Apple has always been too cool to be wacky or zany. Even dull old Microsoft tries to be zany every now and again, with cringe-worthy results. Steve Jobs appeared the very opposite of zany, although not dull like his successors John Sculley, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio. Steve was cool, not fool.
But “zany” doesn’t get close to his idea to dress up as Willy Wonka and give a tour of the Apple campus to the buyer of the millionth iMac, which would have had a special Golden Ticket inside its box. Thankfully for his later self-esteem Californian gaming law meant that anyone could enter the running for the prize without having to buy an iMac. And there was no way Steve was dressing up or even smiling at a possible Windows user.
Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, was full of jokes and often unfunny pranks. Just take a look at his jumper, see last picture on this page.
For some reason Apple vs Microsoft, Android, and just about everyone else brings out the worst in otherwise quite boring people. Any argument between an Apple fan boys or anti-Mac nutter is as black and white as the Mac fan’s iPhone. Furious rows erupt over quite trivial details, such as the difference between the OS X Dock and the Windows Taskbar, or the dimensions of a phone’s screen. And who’d have it any other way?
While Apple’s always been cool, it has mostly been a niche player after an initial burst of domination – that is, before less innovative companies copy the hell out of its ideas. But you can’t deny that Apple catches the zeitgeist (“Spirit of the times”) more than most – from the Apple I to the iPad.
Steve Jobs might not have appeared the most peaceful of men, but he was profoundly influenced by Zen Buddhism, which he studied in India after dropping out of college. But Zen is all about contradictions, so let’s ignore ego-less calm and celebrate what Steve got most out of Zen: focus and empathy (for his customers rather than his employees and partners).
“Jobs’ Zen-like ability to focus was accompanied by the related instinct to simplify things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity,” writes Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson.
While every other band in the world got aboard the iTunes boat there were several high-profile digital-download refuseniks. Heavy rock bands seemed particularly put out by iTunes, with AC/DC, Metallica and Led Zeppelin giving Apple the horns.
Metallica was first to concede defeat to Jobs in 2006. Zeppelin‘s 2007 capitulation after four years in the digital wilderness was followed three years later by The Beatles. AC/DC still refuse to sell their music on iTunes, although one of their songs sneaked in via a Beavis and Butthead soundtrack.
(Zeppelin is also the name of a rather tasty iPod/iPhone speaker.)
On his return to Apple in 1997 Steve Jobs took a pop at the company’s current roster of “a zillion and one” products, and set about culling cameras, printers and the Newton PDA. From that day onwards at Apple, simplification ruled.
Apple’s QuickTake digital camera looked cool, but the subjects of its pictures often looked small due to its lack of a zoom. Today, the iPhone continues Apple’s obsession with fixed-focus cameras.
Possibly the greatest word in the dictionary, and served up right at the end. In chess parlance a zugzwang is a position in which one player can move only with loss or severe disadvantage. Since Steve’s return in 1997 when Apple looked like it had zugzwanged itself the revitalised company has patiently manoeuvred all its rivals and even partners into such perilous positions – ready to finally take over the world. Mwahahaha!
I’ve been to all the Apple CEO Macworld Expo keynotes (except the ones in Japan) since 1995, except the San Francisco one in January 1997 when my flight from New Zealand (where I’d been for Christmas) was delayed.
Even though I arrived in SF an hour before I’d left NZ I still missed the January 7 keynote by then Apple CEO Gil Amelio. It was a lucky escape.
While I was yawning through cross-international time zone jetlag the attendees at the Amelio keynote – were suffering a different but very real strangulating pain behind their eyes.
Amelio spoke for three hours, without a proper script and in front of a malfunctioning teleprompter. He had some stellar guests but forgot to get waiting Muhammad Ali onto the stage, and blew the appearance of Apple co-founding Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, by coming on after them and being as incoherent as he had before they’d woken everyone up.
(Even Woz’s jumper couldn’t cheer up an audience faced with more Amelio waffle.)
It was a fitting end to the era of a Steve-less Apple. Too long. Dull. An utter failure. Within days Jobs was back in power and everything was all right again. The nightmare was over, and we could all dream again.
Click on these letters to continue the Apple A-Z.
[Updated October 19, 2010: Letter C added. Updated November 5, 2010: Letter D added. Updated December 1, 2010: Letter E added. Updated December 23, 2010: Letter F added. Updated January 20, 2011: Letter G added. Updated February 16, 2011: Letter H added. Updated March 24, 2011: Letter I added. Updated May 11, 2011: Letters J and K added. Updated June 7, 2011: Letter L added. Updated June 30, 2011: Letter M added. Updated August 02, 2011: Letter N added. Updated September 04, 2011: Letter O added. Updated September 23, 2011: Letter P added. Updated October 14, 2011: Letter Q added. Updated November 10, 2011: Letter R added. Updated November 25, 2011: Letter S added. Updated January 09, 2012: Letter T added. Updated February 08, 2012: Letter U added. Updated March 06, 2012: Letter V added. Updated March 26, 2012: Letter W added. Updated April 19, 2012: Letter X added. Updated May 11, 2012: Letter Y added. Updated June 11, 2012: Letter Z added. Updated August 16, 2013: Various new additions.]