Sometime in 1997, while visiting a printing office of some variety, I experienced a bit of shock at seeing a Mac of some sort on a desk. A Mac! Why, Apple is still in business? Mostly I was surprised to see one in the flesh, especially in a business setting. I mean, I could see a graphic designer owning one, and a jazz musician I knew used a Mac laptop for his drum machine, but otherwise I thought of Macs as a curiosity rather than an actual computer.
One year later, Apple launched the iMac.
This past Saturday, while waiting to get a haircut, I looked around the waiting area at the other customers. I counted no fewer than four iPhones, including my own. A nine-year-old boy sitting on the floor played a game on an iPad. I had left my MacBook Pro in my car.
I marveled a bit at what Steve Jobs had wrought, and how far Apple had come. Not only that, but how dramatically Steve Jobs had changed nearly every bit of personal computing technology the world knows. What colors were computers in the 1980s and 1990s? Beige, beige and light beige. Then came the iMac.
Suddenly, you could get your computer in red, blue, green, or even in polka dots! Yes, other manufacturers had produced computers in multiple colors in the past. Apple made it mainstream. Admit it: even now, more than a decade later, you still want to play with this thing. And I use the word “play” deliberately. Because if Apple products are nothing if they don’t stand for fun.
Then Jobs decided to push ahead again, which brought us the iMac G4. You remember, the one with the floating screen, looked like a lamp?
This was more than a dramatic reinvention of the personal computer. Through the G4, Jobs became the arbiter of standards of the computer industry. When he unveiled the G4, he openly proclaimed the CRT monitor dead. Did he succeed? Think very carefully: when was the last time you saw one of these monsters in regular use? Is it even possible to buy one brand new? And since when have you used a floppy disk for anything? Starting with the G4, this tiny company with relatively small market share in essence told the world, “This is how personal computing works.” In the process, the company not only dominated some areas (first MP3 players, then smartphones) and created others (the iPad), it upended entire industries, and arguably saved others. Granted, the recording industry as we knew it is essentially destroyed at this point, but iTunes seems to have made it economically viable to continue to sell recordings of music.
Understand, I don’t think I’m some sort of blind Apple fanboy. I have more than a few qualms with my MacBook Pro, and I would love to be able to customize my phone (not to mention view the occasional Flash video) as I do with my browsers. And let’s face it, Jobs was by all accounts an unbelievably difficult boss. But as much as I have considered switching to Android, there’s a reason I went ahead and upgraded to an iPhone 4S today: my 3GS has been a fantastic phone, and I have no reason at all to believe the 4S won’t be vastly better.
To me, the amazing thing about Apple under Steve Jobs isn’t merely how ubiquitous Apple products became, nor their quality. The thing that amazed me is how they fit so flawlessly into our daily lives while at the same time fundamentally changing them. Consider:
- When was the last time you had to check an actual physical map to get someplace you had never been before?
- How many more spontaneous, unplanned, high-quality pictures and videos do you have of events from your daily life?
- How is it that you can on a whim send a detailed status update to mere acquaintances, good friends and our closest relatives en masse?
- How is it that we can show a video to an individual, a group of people or even a class of students, just because?