Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Jobs Well Done

Today’s Internet has been flooded with tributes to Steve Jobs, from one sentence tweets to pages-long homages.  There’s no questioning his brilliance.  He brought modern technology to the masses.  He made complexity simple.  He made “nerdy” pursuits fun. 

But I think, most importantly, he introduced beauty to an unbeautiful world.  Here’s how I know:

For Father’s Day, my wife bought me an iPod Touch.  Frankly, I didn’t need it – I already had a Droid 2.  But, as soon as I tore off the wrapping paper, I was hooked.  Even the box was stunning in its artistic simplicity.  And, the iPod itself was dazzling!  It was gleaming silver.  It was sleek.  It rested perfectly in my hand.  In a word, it was gorgeous.  I liked to look at it as much as I liked to actually use it.  My Droid – ugly and clunky – immediately went to the wayside, used only for the occasional phone call or text message.

Unfortunately, one day later, the Touch fell onto a concrete floor.  It was still functional, but shattered – the screen barely legible under a spider web of cracked glass.

Getting it repaired took a few days and, when it came back, we made sure to eliminate future breakage risk by covering it with a heavy-duty rubber case.  It was now protected from the inevitable mishaps of its clumsy owner.

And I immediately loved it less.

It was like covering Aphrodite with a burka.  The iPod still functioned as it had before.  The apps were the same.  The screens were the same.  But the experience wasn’t.  It was heavy.  It was bulky.  It was inelegant.  It was disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love my iPod and am incessantly tinkering with it.  It’s fast, it’s got the best app store on the market and it has great multimedia capabilities.  It’s the best PDA I’ve ever owned, even without the cellular capabilities of a smartphone.

But it’s no longer a thing of beauty.

And, that, in my opinion, was the genius of Steve Jobs.  From the first iMac to the latest iPad, the Apple products that bore his mark of leadership were as well suited for display on a living room credenza as they were in an office cubicle.  Think about it … when’s the last time someone came up to you to show off their hip new BlackBerry or HP Pavilion? 

Jobs insisted, sometimes militantly, that form be inherently married to functionality.  No innovator in recent history – from Ben Franklin to Henry Ford to Bill Gates – understood this better than he did.

And I’m not sure anyone ever will.