Attacking Steve Jobs: an ill-directed pursuit

Let me be up front. I’m an Apple fan boy. My reasons are somewhat different to others. You see, my main operating system has always been Unix. Accordingly, I couldn’t and wouldn’t use Windows. For me, as a Computer Scientist, Windows was summarised by

sorry, you can’t do that

we don’t speak to other computers

I’ve used the internet for longer than probably any of my readers. I was using it in the early 80’s. I still dislike using Microsoft Word because I find myself wasting time wrestling with it. It’s better than it was, but the only reason it exists on my computer is because sometimes I have to read or pass on documents in that format.

That didn’t change when Apple came on the block. I still stuck to Unix, and I typeset my documents in troff using vi and then moved to LaTeX and used to get excited setting up my .xwindowsrc files. Don’t even ask how happy I was when motif came on the horizon and how I’d come to my office early just so I could get onto the Blit terminal. Yes, we had one.

Apple Computers though were a curiosity. They were cute, they were innovative. They broke the mould (sic). There were aspects that I didn’t like, but increasingly they represented the wellsprings of salvation from the Microsoft Coultergeist. For a number of years when I worked at CITRI, I inherited a Mac and started playing with it. It never replaced my usual computer. That was until … OSX was born (Cheetah to be precise).

All of a sudden, I had the best of both worlds. I had Unix as the underbelly (no pun intended) and an appealing interface. When the first Palm Pilot was released, I was so excited, I imported one from the USA. I hated the idea of a paper diary. With my band, I’d often get asked are you available for a wedding a year later, or a Bar Mitzvah two years later. My diary didn’t go that far, and I was terrified that if I lost it, I’d double book.

Then came the iPod. I had the first one. I had to have it. My music (or part of it) was in my hands. No more using a decca_record_brush and special fluids to keep my vinyl in tip-top condition. Now the i in iPod was about the i in internet. It was about connectivity and new network technology.

The rest is history. We moved to iMacs, iPhones, and now iPads. They happen to be great gadgets and for me, also tools of my trade.

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, in an article decrying the i-need generation, stated:

“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.”

“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

He went on: “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.

“If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you’ve got an iPhone but you haven’t got a fourth generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.”

I normally find myself in complete agreement with Rabbi Sacks’ elegant and thought-provoking essays and books. He is one of the most profound expositors of our tradition to the outside world and is respected outside of Judaism. On this issue, however, I disagree.

There is scant evidence to suggest that Steve Jobs “laid down” the consumer society. If this was true, then why did Rabbi Sacks wait for Jobs to die before he made this allegation? The consumer society is ubiquitous. Some do it better than others. To say that it was “laid down” by one company is, in my estimation an exercise in posthumous polemic. I understand that the Chief Rabbi is unhappy that we are apparently so consumed by what we perceive we need, and that many of us are not sensitised to what others need, but I feel that his argument is facile.

When I started with computers, I had one run per day. I agonised over a set of punch cards that was to represent my best attempt at making something happen. A single error, and I had to wait for the next day. Things improved. First there were multiple runs per day and I received instant feedback and became more productive. I used to come into University early so that I could “hog” one of the terminals. Was this an iHog or was this the normal progression of a society that provided answers and opportunities quicker and better?

I became more contactable when the mobile phone was invented. This helped my music business. Clients were able to contact me immediately and find out whether they could get the best band for their simcha! I wasn’t entirely happy though. I had a palm pilot in one pocket, and a mobile phone in the other. I couldn’t synchronise my palm pilot unless I was tethered to a single computer. When the Palm Treo came out, I was ecstatic. It had an annoying bulging aerial, but it meant that finally I could have one piece of electronics in my pocket. Things didn’t synchronise as well with my Apple computer, but I didn’t mind. It was my choice. I liked Apple’s operating system and I liked my Treo. Those who used Windows had better connectivity and a wider range of software and devices. I was an idealist. In fact most Apple fan boys were likewise. They knew that archaic hebrew formats didn’t render in microsoft’s version of word for mac, but they persisted. If, as Rabbi Sacks would have it, we i-Consumed fan boys and girls  wanted the quickest and best, perhaps we would have gone for the Windows-based solutions; after all, they were also a lot cheaper.

No, people who chose Apple looked for excellence and an uncompromising approach. Steve Jobs’ company philosophy represented that pursuit. When Jobs decided there would be no floppy drives on a computer, they thought he was mad. He was right. When he said that the flash plug-in was a poor piece of software that wore batteries down, was a security nightmare, and was ill-conceived for mobile devices the big boys went into battle. But he was right again. Adobe Flash is now a goses. It is dying and will be replaced by JavaScript based HTML5 sooner than later.

No, Rabbi Sacks. Those of us who followed Steve Jobs’ products did so because they were simply the best and he represented the pursuit of excellence to the most minute, and mostly anal detail.

It’s a nice Drosha, and maybe some will like your populist inferences, but on this occasion Rabbi Sacks, I think you’ve missed the mark and chosen a target that can’t answer you.

Even the windows fan boys and girls begrudgingly admit to the efficacy of Jobs’ vision of elegance, connectivity and “it just works”. If not for Jobs, they wouldn’t even have their sub-standard el-cheapo Android devices 🙂

Do we really think the Zune failed because it wasn’t called i-Zune?

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

5 thoughts on “Attacking Steve Jobs: an ill-directed pursuit”

  1. whilst your comments re R Sacks proposition that “I” is an unwelcome marketing technique emphasising values heipach to Torah may have some merit, your technical analysis of windows v apple o/s is abject nonsense – factually incorrect

    You emphasise the importance of connectivity;
    connectivity offered by Apple was restricted to appletalk – their own proprietary network protocol which worked out of the box in one single LAN (albeit slowly) but only worked with other Apple devices – until Microsoft came along and wrote a protocol that connected Windows to appletalk

    Microsoft never wrote their own proprietary n/w protocol – they adopted and enhanced existing industry standard ones such netbeui IPX and a short time later TCPIP – users always had the ability to connect MS systems even in DOS days to a wide range of networks and printers – the opposite is true for apple
    An equally important aspect of connectivity is the ability of software to communicate with other software – Apple software was failing the business world badly – they had neat drawing tools and audio software but nothing menaingful or useful for the biggest user group of all – corporate / Govt until Microsoft helped them out by delivering MS Word for Mac in 1989 . It wasnt enough to rescue Apple, of course, after MS Word came MS Excel and MS Outlook for the Mac. Simply put, Apple did not have the capability of making software for business in the time available. Jobs was thrilled to announce publicly in August 1997 that Microsoft was giving them $150M bail out money and a promise to keep developing Office for the Mac for a further five years (dont worry, they are still making Office for the Mac now)

    Of course we should also make mention of the fact that the Apple o/s used in the Mac was a dismal failure and was ditched in favour of a Unix variant in 1999.

    There is much more to be said of a technical nature regarding software interoperability, but one thing that shoudl be well known is that Apple has never been well regarded for their abilty to connect to non proprietary devices, even to this day. Similarly Apple software is not famous for its usefulness in working with non Apple software.

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    1. Apple’s solutions and approach have been consistent. They used appletalk because it was simpler than existing protocols. That’s fact. If there was something else, it would have used it. Apple makes choices based on what they think is the best user experience; not on what is “there and cheap”. Witness their move into IEEE firewire which was adopted by camera companies. It wouldn’t have been had Apple not considered it superior to USB (which it clearly is). Similar evolvements will occur in respect of USB3 vs Thunderbolt. The latter was invented by Intel but considered worthy of bringing to the market by Apple. Time will tell whether they are right as peripherals emerge and are affordable.

      You obviously were too quick in calling my comments “abject nonsense” and reminding us of the days of old before Jobs came back and they decided to move to a Unix underbelly. Perhaps re-reading what I wrote you’d be less emotive and realise that I only used them once they had Unix as their underbelly.

      Apple not being “well regarded” for their ability (sic) to connect non proprietary devices is all about a business model relating to the user experience. The fact that they are worth more than microsoft shows that Jobs was right and Gates was wrong.

      Now get back to your blue screen of death.

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  2. interesting but high risk approach to comparing technologies – so for how many years has MS net worth exceeded Apples? and for how long has the opposite been true?

    clearly you are not correct – so GM cars are better than Ferrari because they have greater market cap – i dont think so, and nor should you
    and to throw into this sad and sorry mix, what % of apple market cap is due to Mac sales cw ipods ipads etc?

    what is market share of Apple o/s to Windows

    what % is market share of Mac “servers” to Windows servers?
    let me guess – 5 years ago you were extolling the virtues of open sores about to take over the desktop away from Windows…quality analysis indeed…stick to your lovely stories about Shtetls – hide away your attempts to justify your fanatacism with fruit powered devices love PH

    I was responding to your misconstrued observations about Apple somehow producing pc’s that are

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    1. Oh come on, stop with this pseudo scientific analysis. Look at impact. The impact over the last n years from Apple has been absolutely revolutionary. They have pushed the boundaries every which way through their anal pursuit of excellence. It’s not about we’ve been bigger financially than you for m years, nya nya nya. Just take a deep breath, and go and ask your posek whether you would have needed to make the ברכה of שנתן מחכמתו לבשר ודם if you had met Steve. On the issue of bumping into Bill Gates, I can say without equivocation that it would be a ברכה לבטלה

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