If Steve Jobs Was Alive What Would Steve Jobs Do?

If Steve Jobs was alive I would not need to write this column.

He is not, tragically, and yet as I cover Apple, the smartphone industry, and the rapid spread of mobile personal computing throughout the world, I never hear the end of analysts, bloggers — and haters — telling me exactly what would be different if Steve Jobs was alive.

Google “If Steve Jobs Was Alive” and you are delivered 760,000,000 results. By comparison, “If Einstein Was Alive” yields only 142,000,000 results, and “If Jesus Was Alive” a distant 490,000,000. Obviously, people care deeply about ‘what would Steve do’ if he was still with us.

I used to fight this line of questioning, in the vain hope I could make it stop. I failed, and so here I embrace the idea, basing each and every supposition on my knowledge of the man and his work and not at all to prove a point, gain some advantage, nor even start a fight.

If Steve Jobs was alive…

There Would Be No iPhone 5c

The iPhone 5c combines the worst of iPhone 5 with the most iconic of the Nokia Lumia. Worse, it has no reason for being other than as a cash generator. It offers far less than the iPhone 5s and for the price there are far better smartphones available from Sony, Samsung, Nokia and others.

Apple will no doubt make a good deal of money from iPhone 5c, though I don’t believe Steve Jobs would have let that sway him. He would have said no. To quote Jobs: “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

The iPhone 5c is a waste of the very best that Apple can do. The iPhone 5s is the latest truly “insanely great” product from Apple. Its brightness, however, is diminished by the far lesser yet ironically far brighter iPhone 5c. If Steve Jobs was alive, the 5c would not exist.

The Thermonuclear War Would Still Be Raging

Google wildly overpaid for Motorola — for patents. Nokia, near death, clings to its patents. BlackBerry is being sold for a bit more than its cash, its only other assets its patents. Intellectual property matters dearly — few in Silicon Valley understood this as well as Jobs.

Angry at how partners and colleagues shamelessly copied from Apple’s many years of hard work, and no doubt still wounded deeply by what he (wrongly) considered Eric Schmidt’s personal betrayal, the smartphone patent wars would be raging if Steve Jobs was alive.

Steve Jobs could change his mind. He listened to those around him. He knew when to move forward and what to leave behind. The patent wars, however, is that rare Jobs crusade that he would refuse to set aside.

Mentoring Mark Zuckerberg Would Make Him Happy

I am not convinced that wearable computing would excite Jobs as much as it does the rest of us. This despite the cool new “motion chip” in the iPhone 5s and the obvious benefits for Apple Inc. I am convinced, however, that having The Beatles and Bob Dylan always available, for free, via iTunes Radio, would excite him a great deal.

I also believe that mentoring Mark Zuckerberg would bring Jobs much joy.

There is much about Silicon Valley that I suspect would deeply trouble Steve Jobs. So much small thinking, so much incipient press coverage, the bourgeoning NSA – Silicon Valley mash-up, and the near-religious focus on get-rich-quick and sell-for-today.

Mark Zuckerberg is not like that.

I suspect Jobs would look forward to meeting regularly with Zuckerberg, even if just to talk.

The Reality Distortion Field Would Burn Just As Bright

If there is any company that does not need cheerleaders — or to distort reality — it is Apple. The company’s scale is almost hard to fathom. Consider that in less than a week they have sold more than 10 million new iPhones and gotten 200 million of their customers onto their latest operating system (iOS 7). No one else can achieve anything close to this.

Apple is the biggest tech company, has the most profitable global retail footprint, maintains stunningly high product margins, controls the biggest media ecosystem on the planet, and builds the very best mobile computing devices at a time when the world’s billions are clamoring to have one.

Cheering today’s Apple is like cheering on Microsoft — in its fight against Netscape. Right or wrong, it’s not really a fair fight.

But telling us all just how great Apple is was never what the “reality distortion field” was about, at least, not primarily so. Nor was it  about masking any of the company’s shortcomings. Reality distortion, so-called, was Jobs’ way of showing us what he saw, of helping us to glimpse the possibilities of the future.

Indeed, perhaps reality distortion is the wrong term. It should be called Jobs’ “time distortion field” instead.

Steve Jobs used his ‘time distortion’ powers to remind us that our talents and abilities, those unique parts of us, would soon be liberated. Apple just needed a little bit more time to make it happen. Each product moving us one step closer.


What do you think Steve Jobs would do? About anything? Have at it. Clearly, we all need to get this out of our system.

Published by

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.

592 thoughts on “If Steve Jobs Was Alive What Would Steve Jobs Do?”

  1. Wasn’t one of the last and most important advice from Steve Jobs “Never ever ask you what I would do if I was already here, but do what you think you should do” ?

  2. I don’t think 5c is that big of a deal. It is just the continuation of, selling last years model at a slight discount. He may have let that one through.

    I would like to think that he would have driven iOS 7 in a different direction. I can’t see him approving a slavishly flat, texture-less, shading deprived OS colored in pastel and Neon.

      1. This is one of worst posts I’ve seen in this site. Totally waste time on this type of topic. Nothing helps understand why Apple or Ive introduced iPhone5c.

    1. Why not? Ive was is “spiritual” brother. How does anyone know that this stuff wasn’t already in the pipeline? For all we know, Ive said “Steve? Wouldn’t this be cool?” And Jobs said “It would be. Flesh it out.”

      And here it is.

      1. Jobs was also the big defender of Forestall and fellow fan of skeuomorphism. If Jobs was still at Apple, there is a high chance that Forestall would still be there and still running iOS development. Ive would only be doing HW and not SW.

        Even if not, Jobs said he spent a lot more time saying No, than Yes. I think there was much to say No to in iOS 7. Jobs served as the final arbiter of taste.

        Without Jobs, Ive is now doing software and really has no one to keep him in check, even if his skills don’t translate that well.

        1. Your opinion. Mine differs and gets additional weight because I’m right. It think it looks great and Jobs set it up that way, that Ive could be unchecked, so he must have had confidence in Ive.

          I think that visually it is great and Jobs would have liked it too. Now what?

          1. It isn’t opinion that Jobs was a backer of both Scott Forestall and skeuomorphism. Those are facts.

            Forestall would almost certainly still be running iOS if Jobs were alive and iOS 7 would look nothing like it does now.

            The only opinion part is that I don’t like iOS 7 and you do.

          2. The fact is that Jobs made Ive untouchable and Cook the CEO.

            As for iOS7, remember Mark Papermeister, the white iPhone and Anntennagate? SJ was quoted about having “strong opinions, loosely held”, so I wouldn’t be so sure that Forstall would still be running anything, especially after the Maps debacle.

            All Jobs had to do was set it up to make Forstall untouchable like he did Ive. He didn’t and that speaks volumes.

        2. Steve was also quite proud of his ability to leave yesterday behind and change positions with new information and circumstances. The fact is, skeuomorphism was heavily required to teach people a new touch interface. Today’s generation already understands it and is ready to advance to a less heavy-handed approach.

          Looking back at the candy colored iMacs, the brightly colored iPod minis, the translucency of OS X 10.0, and the Candy colored clamshell MacBooks, it would definitely seem in line with Apple’s design approach and Steve’s aesthetics. Remember, iOS 7 will evolve quickly, just as OS X’s interface has over the years. 10.0 looks positively like a kid’s toy compared to the design language of 10.8-9.

  3. Jobs would of totally greenlit the 5c. Matter of fact – I would think he would of championed it. All you have to do is look at what Jobs did when he returned to Apple. He greenlit the Bondi Blue”-colored plastic iMac. Which saved Apple.

  4. You would rather people get the 5 or the 4S? Not sure what the distinction is between selling the 5 as is, as the cheaper phone, and selling the 5C. Not sure Apple wasted any appreciable time on it. The 5 is a great phone to begin with, competitors notwithstanding, and the price is right. Hell, this time next year it will be the free phone, replacing the 4. Apple has recognized the sea change: The 5 is a goodnuf phone for anyone; the 5S is a bet on the future.

  5. “…no doubt still wounded deeply by what he (wrongly) considered Eric Schmidt’s personal betrayal…”

    What is “wrongly” about that consideration. I can’t name any other example of which a company chief sits on the board of another company and did what Schmidt did.

    Clearly if Jobs had any idea of Google’s plans for Android he wouldn’t have let Schmidt or Google come near Apple’s board. He obviously thought that Android was one of the million companies Google had bought and discarded. I very much doubt that Schmidt gained no information about Apple’s plans in 2006 when he joined and before he was asked to skip board meetings.

    I am pretty sure that Apple would never had let Google Maps on the platform as a cornerstone app and that Apple would have put their own service first instead of allowing Google to get a huge lead in the space that was initially and for years built on the back of iPhone users.

    Clearly Jobs erred in trusting Schmidt and Google but it is incumbent on Schmidt to behave more ethically and upfront.

    Like I said, name any other major company whose CEO behaved like Schmidt? Jobs was right to have felt wronged.

    1. This is the same Eric Schmidt who tried to have Google erase search results about his mistress. The man is a total weasel.

      1. Like I said, Jobs erred in allowing Schmidt on the board. That said, Schmidt behaved unethically and anyone should feel wronged when treated in an unethical manner.

  6. According to the article: Google “If Steve Jobs Was Alive” and you are delivered 760,000,000 results.

    I got 12,100. That’s because I used quotes around the phrase (as in the article) rather than looking for any article that contains those five words. Who cares if an essay/article uses all of those words, but not in order or even in proximity to one another?

    If you Google “If Steve Jobs were alive” (were instead of was), you get 42,200 results. “If Jesus were alive” produces 311,000 and “If Einstein were alive” yields 95,100.

    1. You can add another 20,600 to that with “If jobs was alive”, and another 26,800 with “if jobs were alive”.

      Now, you can get 15,900,000 with “jobs would not have”.

      It’s up there. I think they are all loony. If Jobs was alive we wouldn’t know what Jobs would do.

  7. I really do not know what Steve Jobs would have done if he was still alive. But what I do know is that Steve Jobs was a man unlike any other, with a view of the industry that it was very uncomfortable for many people, especially for those who always saw him as a threat to their business.

    Before Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, nobody in the media used the term “Reality Distortion Field”. This term began to be used by the media in a derogatory way every time Steve Jobs had something new or discerning about something that already exists. All Apple free enemies enjoyed saying that Steve Jobs lived in a separate reality, a reality only of him, which they called Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field.

    But when that reality distortion field began to create products like the iPod, the first Mac Book Air, the iPhone and the iPad, then the critics understood that what caused them so much mockery was not simply the staging that Jobs had the vision about the products that Apple could improve for the enjoyment of all mankind.

    I agree with Brian. If Steve Jobs were alive, thermonuclear war he declared to Google would be all that would. For everything I’ve read about it, I do believe that Eric Schmidt betrayed the trust that Steve Jobs gave him. But what most rage and pain caused to Steve Jobs was the betrayal of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, because Jobs considered them his pupils, even gave them protection against the evil empire embodied in Microsoft. It is a fact that Steve Jobs felt a personal appreciation to Page and Brin, and how they, along with Eric Schmidt, “reciprocated” that feeling, filled with pain and bitterness some of the last days of Jobs.

    In my personal view, that’s how I think some things would be if Steve Jobs was still alive.

    1. The iPod, the product that turned Apple’s fortune and got the company involved in portable devices, was already in development for a couple of years before Steve Jobs returned. The iPhone was merely the continuation of that product line. People need to stop attributing far more to Jobs than he really was responsible for.

      1. Anyone who knows a little of Steve Jobs or have had the fortune to know him, knows that in Apple, from 1997, nothing could go to market without his permission. The fear that Apple shareholders felt to be at the edge of the cliff, made ​​them resign “voluntarily” to any attempt to participate in decision-making of the company. So, Apple became the fief of Steve Jobs and he alone decided what was done and what was not done.

        I never said that Steve Jobs had created and / or invented the iPod. What I said was that without his endorsement, the iPod would never have come to light. Even today we discuss who invented it, if it was Jon Rubinstein, if it was Tony Fadell or if it was Kane Kramer, but that is a separate issue. What I meant was that this product was generated in what some called the reality distortion field of Steve Jobs.

        Many of the areas that Apple now dominates are areas in which Apple did not invent anything, but innovated by radically improving what already existed in these areas (mobile, computer, tablets, etc.). If Jobs had not been convinced that Apple products were infinitely better than the competition, could hardly have launched himself such an adventure.

        The iPod, iPhone, MacBook Air and iPad have made Apple the empire it is today. That is nothing new. But none of those products would now be in the hands of consumers without Steve Jobs’ approval. That’s it. And that is precisely why people attributes them, correctly, to Steve Jobs.

  8. “… he (wrongly) considered Eric Schmidt’s personal betrayal …”

    Why “Wrongly”? Seriously, if you make an assertion like that, it needs an explanation, and I would like to hear it.

    By the way, it’s “If Steve Jobs WERE Alive …”

    1. It’s *not” WERE. You may say that “were” is grammatically correct but this post is based on the question I hear damn near constantly: what if Steve Jobs WAS alive. That’s why I wrote it the way I did.
      Re wrongly, as I note below, Jobs wasn’t betrayed so much as he was outplayed. In my view, he brought Schmidt onto the board to keep his enemies closer, as the saying goes. He figured he could control Schmidt (and Google) by having Schmidt on the board. A major miscalculation by Jobs.

      1. I don’t think that he asked Schmidt on board to keep his enemies close. There was no value to have him on board and a significant potential downside – as we have seen. Google would have done business with Apple regardless, with or without Schmidt on the board and as I pointed out below, they likely wouldn’t have given Google such advantages on core applications like Maps. They would have bought mapping companies in 2005/06 and shipped it themselves, as they later did.

        I think that Jobs had no idea that Schmidt would act that way since, as far as I can tell, it is unprecedented in any recent memory for board members to do what Schmidt did. By all accounts, Jobs was surprised and betrayed. Putting Schmidt on board wasn’t some sort of planned strategic maneuver on Jobs’ part. In those days, they both had MSFT as the common enemy, which was likely the impetus.

          1. Brian, I’ve got to agree with Vikram on this one. Schimidt was brought onboard because at the time, Steve had many plans for iOS internally. Remember, the iPad was being developed long before the iPhone was released. Steve knew the google maps app and other integrated features were being developed and wanted to strengthen the bonds with Google itself.

            As Steve said later, “We didn’t enter the search business. They entered the phone business.” Granting Schmidt the ‘outplayed’ card, in my opinion, ignores the fact that he made the decision to enter the smartphone business when he saw the iPhone internally at Apple. Taking that information and lying by omission to continue getting access is definitely a betrayal of trust and duty as a board member.

      2. If Steve Jobs *was* still alive, the only thing I’m pretty sure we can count on is that his cock would be lodged firmly in your cheek.

  9. I think Jobs was an insanely great error finder. The magic was how perfect the 1.0 versions were, not in terms of a million different functions but in terms of execution of that which was included . He was ruthless in cutting out things that weren’t perfect. Eg Copy and paste took its time to arrive but when it did was miles better than any other implementation of it – it still is. The courage to go for 100% instead of say 90% that’s the difference to my mind. But that’s OK I guess, Apple is becoming more like other companies, still the best, but instead of 10 years ahead maybe just 5!

  10. I am not at all sure he would have liked iOS7’s flat, colorful skin; I think he may have found it to be too cartoonish.

  11. If Steve Jobs was actively running Apple, there’s a good chance Maps would not have been released as it was. (I grant that Ping and MobileMe were released under Jobs’ watch, but surely he must’ve learned something.) Poorly done features might’ve been cut from the first release. At a minimum, “beta” would’ve been attached to it. If there was no Maps problem, then Forstall most likely remains as iOS head, with Jobs arbitrating between Forstall, Ive, and Mansfield. If Forstall is around, Ive doesn’t work on iOS 7, and it becomes something very different, though probably still converging with OS X.

    I think a phone like the 5C (i.e. not-top-of-line, plastic, color) was in Jobs’ draft of Apple’s 5-year hardware plan. The continued sales success of the iPhone 4S and 4 from last Nov-Mar may have accelerated its final development and release in 2013 with an A6 instead of waiting for the A7 in 2014. Regardless, I believe a 5C-like phone was the third step in Apple’s plans to attract late smartphone adopters and iPhone 3G/3GS slow-to-upgraders. (A free 4/4S with its elegant enclosure was steps 1 and 2.)

    The thermonuclear war is still continuing against Samsung and Google. Apple’s appeals have been slowly making up ground. At a minimum, these legal battles are helping to clarify the legal issues regarding SEPs, causal nexus, injunctive relief, etc, which Apple can then factor into future strategy. I think the difference is that Jobs would probably have, by now, issued an easy-to-understand explanation of why Apple continues its legal pursuit.

    1. If a comment of yours is missing, it was not deleted because it’s not in the deleted or spam folders. It was probably eaten by Disqus, which alas happens sometimes.

  12. Jobs would have never released the iPhone 5C (or a similar product with similar strategy)? I beg to differ. The 5C and the surrounding noise about price/value echoes eerily similarly to the response to the iPod Mini. “What the hell, Apple is charging $50 less for an iPod that holds a fraction of the songs of the original iPod. Apple has lost their minds.”

    We all know how that turned out. I’d say the 5C is a very well-thought move by Apple, following tier instinct and NOT bowing to conventional wisdom that Apple NEEDS a cheap un subsidized phone. Apple zigs where others say to zag. That’s always been Apple, but more importantly that’s always been Steve Jobs. One to ALWAYS question whether conventional wisdom is right.

    I think Apple saw how well the 4S did last year at $99, and thought they could be even more successful by making it a truly new and unique model that isn’t the hand-me-down model. And I have every reason to believe that it is a great move. Remember, early adopters aren’t going to rush out and buy one, it’s the more casual consumers they’re targeting. Perfect example, a friend of mine just went and bought one over the weekend. I asked her if she knew the 5S just came out and was “only” 100 more. She said “yea, I don’t care I just want an iPhone and this was cheaper and looked a lot cooler, I love green.”

    1. Apple moving into smaller tablets was NOT zigging where others said to zag. It was a reluctant move, following Android and others’ success in that form factor.

  13. You should end a piece like that with ‘amen’. It’s nothing more than an embarassing prayer to the dead god of a Beloved Multinational (that will never love you back).

  14. If Jobs was alive he would have bankrupted Apple in order to destroy Android, leaving the world open for yet another round of Windows dominance. That was his stated intention.

  15. I’m still not entirely clear what your issue is with the 5c or exactly why you think Jobs would not have released it. It certainly falls inline with prior Jobsian product lines’ strategy—MacMini/iMac/MacPro, MacBook/MacBook Pro, the entire iPod line. Remember that the MacMini came about by simply putting MacBook guts into a stand alone case sans monitor and keyboard.

    Or are you poking fun at the analysts who believe this?


      1. If you want to make a point of 5c being unworthy to 5, you can state it directly and list the reasons 1, 2, 3 etc. And then readers can get your point easily. Resorting to Steve Jobs doesn’t enhance your point.

        So far, the most insightful piece I’ve read for 5c is MG Siegler’s piece, http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/10/iphone-5c/. I truly believe MG Siegler’s point, it is Jony Ive’s phone, with perfect match between software and hardware, or we can see it, a truly harmonious unity, ONE thing, instead of two separate things (hardware and software), presented to users. It represents Jony’s design philosophy to extreme.

  16. I say Steve Jobs is still around. WWSJD is a formula, or more specifically, a culture, that is deeply embedded in Apple. They don’t ask WWSJD, they just do what Apple Does. And What Apple Does is what Steve created. All the bashing and criticism we have now we had then. The products and the miss-steps and the wins we had then.

    Haven’t yet see Apple do anything off of the path laid down by Jobs. I think that’s his enduring triumph.

  17. Here In Italy, tv broadcasted “the lost interview”, I guess made in 1995 more or less, when he was out of Apple (fired), and they asked him: what do you think about Apple now? He replied: “I think Apple is slowly dying. Apple is losing all the advantage of 10 years forward on its competitors that it had reached from the foundation. There’s no leadership, they don’t know what to do to find something new.”

    Something like that, and I’m sorry for my English, but….well…don’t you think there are similarities with the Apple of today?

    Sometimes I think that Jobs would have pulled out the company from a sterile fight for the most cool smartphone.

    I’m not a devoted one to the guru. I avoid religions in any way. But I read the biography and it really seems that he had a total different approach to design and production……an approach that maybe it’s not tought in high leve business colleges.

    I don’t know, just for speculating.

    1. In a word, no. Today’s Apple bears no resemblance whatever to the Apple of the mid- to late-90s. Apple under Spindler and Amelio was adrift. It had too many products in a lineup that made no sense. It couldn’t execute and every new product launch invariably involved running out of stock of the old products too soon, having too much inventory of the old product when the new arrived, or not having enough of the new. Worst of all, the company failed miserably at developing a successor to its elderly Mac OS.

      The worst you can say today is that it has been three who years since Apple launched a truly revolutionary product. But it is executing extraordinarily well on all its existing product lines and is growing and making tons of money.

    2. I agree with you, Carlo. Steve was an artist. His intuitions came from the same source as McCartney’s muse. I can’t think of anyone else in my lifetime who combined the artistic insights into the future with business acumen that Jobs did. I actually am concerned about whether the products will continue to be as good as when he was at the helm.

  18. 1. We have no idea if Steve would or wouldn’t. Heck given that there is often 3-5 if not more years of planning behind any tech, perháps the 5c was his idea

    2 Steve is dead and gone, get over it. Even he faced that reality head on when he told Tim etc to ever ask what he would do

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