Information and Accessibility: The Steve Jobs Legacy

October 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Opinion | Leave a comment
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So long, Steve

I want to be upfront and say that I’m not entirely sure where this post is going.

I had a very contentious relationship with Steve Jobs. Not that I knew the man, mind you. There was simply no escaping his vision and his philosophies. Much of his business mantra flew in the face of very deep-held technological beliefs. Closed, highly controlled environments over open and customizable. I’m writing this piece on a Lenovo Thinkpad, the Mirror Universe Macbook. I’ve been known to go on rants to my tech friends about how Apple’s closed environment stifles the user experience and goes against everything I stand for as a gadget geek. Given the choice, I’d take a Windows or a Linux machine where I can tweak to my heart’s content.

And, yet, despite the deep philosophical differences I have with the way Apple and Steve Jobs, I knew that the tech world wasn’t going to be the same without him.

Steve Jobs changed the way that we acquire information

That’s not exactly the right way to put it. Steve Jobs was an enabler. He made it easy for consumers to acquire information. Every now and then I have what I call a “Holy flying frak, I’m living in the future” moment. A few weeks ago I was sitting at a bar watching a playoff baseball game with some friends. It was an innocent enough question, does Carlos Guillen still play for the Detroit Tigers? We debated that small thought for a few minutes before I got frustrated and pulled out my iPhone and ran a Google search on that particular player. Thirty seconds later I was on his Baseball Reference page.*

*The answer is yes, Carlos Guillen is still a member of the Detroit Tigers but is on the disabled list.

There was this moment of quiet awe as I stopped to think about the sequence that had just transpired. A simple query was answered in the span of seconds through a single hand-held device. At that moment, through that utterly trivial question, it hit me that I’ve got the entire wealth of knowledge available through the internet in the palm of my hand. Fifteen years ago, could any of us have imagined a device like this? It’s like I’ve got the Enterprise D’s computer at my disposal wherever I go*. It’s information at any time, anywhere.**

*And if you’ve seen Apple’s new Siri voice assistant tool, it gets even more uncanny. I’m going to need someone to get it to respond back to me in the voice of Majel Roddenberry, though

** Provided AT&T’s cell network hasn’t dropped your signal because a stray cloud rolled overhead

Steve Jobs was a design genius and all about accessibility

But we all knew that, bear with me and I’ll try to illustrate this very accepted point in a slightly different fashion.

Apple wasn’t the first to create a smart phone. It wasn’t even the first smart phone I owned. I was surfing the web on a handheld device years earlier with a Blackberry 8700. At the time it was a plenty capable device, but I never had those Future is Now moments with it. Much of that had to do with the design* and interface of the device itself. It needed a clumsy scroll wheel to navigate through screens. The built-in web browser rendered web pages in a fashion that made late-90s Geocities sites look futuristic by relative comparison. It was, in brief, a very crude and primitive personal data assistant that happened to sport an Edge connection. Accessibility to general users? Not the Blackberry’s strong suit.

*I will say there’s a curmudgeonly part of me that misses the physical keyboard, however

Jobsian design revolved around accessibility. He didn’t want power-users to be the only ones who could use these remarkable information distribution devices. Everyone should be able to pick up an iDevice and intuitively know how to make it work. The Blackberry scroll wheel? Forget it, too clunky and not nearly intuitive enough. Touchscreens. There’s the answer. A few months ago, this anyone can use this device philosophy became abundantly clear to me. My dad and I decided to take a major gamble on a birthday present for my mother: an iPad 2. Why is this a gamble, you ask? My mother is one of the least technologically capable individuals you will ever meet. Getting onto a web browser to open up her G-mail account is an adventure in futility. This isn’t an entirely unique phenomenon to her, of course. We’ve all met people who are more than capable of operating a computer, but can’t get past that notion that computers and technology are inherently complex and can only be properly accessed by someone with a college degree.

We went ahead and got her an iPad anyways. Two weeks later,  I come back home and find that my mother, the consummate technophobe, has completely taken to the device. She’s using it to write recipes, check her mail, watch Netflix, play games, and surf the web. My first impulse was to ask who this strange person was and what they had done with my mother. My second was to ask how she was enjoying her gift. Ten minutes later, she stopped gushing about how much fun she was having with her iPad in order to answer a Skype video call on it.

That was the big I’m Living in the Future moment. Here’s my mother embracing a piece of technology that’s become an all-in-one productivity and entertainment device. This, I think, is going to be the Steve Jobs legacy. He led the charge to transform computing from a domain that was exclusive to power-users and those willing to spend lots of time learning how to wrangle user interfaces to an incredibly intuitive experience. The Jobs iPhilosophy was to make a device that anyone could pick up and instantly make useful.

Steve Jobs can’t be replaced

Not easily, anyways. Not any time soon.

I’m not entirely sure what the future holds for Apple and the tech world as a whole with Jobs gone. Granted, he had stepped down as CEO months back, but there was always this thought that so long as he was still somewhat in the picture, his vision would continue to permeate through Apple products. Can Apple continue to be the design innovators that they were under Jobs? I’m not sure, but if I were to be honest, I’d say I’m doubtful. That isn’t a strike against Apple, it’s a testament of the foresight and vision Jobs put on display while heading one of the world’s most creative tech giants.

Jobs had a clear vision for every product Apple released and he would micro-manage to ensure that vision was achieved. That level of dedication and, perhaps to a degree, obsession resulted in products that were lauded by critics and consumers. The entire technological landscape shifted under Jobs’ watch. Demographics skewed. Where other companies failed, Jobs and Apple succeeded. Computing looked inviting, managable. It looked like something that anyone could enjoy.

The e-mail I just got from my mother with the little sent from my iPad tag at the end is just a little bit more proof that Jobs’ vision was a tremendous success.


Written by Lane for RoqooDepot

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