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Steve Jobs and Apple: Technology is Now Personal

There are lots of posts about Steve Jobs and his impact, and there's lots to say. Many are awaiting the new authorized biography to learn more about this astounding yet cryptic man, and I'm quite sure that that biography will sell gangbusters.

As an Apple fanboy, I feel a need to add something to the discussion that has been mentioned at times, but not developed as completely as it should be. What's missing in the awareness that Jobs' vision and genius was to make technology personal. It moved from something grey, boxy, and loud, to something intimate. It became friendly, in its appearance, style, and usage. Instead of a byzantine MS-DOS command, we were given a graphical interface. Instead of dusty, roaring PC towers, we had humming, colorful iMacs (in their second iteration). You could pick the color of your iMac, and it didn't look like a computer anymore; it looked like a TV that welcomed and smiled at you. It was curved instead of boxy, and it is hard to overstate how powerful those curves are. Most everything out of Apple has some kind of curve to it. Their products don't creak or pop apart, or look like purely functional engineering prototypes. They are curved, whisper-quiet, small, at times graspable in the palm. The technology became an extension of you, something you wore, carried, and interacted with constantly (for better and for worse). Unsightly cords, loud fans, lots of screws, and unresponsive clicks were banished, to be replaced by solid metal, alluring colors, and minimal presence. The computer was placed behind the monitor (iMac), or the keyboard was dropped from the cellphone (iPhone). Buying from Apple became a pleasant experience, with good-better-best models, friendly staff, a simplified website, and terrific support.

There had been movements towards such a technology before, most clearly with Sony's Walkman, which was also personal, simple, and intimate. But the satisfaction wasn't there. Buttons wobbled, the door creaked, batteries went dead with no warning. With the Walkman was the beginnings of a personal technology, but it also failed in many ways. With Jobs and Apple, it succeeded, in an early stage with the iMac, but most clearly with the iPod, which took the Walkman's innovation of a portable entertainment device and made it rock solid, simple, and powerful. You could pick colors and styles, and those white earbuds proclaimed to everyone that you were among the technological elite, you had an iPod and knew how to use it.

My seven-month old son is already trying to press the buttons on the iPad. Need I say more? Jobs' products want to be touched, grasped, and interacted with, as they become transparent to media, information, and entertainment. They invite us, instead of repelling us as so many other forms of technology do. Instead of being the exclusive domain of the technology wizard, it became technology for everyone, from the elderly to the infant. Technology became personal, and this is one of Jobs' greatest contributions. This is why people are compelled to go to Apple Stores and pay tribute to him, because the technology meant so much to them--it was like a part of them.

Thanks, Steve, for making technology personal, even personable.

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