I wasn’t going to write this, because it’s not like the Internet has a dearth of people writing about Steve Jobs who never knew him or interacted with him in any way. I wrote it anyway.
I’ve watched the first few minutes of the keynote introducing the iPhone several times. It amazes me – both as a seminal moment of technology and as a presentation. Jobs starts of by saying he’s been looking forward to this day for two-and-a-half years, and that he’s been fortunate to work on multiple “revolutionary” products in his career.
He says that “Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products” – remember this part?:
“A widescreen iPod with touch controls” – he says, and the crowd goes nuts.
“A revolutionary mobile phone” – the crowd goes berserk, this is what they came for.
“A breakthrough internet communications device” – polite applause, but really, nobody knows what the hell he’s talking about.
He repeats the phrases, makes it clear that he’s talking about one device, “and we are calling it… iPhone”. Then he shows a gag picture of an old iPod with a rotary dial, and it’s funny – not a phrase normally associated with Jobs’ keynotes.
It’s a fantastic performance. Here’s the thing… People went crazy for the iPod and phone parts. Almost five years later, there’s no doubt that that part that nobody got at first – the internet communicator – is far and away the most revolutionary part of the iPhone experience. I had a phone in my pocket before 2007. I had an iPod in my pocket before 2007. The biggest change to my behavior from the iPhone is the way I can access the Internet from my pocket. (Yes, I know there were mobile phones that could connect to the Internet before the iPhone. I even used some. It wasn’t the same thing in an way.)
Which makes me wonder, why describe the device as an “internet communicator” at all, let alone have it as the last part of the description? I mean, it’s nice to have three beats in description, but the build from iPod (yay!) to phone (YAY!) to “Internet communicator” (huh?) is certainly weird. I assume that the “Internet communicator” part is there because somebody – presumably Jobs – felt that it was going to be important. Placed it last because it was most important. Even if nobody else realized that yet.
It’s been interesting to see how Jobs has been described in media reports, and how none of the descriptions quite fit. “Inventor”, “pioneer”, “visionary”, “technology titan”. They all have a grain of truth, but it’s almost impossible to imagine a short phrase that could encapsulate exactly what Jobs’ role was in all of these revolutionary products. At this point, the glib, writerly thing to do would be to claim that “Internet communicator” is the phrase that fits. It’s tempting, but kind of forced.
I used to say this: “Apple is a long-range experiment in how much people will pay for good design. And the answer is not much”. I said this for years, probably first around 1994. It’s become less and less true over the past few years, not because Apple is any less a design experiment, but because the audience has finally caught up with them and more and more people have been willing to pay for devices that are well designed. Jobs was the curator of that design sense, and that design sense has shaped the tools I use and the way I live and work.