Farewell to a genius
The world is a poorer place today, bereft of a man who had, over the course of the past four decades, forged within it - through a mixture of drive, charisma and undoubted genius – a technoculture that indelibly bears his personal hallmark.
While Steve Jobs’ death was far from unexpected, it was no less shocking for all that: the pancreatic cancer that had gnawed incessantly away has claimed its inevitable price, and yet we are all stunned.
One cannot overestimate the man’s impact on the mobile industry alone; he implemented a strategy which created a market for consumer smartphones; he implemented a strategy which created a market for tablet devices.
Let us delve deeper into the underlying numbers first. In 2007 – the year in which the iPhone arrived there were less than 60 million smartphone shipments in Western Europe and North America combined; most of these devices were based on the Symbian and Blackberry OS, the were overwhelmingly geared towards enterprise users, and with the exception of the iPhone, there was barely a touchscreen in sight. In 2010, smartphone shipment numbers in these two regions exceeded 160 million, most of the purchases were for personal use, and more than half were touchscreen. In large part, thanks to Jobs.
Let us look next at the tablet market. Two thousand and nine: there wasn’t one, not to speak of. Two thousand and ten, and more than 17 million tablets were shipped – most of them iPads – and a whole supporting industry had sprung up. Jobs, again.
Sure, Apple does not have it all its own way: there are more Android handsets shipped these days than iPhones, but Jobs prepared the ground for Android; helped to persuade people that they wanted – that they needed – to browse on the move, to play Angry Birds at each and every opportunity.
The premise of the film “Inception” is that it is possible to seed an idea within a person’s dream; to persuade them that the genus of a particular course of action stems from their own unconscious desires. Jobs was the mobile industry’s answer to Cobb, the film’s central character, the man who planted the seeds.
Thus, having been perfectly satisfied with calling and texting, the world woke up one morning realising that it had always wanted a touchscreen handset with a great mobile browsing experience, and it went and bought one. That was part of Jobs’ genius, but only part: he recognised that for smartphones truly to fulfil their potential, consumers needed to be freed from their fears of bill shock, and for that they needed limitless data. Hence the ingenious strategy of feeding carrier desire to offer the iPhone through exclusive contracts: the carriers, perceiving the public demand for the Apple brand – but not its implications for their own future – fell over themselves in their desperation for that exclusive deal, and in the process ceded those unprecedented, unlimited data offers. As far as Apple was concerned, this created a virtuous circle: consumers lapped up the iPhones (and lapped up data too), and the remaining operators looked on in envy, desperate for the moment when the exclusivity period would end and they, too, could offer iPhones.
This, of course, is but part of the tale; arguably the most critical development came twelve months down the line, with the iPhone 3G and the App Store. Now, not only could one enjoy – and I mean enjoy – surfing the Internet on your phone, but you could buy apps you never knew you wanted or needed. Until, that is, the dream-seeder had been to work.
The man was a genius, and should be remembered as such.