For tech bloggers and digital gearheads, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was Yoda, Gandalf, Dumbledore and the ultimate dungeon master rolled into one. The tech guru, who died at age 56 on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, didn't just make cool gadgets; he visioneered elegant, sculpture-like machines that made computing fun, exciting and effortless.
"Steve Jobs was the first person who was able to turn computers and computing into an emotional experience for everyone," said David Pescovitz, co-editor of BoingBoing and research director for the Institute for the Future.
Pescovitz, who began a lifelong love affair with all things Apple more than 30 years ago in the basement of his Cincinnati home, where he would write rudimentary code on an Apple IIe, said the two crucial things Jobs did were to empower the individual with technology and create a new kind of technology experience. "Geeks always felt empowered with computers and new technology and it was always an emotional experience for them, but he was able to bring that experience to everyone."
Jobs, a notoriously detail-oriented taskmaster, demanded perfection from the legion of Apple employees who worked to create such landmark devices as the Macintosh computer, iPod, iPad and iPhone. Determined to break out of the bland, gray boxes produced by his rivals, Jobs brought that heart-touching experience to the masses by seamlessly weaving together technology, design elegance and engineering into devices Pescovitz said you wanted to "hold, touch and experience."
There were other MP3 players before the launch of the iPod in 2001, but John Gruber, an Apple enthusiast and founder of the technology blog Daring Fireball, said Jobs' insight was making music personal again. "Your favorite music — all of it, with you everywhere you go," he said of the devices that have become the standard-bearer for portable music storage.
It's easy to forget now thanks to the ubiquity of iTunes and the more than 10 billion songs sold since the store opened in 2003, but Eric Garland, CEO of leading online media metrix company Big Champagne, said for a time, the Apple boss was spurned by the major record labels. "It's funny now to think of the notion of 99 cent downloads or paid downloads as an utterly noncontroversial one, but it's hard to remember just how contrarian this play was eight or nine years ago," Garland said.
At a time when Garland was facing intense pressure from the record industry to stop seemingly "legitimizing and encouraging" music downloading (both legal and non) by measuring download numbers, he said Jobs seemed to be his only kindred spirit. "The most powerful people in the industry said, 'This [downloading] has to stop and go away,' and they intended to keep litigating it until people stopped downloading on the Internet."
While Garland admitted that he didn't have the clout Jobs did in arguing that the genie was out of the bottle already, he recalls hearing from one executive after that music boss had been paid a personal visit by Jobs during the initial iTunes pitch. "He said to me, 'Hey, you may be right,' " Garland said. " 'Steve Jobs was showing us this thing, and we think it's the future of the business.' And that was iTunes. Looking back, Jobs saw that this was not just the future of the music industry but, as has now been demonstrated, the future of all media and, in fact, connectivity among netizens."Though the labels initially said no, Jobs persevered and Garland said that when people wonder how Apple was able to convince the labels to do a 180 on their position, the answer is simple. "He wouldn't take no for an answer. It was the strength of Steve's passion, persuasive gifts, persistence and personality that managed to change hearts and minds," he said.
Jobs' unwillingness to compromise or settle until the design met his level of taste made the Apple CEO unique, but Gruber said it was his ability to give each of his new devices a unique purpose that really set Jobs apart from his peers.
"Think about the dramatic shift from the personal computer being this beige thing on your desktop that you wanted to hide to something people treated as an objet d'art, that they admired like they would a finely designed chair or an Eames recliner," Pescovitz added. "The reason the iPod did so well was because it was a product that told its own story. It beckoned to you to want to engage with it and interact with it. That came from the design and simplicity of it and the very idea that it would dramatically change your relationship to music."
And while the science fiction-like idea of having every song you ever owned in your pocket was forward-thinking enough, Pescovitz said a counterintuitive move Jobs made shortly after introducing the iPod made us rethink how we interact with our music all over again. "When he released the first iPod Shuffle [in 2005], people thought, 'How could I use this without a screen?' The point was to shuffle. You could fill it with several thousand songs and continually be surprised by the next song you heard."
The concept of putting your music on shuffle now is another part of our modern digital lexicon that Jobs almost singlehandedly invented, creating yet another new relationship between people and their music collections. And, with the recent addition of the iCloud to the Apple universe, Pescovitz said Jobs made the crucial leap that cybernauts have been waiting for since the Internet became a daily part of our lives.
"The cloud plays against this notion that cyberspace is a place you go to through your laptop," he said. "Cyberspace is overlay on top of existing reality. Media can and should be everywhere all the time. The kind of emotional experience that you're able to achieve sitting at a desk or in front of your home stereo can now be achieved wherever you are. It drastically changes your relationship to media and the world."