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.