Steve Jobs is My Hero but He Scares Me

I should start out this post by saying I believe that the momentum Apple has gained in the mobile and now tablet space is probably close to unstoppable in the near-term. Short of Steve jobs resigning and someone messing it all up, it is very difficult to see how anyone can catch them. The stores, the user interfaces, the apps, the iTunes store… I look at each of these accomplishments and see Cupertino digging a deeper and wider moat around its businesses.

Perhaps the worst thing for Apple’s competitors is Steve Jobs and his dedication to what he thinks is right. In business, I am convinced passion is the most underrated trait. I see passionate people with few other gifts able to climb quickly to the top while less passionate people have all the gifts in the world such as intelligence and a good disposition but they end up as second-class workers and never succeed the way their other talents would suggest.

And this passion is something Steve Jobs still has – and with abundance. The man is my hero – and I say this after being as critical of Jobs as I have been of anyone else. He has design sense ahead of the best in the fashion industry and he knows how to design the best products around – devices consumers will gladly pay a lot more for. He took a commoditized business and became the premium brand.

What does it take to be my hero you ask? Well, how about being a billionaire, changing the face of movies with the founding of Pixar, changing the face of computing by popularizing the GUI and mouse. Changing the face of retail with awesome-looking stores that others are still trying to emulate. Finally, what about revolutionizing mobile and tablets and computer design.

But this is the stuff we all know – what you may not know is Jobs stays up late into the evening and defends his vision on email with the media and others. This is a down-to-earth accessible CEO. Now this is new for Steve Jobs, I don’t recall him answering email from the general public until recently. And it just makes me admire him more.

Why is this man responding to individual emails? I believe it is because Apple is so confident about its position that it realizes it is in the position Microsoft used to be in. And when you are so dominant in so many spaces, you become a target. A great way to diffuse the public turning on your company is to let your CEO out of the closet and let him seem accessible.

As evidence I present this email discussion with Jobs and Valleywag editor Ryan Tate. Now I should point out that this discussion may not show Steve as a kinder gentler CEO but it does show that you are dealing with a volcano of passion and a person who thinks what he is doing is for the greater good. It is quite amazing actually.

Jobs explains to Tate that he will understand why porn is blocked when he has his own kids. Moreover he explains that the freedom he is giving the world is: “Freedom from programs that steal your data and Freedom from programs that trash your battery.” This statement from Jobs ends the conversation and it shows you Jobs knows what I know – the market is changing very quickly and it is going in the direction of Apple… Check it out, “The times they are a changing, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.”

I will end this post with my thoughts on the matter – Jobs is right when he says in this exchange that consumers have a choice. He is absolutely right but in terms of product design and UI, no one else can really compete at the moment. Google for all its innovation in the UI space just gives us a rehashed iPhone -light experience with its products. Microsoft had to scrap its mobile development and we can Expect Windows Phone 7 to be similar to the iPhone. Nokia is light-years ahead of Apple in terms of product technology. They came out with the N800 tablet before the iPhone was launched and in my opinion the N800 is as sound technically as the iPad. But for whatever reason, even competing against Apple with superior product technology doesn’t ensure success.

There is no denying that Apple’s products continue to be top-notch but the company’s continued desire to close its ecosystem to Adobe’s Flash and programs it doesn’t like make it a potential target of regulation.

Sure we can go out and buy another product on another platform but as Jobs says in the email exchange is, “We have almost 200,000 apps in the App Store, so something must be going alright.” Jobs is right and with this many developers in his corner, he knows his platform will continue to become more irresistible. We all saw this same game play out in the eighties – whichever platform has all the apps wins.

And perhaps that is why this exchange irks me so much. Yes, Steve you are my hero but you are telling us we have free choice and you will continue to lock-down your platform so I can’t run any app I want. But at the same time you know you have won the platform war. Steve, you’ve earned your stripes, you are probably the best tech CEO around but I have to ask you once again, if the closed app store becomes the norm, do your customers really win? Moreover, can you guarantee your successors won’t be prone to app censorship based on political affiliation or even religion? Should any company be so powerful as to determine what programs we can or can’t run on our computers? Especially when programs and content are merging? And given this intertwined relationship, isn’t restricting an application the same thing as restricting our ability to access and read particular books?

Steve Jobs, you are still my hero but we know power in the hands of anyone has the potential to corrupt – and Apple has an awe-inspiring amount of power at the moment.

  • BeAloud
    May 17, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Apple’s innovations in UI were amazing for mobile devices, but it seems they need to establish new interface design standards for the iPad in order to avoid usability issues. I’m sure this will happen with time.

  • Doug
    May 17, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Jobs has always tried to push the curve by enforcing his vision onto the system (Original Mac, NeXT box).
    The bigger question is if Apple can sustain a large walled garden over the long run — or if Android will spring up a thousand weeds around it 🙂

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