Three Ways Steve Jobs Made Technology Cool, Stylish and Accessible
This morning I was scheduled for a conference call with one of my clients and I knew I was running a few minutes late. My laptop was not with me and I didn't know the client's email address by heart. Fortunately, I had my iPhone. I opened it up, found a recent e-mail exchange between myself and my client, copied the e-mail address into the mail software and e-mailed them I was running late. Problem solved.
As soon as I did this, I realized that Steve Jobs made this happen. He didn't invent e-mail or even the concept of the smart phone. But he did make that technology accessible to the average person and that changed everything.
When the Macintosh computers were first introduced, they were met by the computing community mostly with bemusement. They were often called "toys" because of their easy-to-use graphical interface. Before that, computers had primarily been the domain of nerds and business. No normal person had ever thought of the computer as fun or something that would make their lives easier. Quite the contrary, they were things you used at the office to do data entry or do calculations; things you went home to avoid.
Jobs understood that computers were something we all should be able to use without a degree in computer science. It's ironic considering the elitist label that has followed Apple for many years that, in effect, Jobs was a populist. He took what was difficult to use and made it easy. He forced computer companies to recognize that the masses didn't care about how it worked; they only cared that it did.
3. Form Over Function
When the iMac was introduced -- that multi-colored, plastic bubble -- computer experts scoffed. "What idiot would care about how their computer looked? They are for complex calculations not for home decor!" Yet, people did care. Computers were finally becoming part of every household and the big, gray tower was an eyesore that had furniture companies designing desks that hid them away. Giant credenzas were built to encase your massive, off-white monitor in a shroud of secrecy.
Then came the iMac and computers got style.
Virtually every computer and computer device since has been focused, at least in part, on the way it looks. As these machines became a greater part of our daily lives, they occupied more prominent space in our homes and offices, places we want, vain as it may be, to look nice. Jobs convinced us that computers could be more than just a functional requirement, they could be a stylish accessory.
2. The Populism of Accessibility
But, the reason people have computers is not as a conversation piece. People own computers to use. Once the world wide web came into existence and the world shifted from mail to e-mail, from Yellow Pages to Google, computers began to tumble out of the domain of nerds and into the everyday lives of the rest of us. Jobs understood that the way to hasten this transition -- and open up a market that exponentially increased the number of potential customers -- computers and technology, in general, needed to be easier to use.
The Apple operating system did that. Think for a moment of all the things the graphical user interface (GUI) we now use every day on both PCs and Macs does we take for granted. We mouse-click on things that once required command code. We can copy and paste text, images and files in between complex software programs. We can drag and drop virtually anything.
All of this is controlled by millions of calculations that run quietly behind the scenes while we type away furiously, looking at a pretty, bright screen populated with images and icons we've come to recognize and use daily. The GUI is virtual shorthand. Without it, we would all need to be code experts.
Jobs went further and convinced us we needed all of this stuff on the go. He took what had been a business-friendly, but complicated smartphone and created the iPhone changing the way we the phone. Not only does it work well, it syncs data and allows us to do things we've never done before -- like locate a client email to let them know you'll be late for a meeting.
Suddenly, computers had gone from your desktop to your laptop to your pocket.