IT WAS TWO YEARS AGO this weekend that we lost the godfather of Apple, Steve Jobs.
Whether you saw him as one of the world's great visionaries, the saviour of technology, the father of the smartphone or just some dude with far too many turtlenecks, there'll always be a reason to raise a glass to him.
But what of his legacy? Two years is enough time to really see what the post-Jobs Apple looks like and muse on its direction. Alarm bells might be ringing here, because although I'm relatively new to The INQUIRER, I've made no secret that I'm squarely on Team Android.
Shrieks of derision will doubtless spread from the Apple fanbois wondering why on earth the powers that be would let me loose on such a topic. Well it's simple. Because I won't pull punches. I won't kiss ass and that makes it a lot easier for me to concentrate on the matter at hand, rather than turning this into another excuse to review the new iPhone, which we have covered in the depth it deserves elsewhere.
Like most great leaders, Jobs had vision. I can say that without a hint of irony - after all, I think the same about Richard Branson, but it doesn't mean I think his vodka was any good. But they both hold my respect. What Jobs brought to Apple was the sense of 'belonging' that has made it endure. You weren't buying one of his products, you were buying into a lifestyle, and although the obsessive queues outside stores are more or less a thing of the past, Apple has enough devotees left to make the Apple way a quasi-religious experience.
Besides, it doesn't matter what side of the fence you're on, a Steve Jobs product launch was exciting. Even though I greeted each new phone, MP3 player or laptop with a healthy cynicism, I was excited to see what concept it had invented, or rather "borrowed and then tried to do better". Although since his sad demise, successor products have tried to emulate that good feeling, it seems to me that at each successive launch, there are fewer and fewer whoops of excitement and more and more collective sighs of nonchalance.
When the iPhone 4 launched with the cry of "this changes everything" - it meant something. Glossing over Antennagate, the iPhone 4 had some well developed, original ideas: the Retina display, Facetime and, with the iPhone 4S, Siri. None of them were the first uses of the technology - find me an Apple idea that is - but they did take the relative concepts to a new level. Jobs understood the value of making new technology accessible to a mainstream audience, and at the time, Apple had enough captive market share to make proprietary channels like Facetime and iMessage work.
But the first post-Jobs phone, the iPhone 5 felt, to outsiders like me, like a bit of a cry for help. "Erm... we've made the screen a different shape. This changes... the specifications for apps" seemed like the most exciting boast they could muster. Of course there were other enhancements too, but whereas even I had been excited to see what Mr Jobs was going to come up with, this barely raised an eyebrow.
And that's what Jobs brought. The wow factor. I've always seen Apple as being a very good marketing department with a mediocre gadget manufacturing division. But maybe it was more than that - perhaps it was a very good Steve Jobs with a mediocre gadget manufacturing division.
Up to now, I've been basing this column squarely on the iPhone and that isn't completely fair, as the Mac series remains a desirable bit of kit and the iPad remains the most polished iteration of the tablet form factor. But since 2011, all has been relatively quiet with Apple products such as Apple TV and the iPod. Both have a lot of life in them - streaming TV, for example, is still very much in its infancy - and yet there doesn't seem to be any innovation and progress. The iPod - the daddy of them all - is still the most likely product to lure a cynic to make their first steps into the Apple ecosystem.
So, for me, the legacy of Steve Jobs is a company that is living like a directionless bedsit dwelling teenager, rebelling after the loss of a parent, and its grip on market share reflects that, with Tim Cook playing the part of the stepfather, inheriting a child he isn't quite sure what to do with.
Although it is unlikely that I will ever be "turned" - I'm too fond of open ecosystems, modification, and not having to pay through the nose for products with missing features - I will always watch an Apple launch with hope. I want to be impressed. I want to be excited. I want to imagine Jobs sitting on a cloud somewhere, streaming the launch on his Nexus 7, and saying to himself, "Hmmm, this does change everything." µ
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