The influence of Apple under the guidance of Steve Jobs, both on the computer world and on the way we view design today is, without exaggeration, monumental. The man whose name came to be epitomised with the Apple brand, was responsible for a primary change in thinking of the way we interact with computer devices.
The influence of the Mac, the PowerBook, the iPod and the iPhone upon the world of technology is unmistakable, as they blend the boundaries between computers and accessories. A successful design is one that makes the mechanism by which an object works disappear. Apple products of the latest generation fit exactly the definition. It is exemplary that the iPad is used with ease by both small kids (and even babies) and your grandparents, in a way that they can fully draw on technological innovations such as the Internet and digital movies. Focusing on the experience itself, rather than on how to ‘program’ the device to make the operations you wish to perform, is what differentiates Apple’s philosophy.
Ever since the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, Apple’s goal has been to develop user-friendly differentiated products, based on proprietary technology. It’s the idea of having a unique product in a box that you can just open and start working on right away. It is not a coincidence that consumers tend to think of Apple as products that “just work”. And this is all the more true when you compare their operating system to Windows. Differences have largely blended as years go by, but Apple’s OS X is still seen as having no viruses and bugs, letting you focus on the task at hand.
And surely, Steve Jobs has clearly stated that he doesn’t wish that Apple be the best, but between the best, as he realizes that other technology companies have their pluses too. What makes Apple stand out, however, is their attention to detail and their customer relations. Jobs was there every step of the way, pushing his employees to perfect each product, and emitting a creative energy rarely seen in traditional CEOs.
Apple engineers are not inventors. Strictly speaking, they have not invented a major technology, except maybe multi-touch (though Steve Jobs boasts over 300 patents in his name.) Rather, they are innovators. In fact, one of the most important technology innovators since the era of Ford’s T model. Putting together the first Macintosh, with the Graphical User Interface and the pointing device created by Xerox, they marked the beginning of the modern personal computer. Designing the PowerBook in the early 1990s to be the first real laptop with trackball and palm rest area was also a major industry leap as all portables up to then had the keyboard in the front.
And then came the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Though three different products, each with its clearly defined purpose and each bringing a small revolution to its area, they all share a common theme. It was a personal vision of Steve Jobs that computers wouldn’t be just for work, or just sitting on our desks. They would be everywhere, as part of our lives and as such, he would need to create a place for our digital life. Apple was the first one to achieve widely popular sales of digital songs, simple email on a portable handheld device and e-books on a tablet. They developed a successful business model where others failed, making people want to transition into that new digital era by putting all their material on an electronic device.
If Bill Gates’ vision was to put the same operating system in every computer and have it available to open-source software that would change it in their own image, Jobs’ idea of the future was to make an interface as simple and useful as possible, where the main focus is on viewing digital content and having an optimum input from the user with multi-touch. Microsoft largely succeeded in their vision, and now we are on the track to seeing Apple bring their own vision closer to reality.
But to make his products as unique as possible, Jobs took a particular interest in design. He wanted his products to have an object appeal, to be beautiful from the outside too, so as to fit with your home in the same way that a favourite piece of furniture or an engraved book does. He took astounding steps to make sure their design of the 80s, named Snow White was fully developed in all of their products and was part of each step of manufacturing. Then came Espresso in the 90s with a transition to more curvy devices, which finally made place for the current minimalist design of the iDevices. And though Jobs was away from Apple for almost 10 years, the company still followed his design principles.
Other companies are now embracing Apple’s design approach, such as Samsung and HP, who have completely re-branded their products in the last 10 years to appeal to a new generation of Apple followers. Microsoft developed their own mobile OS from the ground up, creating the ultra-minimalist Metro design of the interface that would also make the basis for their desktop system of the future.
As he said himself in his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs was ready to die, as he considered death to be the single best invention of life—its change agent. He had already played his part and was ready to step down, not only from the company but also from life, in order to make place for the next visionary. If he helped make computers and mobiles a finished product, there are still other technology problems in the world to be solved, such as energy security and human disease.
The Future of Software
The next big revolution in technology will surely be the complete integration of mobile devices and tablets with the PC and Mac. Apple has already proposed a starting direction by introducing iOS elements into the Mac OS X. Microsoft has proposed its own plan by aiming to develop a new universal platform, starting with Windows 8, which would be scalable on all devices, no matter what size or shape. But these updates are not the real revolution. What would be the real defining factor is when someone integrates a processor and a mini hard drive to have the same power and capabilities on all devices. Then we would have to create a complete new user experience of how devices interact with each other.
And Apple seems to be the frontrunner to create this paradigm shift and to once more, make the maximum number of people adopt it