SAN FRANCISCO – “No one wants to die,” Steve Jobs said in his now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.
“And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
These wise, wry words came out of Jobs just a year after he got up close and personal with the notion of death, upon learning in 2004 he had a rare form of pancreatic cancer. On Wednesday, seven years later, he finally arrived at that “destination we all share.”
Above all, the loss of Steve Jobs is incredibly sad. But amid the raw, jumbled feelings in these early moments after hearing of his death, the other emotion that keeps surfacing is this sense of utter unfairness.
More up his sleeve
At 56, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, had given the world so much more than most people could ever dream – and he surely had so much more up his sleeve. And that is incredibly disappointing to consider.
Like no other business titan of his generation, and few of any other, he churned out not just hit products, but transformational ones – again and again, across industries and time.
The secret to his success, the key to why his death is being mourned more like a pop star than a CEO and the biggest reason his untimely passing is profoundly unfair, are all the same: His products were polished reflections of an obsession with the customer experience.
The consistent imprint across the products he touched over four decades – from the Macintosh, to the string of blockbuster Pixar movies to the lineup of iPods, iPhones and iPads – was an almost neurotic attention to the smallest details. And in the technology realm, he insisted
on an unparalleled emphasis on usability, on inventing intuitive, easy-to-understand ways of interacting with devices that, in the hands of others, so often make us want to pull our hair out.
It was a form of respect in an industry that too often conveys a sort of condescension in its product design: We just create awesome features, if you can’t figure them out, you’re a moron undeserving of our engineering genius. Customers rightly reward such treatment with brand ambivalence.
Legions of Apple fans
Apple products, in contrast, earn a level of loyalty rarely seen in consumer electronics – or anywhere else. There are legions of fans who obsessively devour product rumors, shave the Apple logo into their hair and wait outside overnight to be first in line for a new product.
Lest we make Jobs into a god or saint, it should be noted that his were very much commercial enterprises. He was well rewarded for his efforts and talents with a lot of money and a lot of fame.
But everything he said and did made it clear that fame was not his driving motivation. He was a perfectionist in search of perfection and, as luck would have it, he was doing it on our behalf. Even when he was being the rude, demanding boss he was reputed to be, he was typically doing it in service of a better product.
Or, as a colleague put it Wednesday: “Even when he was being a jerk, at least he was being a jerk for me.”
Fortunately, the amazing success of Apple forced big portions of the industry to follow its lead, to thoughtfully consider user interfaces, to care as much about removing features as adding them. Note the brushed aluminum on competitors’ laptops; witness the widgets on Android smart phones.