Monday, May 14, 2007

Is Steve Jobs really a geek or a icon?

Disclaimer: The thoughts mentioned in this post are just the opinions formed from what I read from Wiki and from the book "Founders at Work". This post is in no way an attempt to malign Mr. Steve Jobs' image or his iconic status in the world"

I heard many a person speak about how great Steve Jobs is, and how inspirational he is to the youngsters who want to make it big in their lives. We had a computer lab in school, with around 60 Windows machines and 15 Macs. Very few people used Macs, and when the Windows machines got filled up, I went to use a Mac once. I then thought, what a poor design, why would anyone want to use this instead of Windows. But that was my ignorance speaking, since I had never really used any machine other than Windows. A common form of Lenz's law applied to human nature is that "Change is opposed". Perhaps I was only following my human instinct then...

When I started working, I found a colleague who liked Steve Jobs immensely and used to tell me about him. Also my roomie is a great fan of Steve Jobs and he makes no attempt in hiding that. This made me wonder, who is this guy and what's so special about him. The more I read about him and the more I listened about him, the more I found about the cult following he has successfully established and the iconic status he has been able to maintain in the computer and the entertainment industries.

Out of my observations, I find him to be a charismatic character. And he might not be a visionary, but he is definitely a person with a vision. But I doubt if he is a geek or even an icon... I might be in no way qualified to evaluate a person of the stature of Steve Jobs, but I would like to bring out the points that make me feel so. First and foremost, the launch of the Apple Computer comes to my attention. There wasn't much contribution from Steve Jobs to the creation of Apple Computer. He found a geek and a genius in Steve Wozniak who could fit in the minimum possible number of chips to make a PC Board.

As mentioned in Wiki

"According to Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell, Atari had offered US$100 for each chip that was reduced in the machine. Jobs had little interest or knowledge in circuit board design and made a deal with Wozniak to split the bonus evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Much to the amazement of Atari, Wozniak reduced the number of chips by 50, a design so tight that it was impossible to reproduce on an assembly line. At the time, Jobs told Wozniak that Atari had only given them US$700 (instead of the actual US$5000) and that Wozniak's share was thus US$350"

This clearly shows his nature. He wasn't interested in the creative challenge posed by Atari, but was definitely interested in the money part of it. He knew Steve Wozniak, who he thought could ace it, and he kind of outsourced the work to Woz and got it done. This shows his business mind, and probably his business acumen, but what he did with the money was not entirely ethical. He blatantly lied about the money the design generated and conned Woz of $2150 which was his genuine share. As a matter of fact, the design belonged to Woz, so he was entitled to $5000, but they had an agreement in place, out of which Jobs had to give him at least $2500, but he didn't.

Then came the Apple Computer. Jobs saw Woz's design of the computer, he was never interested in building one of his own to show off his potential, and he very well knew he couldn't. He saw an opportunity, and convinced Woz that they could sell the computers that he had made and made partnership with him. Agreed he met the right people and took care of all the marketing and all the business points of a stellar growth that Apple had experienced, but is he in any way responsible for the kind of genius tag that he is usually associated with, and the cool image that he maintains. If marketing the cool product developed by someone and establishing a business out of it is iconic and genius, then why is it that Bill Gates looked at as a villain at the same venue where Steve Jobs is looked at as a hero. Not that I support Bill Gates, in fact I am gonna write a post about him and Google soon too, but the point I am trying to make is that, if building a business is considered iconic and genius, then Bill Gates should occupy a better slot than Steve Jobs.

To his credit, Steve Jobs has done many a thing which can be considered his strong pros. He was a kid who was 5 years younger to Woz, but he knew that Woz had the right design to capture the market. He saw the potential in the product, he made money out of it. This is a true representation of his business acumen and probably a vision of the future business but in no way a representation of the vision of technology he had held at that point of time.

The second thing that captures my attention is the product Ipod. I seriously doubt if Jobs got the idea of an Ipod. I see in the ipod page on Wiki the following entry:

iPod came from Apple's digital hub strategy,[2] when the company began creating software for the growing market of digital devices being purchased by consumers. Digital cameras, camcorders and organizers had well-established mainstream markets, but the company found existing digital music players "big and clunky or small and useless" with user interfaces that were "unbelievably awful",[2] so Apple decided to develop its own. Apple's hardware engineering chief, Jon Rubinstein, assembled a team of engineers to design it, including Tony Fadell, hardware engineer Michael Dhuey, and design engineer Jonathan Ive, with Stan Ng as the marketing manager. The product was developed in less than a year and unveiled on 23 October 2001. CEO Steve Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put "1000 songs in your pocket."

The design belonged to someone else, the implementation belonged to someone else, and just because the team in Apple got the idea when Jobs was the CEO, he got the credit for one of the coolest innovations of this decade, the iPod. I seriously doubt if Steve Jobs had put the seed for the idea and harvested it. He was probably at the right place at the right time (He wasn't with Apple for some time). But, at the end of the day, the point is that iPod is not his discovery or his invention as was the Apple Computer. He was just a facilitator between the genii behind these products and the rest of the ordinary world, in making them famous and available to the general public.

Does this mean, that Steve Jobs is not as great as he is credited to be. Perhaps he is. We definitely have to agree that he is an effective business man and a strong charismatic person. But as Abhishek Bacchan puts it in Guru movie "Aapne mujhe paanch minute dhiye the, lekin maine saade chaar mein sab kuch khatham kar dhiya, thees second munafa, ise kehthe hain buziness" translated as "You gave me 5 minutes to put my argument. I completed in 4.5 minutes, 30 seconds profit, this is called business" (says to the Judge in the climax), Steve Jobs is probably an iconic business mind, who knows how to get the best out of an opportunity he faces, and he may be the best in marketing and in demanding a cult, but he is definitely not an geek or icon in the technical sense of it....

So, the next time you hear a guy who wants to develop a product that would blow the world off, and declares he is a staunch follower of Steve Jobs, don't think twice in correcting such sort of an oxymoron statement

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