October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs Made Computers Cute

There are many obituaries, tributes and bios of Steve Jobs online today after the Apple visionary died yesterday at the age of 56.  Many superlatives have been used to describe Jobs and the remarkable impact he had on the world of computing.  One surprising fact to me was that he held more than 300 patents for everything from the casing for the original Mac to the staircases at Apple stores.  

But despite these remarkable technical innovations, Jobs did something unique.  Simply put, he made computers cute. Until the mid-80s, computers were forbidding machines that mathematicians, scientists and businessman used.  Then he created a Mac which smiled when you turned it on and was guided by a hand-operated mouse.  And slowly the world of computing truly became personal.  Later on, the utter simplicity of something like an iPod served as a sort of gateway drug for technophobes into the wonderful world of personal computing. People were surprised to find their parents and even grandparents online, often using a Mac or an iPad. 

In some ways, Job's remarkable story is similar to that of another industrial innovator, George Eastman. Despite what many think, Eastman did not "invent" photography (though he has multiple patents like Jobs).  What he did was to make it accessible with his equally cute and simple Brownie camera that spawned a similar revolution in the way people used photography.  Through his Kodak company, Eastman took an existing technology and made it friendly and usable for the masses.  Jobs did the same, times 10. And the world will never be the same....in a good way.

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