Full disclosure: I am cross-platform. I own a MacBook and an iPod, but I do most of my work on a Dell PC, and I take calls and send texts on an Android phone. I don’t know what Steve Jobs would have made of me as a person, but it’s easy to imagine the late Apple Inc. co-founder looking askance at my mismatched collection of hardware and operating systems and slowly, sadly shaking his head.
Read more books about culture's heavy hitters, including Roger Ebert's 'Life Itself.'
But I do know what I made of Jobs. Even though I’m not strictly an Apple user, I’m kind of amazed at the myriad ways in which Jobs has transformed the ways I work, play, and receive and interpret information. And even without replacing my Android with an iPhone, or without reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs—drawn from interviews with Jobs and many of his friends, colleagues and competitors—I can easily name off 10 reasons why his life is worthy of biography, and why I’ll always admire the iPhone even if I never get one.
1. Jobs made computers into something you wanted to display in your home. Before Jobs, home computers were off-putting, ugly beige boxes best hidden under a desk or in a cave. By striving for elegance in design as well as ease of use, Jobs put the computer up on the desk where everyone could admire it and feel confident enough to approach it.
2. By allowing the creative element to run Pixar without interference, Jobs was instrumental in redefining feature-length animation. When Pixar’s first feature Toy Story was released in 1995, Disney was the undisputed king of feature-length animation – and it was about to begin a calamitous slide, both in quality and popularity, that began in 1995 with the so-so Pocahontas and ended with the godawful Home on the Range in 2004.
Disney’s management cut budgets, belittled animators and drove most of the talent from the building, while Jobs simply wrote checks to Pixar brain trust and allowed them to create largely without interference. The end result? Hit films like Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and many others, every one a modern classic. Disney knew it was beaten and simply bought the company outright in 2006, allowing the creative culture that Jobs had encouraged to continue on unmolested.
3. He could give a colorful interview. “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste,” said Jobs in a 1996 documentary. According to CNET’s Jay Greene, Jobs later called his friend Bill Gates to apologize—but only for saying it in public.
4. Jobs helped make John Hodgman a semi-celebrity. “Hello, I’m a Mac,” says Justin Long. “And I’m a PC,” replies John Hodgman, and so begins a series of the funniest commercials in history. I don’t know if Jobs personally signed off on writer and comedian Hodgman as the voice of the “opposition,” but he surely allowed the campaign to continue longer than Apple actually needed the “Get a Mac” campaign to run—and, in doing so, made the hilariously funny Hodgman a hot property. And I guess Long did all right for himself, too, you know with the Drew Barrymore as girlfriend thing and all.
5. He changed the way we consume music. Look, you can like the iPod or hate it. You can celebrate its kickass interface or denigrate it as just one kind of MP3 player among thousands. But you can’t deny the awesomeness of having every song you ever loved and more in your pocket, smaller than a deck of cards. The iPod started that race and drove its competitors to create better hardware to match it.
6. Jobs arguably brought the word “shuffle” back into the limelight. C’mon, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” came out in 1985. Had you even thought of the word in the intervening years between William “Refrigerator” Perry and iTunes?
7. Disney is back on track, thanks in part to Jobs. When Disney purchased Pixar through a stock swap in 2006, Jobs became Disney’s largest shareholder. At that time, Disney was still shaken from a management shakeup and a failed takeover bid from Comcast. Jobs’ presence on Disney’s board of directors helped to calm the waters, even if he didn’t have an active role in running the company. According to a recent Los Angeles Times piece, Jobs was instrumental in Disney’s recent attempts to solidify its brand.
8. “One more thing.” Even when I wasn’t impressed with Apple’s new products, I appreciated the showman’s flourish with which Jobs introduced them. No technology CEO has the likability and confidence that Jobs had in front of a crowd, and if one ever does display such a dab hand with people, he or she will surely be compared to Jobs.
9. He didn’t care what you thought of him. Jobs was famously ill-tempered and combative; he didn’t suffer fools or failure. In the wake of his death I read a number of glowing tributes and an equal number of pieces that declared, “he was brilliant, but…” Jobs would probably have received both with the same indifference. He wasn’t in the business to be liked or hated. He lived for the work. There’s something to be said for that, both good and bad.
10. Steve Jobs will bring back the turtleneck. It hasn’t happened yet, but you know it will.
Walter Isaacson's biography on the late, great Steve Jobs is out today from Simon & Schuster.