Thursday, October 6, 2011

Death of a Giant.

"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
- Apple, Inc, "Think Different", 1997.

It sounds incredibly petty, but I wouldn't blame Nokia if they held a collective sigh of relief after they learned of Steve Jobs' passing.

After all, this is a company that dominated the global cell phone market until Steve Jobs invented the iPhone and pushed Nokia off the map for good. Same can be said about Sony too, who was the face of mobile music players in their CD and MD Walkmans until something called the iPod came along and pissed on their parade. To a lesser extent, same can be said about Microsoft too.

Steve Jobs really was something. And it wasn't until his death when I realized how much he has influenced my lifestyle.

Case in point: I've been a PC user since 1996 (and will continue to be). It has never occurred to me until now that I've been to the Apple website many times before -- whether it be to check out the iPods or the iPhones -- and the Microsoft website? Exactly 0 times.

And it's easy to see why.

Going to the Microsoft website, and one will get the impression that he is navigating through an instruction manual -- everything is very organized, it's filled with information, and everything is very practical. On the other hand, taking a visit to the Apple website and it feels like you're going through an IKEA catalogue -- tons of pictures, a very simplistic layout, and what's most important -- it only tells you what you need to know, and usually in two or three sentences. It intrigues you, and sucks you into a vortex that is the world of Apple.

Of course, it also helps when they have products like the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad, the Macs, and Macbooks. Are they the best products in their classes? Not necessarily. But that's the thing: Samsung may make the best smartphone in the world, and Microsoft can continue to make the best PCs and an OS that would put the Macs and the Mac OS X to shame, none of them will ever come close to doing what Steve Jobs can do so effortlessly -- presenting an idea and make it automatically desirable to everyone.

And it's also why I'll continue being an Apple customer.

This, my friends, is how much of a difference good marketing makes. In Steve Jobs' vision, advertising is not about the product. It's about what it represents, and how it will impact your life. The "Think Different" ads and the Mac vs. PC ads are all great examples of inspired marketing that is years ahead of their era. If a rival company presents their product wearing a business suit, Steve Jobs does it wearing a black turtleneck and jeans. The products may not be the best (although I would argue fiercely that they often are), but one of the most important things is that it is fashionable. He took the nerdishness away from technology and made it simple. And cool.

I remember the moment when I saw the first iPod. It was in 2003 and it was my friend Leo's 3rd generation iPod. It looked like nothing I've ever seen before. I was initially so drowned in jealousy I took the iPod away from him for a couple days and wouldn't return it. The design was neat, and it was so damn easy to use. It had four buttons and a clickwheel for crying out loud. My own Korean mp3 player at the time had a million buttons and a menu screen that even a nuclear physicist couldn't comprehend.

It's the ultimate form of simplicity -- everything is so logical and so easy to use that even a guy like me can start using it in a matter of minutes. Unlike other manufacturers at the time, Apple did not throw gazillion random buttons and random flashy blinking lights to make it look impressive and geeky (what I call the Sony syndrome). All it took was a clickwheel and a simple menu screen. To this day, my iPhone 3G was the only phone my mom can just grab it off my hands and start using.

Needless to say, I badly wanted one. It took me another two years to get my first iPod -- the iPod Video. It was everything I ever wanted from a mobile music device -- A big capacity, a simple software to organize all the songs I had, and a simple design. What's even better, I can watch videos on it. So my morning hour-and-a-half bus commutes to school were accompanied by Third Eye Blind, Blink-182 and an episode of Friends. It also looked much better than my Sony Walkman, which could only play my collection of The Beatles CDs.

So the rest is history.

I have an iPod nano (my 4th in total -- after the iPod Video and two iPod Classics), and I had an iPhone. I am about to get a new one (even though I ridiculed Apple for not releasing the iPhone 5 like I predicted). I've spent money on Bose speakers and a radio transmitter for my iPods. All the songs in my iPod come with their album names and the covers (yes I am a bit of a nerd like that). I wouldn't be spending so much time and money on them if they weren't so damn attractive and easy to use.

This was also a guy who developed iTunes in a time when the entire music and entertainment industry was up in arms fighting a war with Napster, WinMX, Kazza and Limewire, and successfully changed their attitude towards music downloading.

Another thing that made Steve Jobs exceptional was his ability to envision what the consumers potentially want, and his ability to prove me wrong. At first I thought the idea of a smartphone was ludicrous. All I wanted from a phone was to be able to talk to people. Why would I care about going online on my phone? Of course, within two years I was checking my email on my iPhone, tweeting and Facebooking.

To be fair, I still ridicule the iPad from time to time, because I do think it's a sized-up iPod Touch that doesn't fit in your pocket anymore. That said, Steve Jobs probably has the last laugh as iPads flooded classrooms and lecture halls, while getting everyone obsessed with Angry Birds like drug addicts.

Like his products, hate his products; there is no denying that Steve Jobs' legacy extends far beyond the computer industry. His impact is seen everywhere in the music and entertainment industry, he revolutionized smartphones, and changed the way technology is marketed. And he did it facing Microsoft, many antagonistic record companies, Nokia, and Google. On October 5, 2011, the world has lost a true giant -- one that has changed the world on a scale that is comparable to the likes of Edison, Einstein, Ford, and Bell.

That's quite some legacy for one man.

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