did incorporate some of Jobs's ideas from his Next days - where a computer would come complete with a variety of useful apps, but it wasn't until iPad 2 that this vision began to be properly realized.

So, I skipped a lot of this book because it wasn't interesting to me, but I read with eager interest all of the product development and launch material. The book is very well researched, deeply informative, contains photographs, and is well-written, with lots of input from those who knew Jobs personally and those who worked with and for him. I recommend it.

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