Graham Barlow: the Apple view

4/5/2012 8:55:45 AM
Graham Barlow: the Apple view

The first time 1 ever saw Steve Jobs was also the first time I ever saw a Wi-Fi connection in operation, as Steve walked from one side of the stage to the other carrying his iBook while the computer remained connected to the internet. “Wow!” I thought, “that’s really something.” I had no idea what I was in for over the next few years.

Although I never met Steve Jobs personall3 I did spend what felt like a considerable part of the noughties flying around the world to listen to him speak. Back then we had marvellous things called trade shows that the Apple faithful would flock to, and where the company made all its key product announcements. There was a regular pattern to these events -the day started with the Apple keynote, where Steve would announce the hot new technology, then the gates to the show would be thrown open and the eager crowds would pour onto the show floor in a mad scramble to get their hands on the latest gadget on the Apple stand. But once glass-fronted Apple Stores started to spring up like weeds in high streets throughout the world, the company realised it didn’t need to tie its major product releases into the punishing trade show schedule, and it didn’t need the shows to reach its customers anymore thanks to all the new stores. Apple pulled out of the shows, most of which folded in response, and I stopped getting on planes.

For me, seeing Steve Jobs in the flesh was always the highlight of any Apple event. My British sensibilities prevented me from hollering and whooping like my American counterparts when he took to the stage, but I could appreciate what made people react like that. In person, it was hard to deny his charisma.

Description: Apple

Apart from walking past him while he was surrounded by a gaggle of security men on the show floor a couple of times, the closest I got to Steve was when he made a surprise appearance in the Regent Street Apple Store at the UK launch of the original iPhone in 2007. It was a small room packed with the UK technology press and he just popped out of a side door, sat down on a stool at the front and started to talk. He was at his peak then - looking healthy and relaxed in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans. Being accustomed to seeing him in a huge theatre on a faraway stage, this was something of a shock, especially because it hadn’t been announced that he would be at the event in person.

What I remember most from the day was that he had this unshakable belief that what he was telling you was true. Listening to Steve, it made complete sense not to include 3G in the original iPhone because EDGE was a great platform for email and Wi-Fi was better for browsing the internet, and the trade off for battery life wasn’t worth it (although when Apple went on to release the iPhone 3G, it obviously made sense to include the technology. It was right to lock the iPhone into just one partner on launch (02), and not make the handset available unlocked (although, of course, Apple eventually started to sell unlocked iPhones. And it made absolute sense to have a paltry GB as the largest memory size (even though Apple released a 16GB model just a few months later).

People famously named this strange effect the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field, but were his critics right? Was Steve just a snake oil salesman capable of pulling the wool over our collective eyes? I don’t think so. He was obsessed with the details, with elegance and style - how things worked, why the’ worked the way they did, and how that could be improved, lie was also extremely good at framing an argument in a way that made his view seem like the only reasonable option. He was quite comfortable taking difficult questions from the gathered technology press, and he had a great sense of humour - a lot of his replies ended in funny stories or jokes. He clearly loved what he did and was doing what he loved.

Jobs has left big shoes for Tim Cook to fill, and Tim’s first outing at the launch of the iPhone 4S didn’t impress the markets. But how could it? Few people could follow Steve Jobs, and I doubt we’ll see his like again. Apple will still be Apple without him, but perhaps the saddest thing is that despite all the great products he’d launched it still felt like he was just getting started. Who knows what Apple has got lined up for us next, but whatever it is, I bet we’ll still he feeling Steve’s influence for many years to come.

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