Sunday, September 8, 2013

Apple & "Jobs" A Personal History

     I should state immediately that this post will offer "spoilers" to the recently released movie "Jobs," starring Ashton Kutcher; however, this is not traditionally the kind of movie that one would necessarily worry about being "spoiled." It is, after all, an autobiography, and anyone who is interested enough in Apple or Steve Jobs to see the movie will most likely know many of the events portrayed in the film.

     Perhaps I should, before offering my opinion of the movie, relate my own personal relationship and history with Apple, and what I knew of Steve Jobs to this point. Being 36 years old, I grew up in an age of technology; my generation was the first to really have home video games, personal computers and cable television. I always held a keen interest in these things, being a "geek" by all traditional measurements. My family had an Atari 2600 (I loved "Combat", the pack-in game, and my sister and I loved to play "Breakout" against one another) and, at a later date, a Commodore 64 personal computer. I don't exactly remember whether the C64 was purchased for me, or for the family in general, but it didn't take long for me to basically confiscate the computer for my own. My parents, in particular my father, were always buying things they considered more educational to somewhat dilute the glut of toys I always asked for. (Of course, I used the C64 for gaming A LOT)

     As I got older, my interest and knowledge of computers grew; as a child, I remember seeing the live  infamous Apple "1984" commercial on TV. My school, although fairly poor for a private school, eventually offered computer classes, and even built a "computer lab." Indicative of the times, the computers were predominantly IBM PCs; I vaguely remember a Tandy or C64 being there among the monochrome black and green screens (no MS Windows on these PCs). There was also 1 single Apple IIc computer, the only one with a color monitor in the entire lab. Sadly, although we asked about it, the teacher didn't know anything about Apple Computers and rarely allowed us to turn it on.

     Even at a younger age, I knew the names of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates. My computer teacher at school was somewhat old school, in that he liked using the command line and didn't necessarily gravitate towards the graphical user interface that the Mac introduced and Windows popularized. He also kept us informed on things he considered important, and I remember hearing of Steve Job's departure from Apple. Basically, for me at that time, Apple was really interesting but obviously not going anywhere, and I followed the rest of the world of the Windows-based PC.

      It wasn't until later that I truly grasped how important Apple had been and what they offered; but like most people, I went with the flow and convinced my parents to buy me a Packard-Bell computer with a 15" monitor and an Intel Pentium CPU running at 100 MHz. It also was among the first computers on the market with the revolutionary Windows 95 operating system. This system took me through high school even though I took it apart, bought expansion cards, reinstalled windows several times, and basically used it as a surgical test dummy to learn how computers work. I've had several different systems through the years, and of course all were Windows based.

     I can remember hearing that Steve Jobs was back at Apple in the early 2000s, and the Apple commercials encouraging us to "Think Different" began appearing. Of course, the arrival of the MP3 was life changing for music fans. I can remember the first MP3 file I ever heard of was "Discotechque" by U2 in 1996, and nobody I talked to knew what an MP3 file was or how to play one; however, the small file size and relatively decent sound quality spawned a paradigm-shift in the music industry. Like any die-hard music lover, I carried CDs in my car and dealt with changing them out and storing them. So the appeal of the digital music player - 10,000 songs in my pocket - was irresistible. I had a Creative Labs Nomad, which was a 20GB ripoff of the original iPod with terrible software and a dot matrix display. Once I put my hand on an iPod Nano's control wheel, and saw how simple it worked, I was impressed.

     Yet I still didn't understand what was happening. I used the iPod with my Windows XP based PC, and the iTunes software wasn't very fast or easy to understand. I didn't buy music digitally, so iTunes was little more than a vehicle for putting my CDs onto the iPod. Then came iCloud, a genius idea so obvious now that the concept of cloud syncing and access to your files from anywhere, at anytime is a must for any tech company. Once I realized the possibilities of an Apple-based world for myself, I began the switch.

     It started small: I had always wanted a smartphone, and when the opportunity presented itself, my wife and I switched our mobile phones over to an LG android-based phone with a touch screen and seemingly endless possibilities. After a frustrating year of using this half-baked piece of junk, we both switched back to regular, simple cell phones. The Android based phone was such a bad experience, I couldn't understand why smartphones were so popular. I consider myself a fairly advanced user of technology, and if I didn't think the phone was a good product then what did everyone else see in it? (I'll write another post on Android sometime) Of course by this time the iPhone had been out for a few years, but they were more expensive. It wasn't until I bought my 32 GB iPod Touch, and tried a co-worker's iPad, that I truly understood what the iPhone was all about. I could have all the features of my iPod, along with a mobile phone, in one package. When the iPhone 5 came out, with a slightly larger screen and access to my cell provider's faster 4G LTE network, I took the plunge.

     I was so satisfied by the iPhone experience that I can't really imagine not having one. Soon after, I took another leap and bought myself a Macbook Pro, replacing my Windows 8 desktop. It took some time for me to adjust to the subtle differences in the Mac OS vs. Windows, but now I'm completely sold on the advantages of the Mac. Also, things just visually look better on the Mac. Steve Jobs was a stickler for font styles and rounded corners on rectangles, etc., and the Mac OS reflects that attention to detail. Windows, even in its current "metro" style, seems much more utilitarian by comparison. Now, through iCloud, anything I want is accessible to me at basically any time, through my Macbook, my iPhone, my iPad, my AppleTV. It's simple, convenient, efficient. The tech just works, and works the way I want it to. My wife can use it without asking me how to do everything. My daughter has been able to play games on the iPad since she was 2. All without a manual.

     So now I'm a Mac, as the old commercials used to say. The Apple "ecosystem" welcomes me with open arms, and I embrace it. The reason: I got tired of fighting technology. My computer and my phone are tools in the same way a drill or hammer is; if the tool works the way it's supposed to, then the job gets done more quickly and efficiently. Poor quality tools may still get the job done, but it will take longer and cause more frustration.

     I like tools that work.

(to be continued)

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