Posted Oct 13, 01:57 PM
I first got into computers and Apple stuff in the mid-90s. This was the Jobs-less era of Apple. I think Gil Amelio was the CEO. Apple had tons of different beige computer models with weird names. My first one was a “Performa 631CD”. The OS was System 7.5. So that’s the era of Apple that introduced me to this world.
The first Macworld Expo I attended was around this time. I was just tagging along with my mom, who got to go to Macworld for work. I was new to Macs so I didn’t understand much of what the speakers were saying, but I was fascinated. I remember repeatedly hearing stuff like “This trick only works on System 7.5 or later” and not knowing what that meant. I didn’t know which System my computer had.
By the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple around 1997, I was a serious Apple fan. So I have some distinct memories of the things Steve Jobs did from 1997 on, how people reacted to them initially, and how they turned out. Here’s a list off the top of my head that Steve got right even though almost no one agreed with him at the time.
1. KILL THE CLONES
I remember when Apple announced that they were no longer licensing the OS to Mac clone makers. The reaction, even from die-hard Apple enthusiasts, was horror. For years, the common wisdom was that Apple needed to do what Microsoft did. Microsoft licensed the OS and they were winning, so Apple needed to do that.
Mac clones had been around for a year or two and they were pretty good. Practically no one understood why Steve would think it was a good idea to eliminate them. Everyone thought Apple should be like Microsoft. I specifically remember long-time Mac-only software company Ambrosia Software telling people that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They were going to start making software for Windows. Eliminating the Mac clones, they thought, was going to ruin Apple.
Now, how did this turn out? Well, in 2011, HP announced that they were getting out of the PC business. At the time, they were the #2 PC maker in the entire world. So that shows you how bad the PC clone business is for companies. HP was selling more PCs than almost any other company, and they still wanted out. Meanwhile, only Apple makes Macs and they are without question the best quality computers in the world. It’s not even close. On top of that, they are now price-competitive. No, you can’t buy a supercheap Mac for $200 at Best Buy. But those computers suck. You also can’t buy a PC as good as the Macbook Air for any price.
Eliminating clones was an incredibly unpopular decision at the time. Steve Jobs was right and everyone else was wrong.
2. NO FLOPPIES
There were a lot of unique things about the original iMac, but to me the most agressive feature was the lack of a floppy drive. Even though floppy disks could only hold 1.4 megabytes of data, and were very old technology, people were dumbfounded by the idea of a computer without one.
I remember working on a freelance web project with my original iMac (actually rev 2). The client was a PC guy and he was baffled by the iMac and it’s lack of a floppy drive. “How will you transfer files?” he asked. “The internet,” I said. He looked at me like he was trying to figure out of I was joking or not.
I describe this move as “agressive” on Apple’s part, but it was clearly necessary. Not just for Apple but for the entire tech world. If Steve Jobs had not shown the world that we could (and should) leave floppies behind, there is no doubt in my mind that your Dell computer, right now in 2011, would still be using them. And that would be ridiculous. That’s what I’m saying: the computer world would be ridiculous if Steve Jobs hadn’t come along and slapped some sense into it.
There were other digital music players before the iPod. They were big and hard to deal with. But when the iPod was first announced, it was considered way too expensive. The popular geek news site Slashdot pronounced the original iPod “lame” because there were other MP3 players with more storage space for less money.
I don’t need to write out the history of the iPod’s success here. You know what happened. Everyone knows what an iPod is, and no one even remembers the names of those other non-lame MP4 players.
I know there was a so-called “smart phone” market before the iPhone, I just don’t understand why. I am a gadget geek, but none of those phones were interesting enough to get my attention. I remember hearing people on Podcasts talking about their Blackberrys, Nokias, and Treos. Every time I checked one of these devices out, my eyes glazed over. They were phones, sure. They tried to do a few computer-like things, like email, and were mostly bad at those things. What was the point?
The iPhone was the first phone that was clearly worth paying attention to. I remember when it was announced. I was there at the keynote in San Francisco. It was immediately clear that it represented a huge leap forward in smartphone technology.
The web browser alone was something to get excited about. Imagine using the web on your phone… the real web. No one had done that before. Why? I have no idea.
But the reaction to the iPhone from the usual naysayers was the same as always. It’s too expensive. It’s just something shiny to trick Apple fans into spending money.
Four years later, the iPhone has changed the world. What some of us saw immediately, others took a while to come to terms with. And it’s still the only mobile platform that’s really interesting. Because no matter how many Android phones are made, they’re all still just following Apple’s lead. Google started the Android project before the iPhone was announced. And you know what Android was going to be like? A Blackberry. Another yawn-inducing junk “smartphone”.