Concluding my 26-letter A-Z compendium of all things Apple
Apple has always been too cool to be wacky or zany. Look at dull old Microsoft – it tries to be zany every now and again, with cringeworthy results. Steve Jobs appeared the very opposite of zany, although not deathly dull like his successors John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio. Steve was cool, not fool.
But ‘zany’ doesn’t get even close to his idea to dress up as Willy Wonka and give a tour of the Apple campus to the buyer of the millionth iMac. Thankfully for his later self-esteem, Californian gaming law meant that anyone could enter the running for the prize without having to buy an iMac. And there was no way Steve was dressing up or even smiling at a possible Windows user.
For some reason Apple vs Microsoft, Android, and just about everyone else brings out the worst in otherwise quite boring people. Any argument between an Apple fan boy or anti-Mac nutter is as black and white as the Mac fan’s iPhone. Furious rows erupt over quite trivial details, such OS X Dock vs Windows Taskbar, or the dimensions of a phone’s screen. And who’d have it any other way?
While Apple’s always been cool, it has mostly been a niche player after an initial burst of domination – that is, before less innovative companies copy the hell out of its ideas. But you can’t deny that Apple catches the zeitgeist (Spirit of the Times) more than most – from the Apple I to the iPad.
Steve Jobs might not have appeared the most peaceful of men, but he was profoundly influenced by Zen Buddhism, which he studied in India after dropping out of college.
But Zen is all about contradictions, so let’s ignore ego-less calm and celebrate what Steve got most out of Zen: focus and empathy (for his customers rather than his employees and partners).
“Jobs’ Zen-like ability to focus was accompanied by the related instinct to simplify things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity,” wrote Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson.
While every other band in the world got aboard the iTunes boat there were several high-profile digital-download refuseniks. Heavy rock bands seemed particularly put out by iTunes, with AC/DC, Metallica and Led Zeppelin giving Apple the horns. Metallica was first to concede defeat to Jobs in 2006. Zeppelin‘s 2007 capitulation after four years in the digital wilderness was followed three years later by The Beatles.
On his return to Apple in 1997 Steve Jobs took a pop at the company’s current roster of “a zillion and one” products, and set about culling cameras, printers and the Newton PDA. From that day onwards at Apple, simplification ruled.
Apple’s QuickTake digital camera looked cool, but the subjects of its pictures often looked small due to its lack of a zoom. Today, the iPhone continues Apple’s obsession with fixed-focus cameras.
Possibly the greatest word in the dictionary, and served up right at the end. In chess parlance a zugzwang is a position in which one player can move only with loss or severe disadvantage. Since Steve’s return in 1997 – when Apple looked like it had zugzwanged itself – the revitalised company has patiently manoeuvred all its rivals and even partners into such perilous positions – ready to finally take over the world. Mwahahaha!
I’ve been to all the Apple CEO Macworld Expo keynotes (except the ones in Japan, dammit) since 1995, apart from the San Francisco show in January 1997 when my flight was delayed – meaning I missed the keynote by then Apple CEO Gil Amelio. It was a lucky escape.
While I was yawning through cross-international time-zone jet lag, the attendees at the Amelio keynote were suffering a different but very real strangulating pain behind their eyes.
Amelio spoke for three hours, without a proper script and in front of a malfunctioning teleprompter.
He had some stellar guests but forgot even to get the waiting Muhammad Ali onto the stage, and blew the appearance of Apple co-founding Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, by coming on after them and being as incoherent as he had before they’d woken everyone up.
It was a fitting end to the era of a Steve-less Apple. Too long. Dull. An utter failure. Within days Jobs was back in power and everything was all right again.
The nightmare was over, and we could all dream again.