Whether you love him for his ideas or hate him for his character flaws, the former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was undoubtedly a visionary. He was known as that stubborn idealist who would push employees to their breaking points just to materialize an idea that seemed implausible.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs
He understood that to be truly innovative almost to the point of being inventive meant the occasional abandonment of rational thinking. The very word “rational” has much in common with the word “safe”, like how comfortably “safe” it was for Apple to purchase the already successful Beats By Dre instead of having the company as another competitor. How Apple found it equally “safe” to make minor rather than major improvements with each iPhone update. The “safety” in Apple speaking against the competition’s features such as 7” inch tablets and various widget based inclusions, only to implement them once they were proven successful on other platforms.
Apple’s been looking real “safe” lately, so much so that it’s arguably no longer special to be that first adopter. That familiar feeling you’d get of being trendy for owning that weird looking iPad thing or different for having a slim CD-less device that actually stored music. It all seems to be lost on this generation. It’s no longer hip to own an Apple product; it’s just plain ordinary.
Former Apple alums have been seeing the signs of a changing company as well. Hartmut Esslinger is a man whose impressions have been left on much of Apple’s own industrial design evolution. He had the privilege of working with the late Steve Jobs in establishing a “design language” that was used in Macintosh computers between the years of 1984 to 1990. His comments made in an interview with Quartz illustrated this disconnect between what Jobs envisioned and the current direction of the company.
“The Apple of today still has great design at its core, but must maintain its passion for cutting edge innovation. Apple is still leading, but must speed up its innovation again,” said Esslinger according to Quartz. “Steve Jobs was a man who didn’t care for any rational argument why something should not be tried. He said a lot of “no,” but he also said a lot of “yes” to things and he stubbornly insisted on trying new things.”
As a person who was bred on a comparatively open-sourced platform in Windows, I’ve always raised an eyebrow at a certain advertisement made in 1984. It was a Darwinian themed commercial that any Mac aficionado would be familiar with, comically suggesting that Apple would bring users out from under IBM and Microsoft’s control. The irony is that Apple for the longest time has controlled its message and its products with an almost equally stubborn hand. It has often had a history of soldering parts to boards to prevent user tampering and it has created OS’ that historically lacked customizability options. It’s this emboldened stance on controlling its vision that is also what gave the company an innovative edge. As Jobs once said, “It is not the customer’s job to know what they want.” Well I hate to say it, but there’s nothing unbeknownst to the consumer demographic in knowing that many people love wearing Beats headphones, so they might too. It also isn’t a stretch of the imagination for the average user to realize that they actually want thinner and faster gadgets – who would have thought? What exactly are you telling me that I don’t already know that I may want, Apple?
Sure. I may be holding the company to an unfair standard considering the speed in which technology is progressing, but it only serves as a testament to how much I respected its inventive and daring past.
I want to be able to look at a user with the same puzzled expression I had when I first saw an iPad in the wild. I’d love to see Apple once again “think differently” and take the slogan as seriously as it once did. At the current trend, no one’s looking all that “different”; 30 years later, and it’s unfortunately looking like the 1984 Apple once feared.