Tag Archives: apple

Steve Jobs

More than a quarter century ago, I saw my first Macintosh. One of my roommates got it on loan from an Ottawa computer store, part of a promotion where you could borrow a Mac for a week and try it out.

“This is how you’re going to draw cartoons from now on,” he said, opening up MacPaint and handing me the mouse. I clicked and dragged experimentally.

I’d love to tell you that my jaw dropped, and that I saw the future there and then. But what actually happened was this: I watched as the pixels trailing the mouse gradually approximated a blocky drawing of some guy, clicked around a few more times, then handed the mouse back to my roommate with what I hope in retrospect wasn’t a condescending smile. (It almost certainly was.)

Yes, the Macintosh was dazzling. But for the life of me, I couldn’t see how it was an improvement on that XT clone running MS-DOS in my parents’ basement.

Here’s my mistake: I saw the product. But I didn’t see the change it represented.

Today, I’m writing this, of course, on a Mac. I cartoon, of course, on a Mac.

Cartoon of Steve Jobs

A little more than a decade later, NOW Communications brought me into my first Mac-focused workplace, just as Steve Jobs was returning to the top at Apple. A small gaggle of us headed south to Macworld in January 1998, where Jobs introduced the first iMac.

And then my jaw did drop. He was doing away with the floppy drive. He was releasing a computer that didn’t look like a computer. And the “i” in “iMac” stood for “Internet.”

From then on, I tried not to miss a single SteveNote. I never got to see one in person (not even at that Macworld I attended, where the lineup was prohibitive), but I watched them online (in QuickTime, naturally) and, once, at a simulcast in Vancouver.

That was where he announced iTunes. And later that year, he followed it up with the iPod. Then a few years later, the iPhone. And the iPad.

iTunes drew applause, as I remember, but the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad announcements all drew their share of derisive snorts from commentators predicting that this would be the one that sank Apple for good. “It’s derivative.” “It isn’t fully-featured enough.” “It’s a crowded marketplace.” “Life without 3-1/2-inch floppy disks isn’t worth living.”

But that was the thing: Jobs was never content to simply unveil a product; whenever possible, he sold us not on the thing, but on how that thing was going to transform our lives. And not the you-will-be-draped-with-beautiful-women-and/or-men-in-swimsuits kind of aspirational marketing. He was actually right.

(iPhone cartoon)

So when he announced iTunes, he embedded it in his vision of the computer as a digital hub: not only a docking station for digital cameras, PDAs, MP3 players and video cameras, but the heart of the digital lifestyle.

And the products themselves are never simply the sum of their features. If Apple was competing on features alone, they’d be just another tech company. Jobs insisted on products that blended functionality with simplicity, in a unified narrative. You don’t buy an Apple product. You buy a thing of beauty, and the experience of using it, because that experience has been engineered into the thing’s DNA.

(Apple cartoon)

The fact that there is as much beauty, elegance and simplicity in the technology that surrounds us today — not just from Apple, but from software and hardware vendors of all stripes, open-source and proprietary — is due in no small part to the vision and leadership of Steve Jobs. So is the fact that I, and so many people like me, so often find the act of creating something digitally to be transparent, seamless and joyful.

For that, and for changing the world – for finding, as Alex says, the link between technology and our hearts – thank you, Steve Jobs.

(Steve Jobs cartoon)

Every cartoon in this post was made on a Mac.


My debt to Steve Jobs

For a little while, I’m not going to think about The Uncertain Future of Apple, or What This Means for The iPhone. Instead, I’m going to think about how Steve Jobs changed my life, and probably yours, too.

His vision of a computer for the rest of us. His belief in ground-breaking design. His concept of the computer as the hub of a digital lifestyle (and more recently, as just another device in a networked lifestyle). His insistence on technology that just works (a mark Apple admittedly still sometimes misses… but compared to its competitors?). That all did at least as much as any technical innovation to spur the ubiquity of computers and the adoption of the consumer Internet.

All of that helped make the work I do today possible. It has helped to shape the world my children are growing up in. And if my vision diverges from his in some pretty key areas, I also have to admit it draws even more heavily on it in others. As much money as I’ve sent his way over the years thanks to Apple’s products and services, I still owe Steve Jobs a huge, huge debt.

Thinking about Apple’s future can wait a while. For now, I wish the man only the best on what I suspect is a very tough road ahead.

Sometimes rejection is good for sensitive types (yes, I’m talking about drawing on the iPad)

I’ve been drawing on the iPad for a while now, creating cartoons, drawing graphic notes and generally having a great time.

But you don’t have to draw on it for too long to start cursing the iPad’s limitations, even as you marvel at its abilities. And high on my wishlist for the iPad are two items: 1) pressure-sensitivity and 2) being able to draw while resting my palm on the iPad’s surface.

It turns out those two issues are pretty high priorities over at Ten One Designs, too. They make the Pogo Sketch, the handy little stylus I’ve used on most of my iPad cartoons. But they also develop software, and they now have a demo that shows you can have both pressure sensitivity and what they call “palm rejection” (where the iPad distinguishes between your hand and the stylus when you’re drawing, and ignores your hand).

They can’t make those features available yet, though:

We plan to release this capability as a free software library so it can be included in any application. However, this may not be possible for a while as the library now uses a private function call to access the required information.

We hope the UIKit framework can be updated to make the required information available, but there are no guarantees this will ever happen. In the meantime, we hope the video provides some insight into what is possible on this amazing piece of hardware.

I have a cramped wrist that’s eagerly awaiting word that Apple’s willing to either accommodate Ten One or release their own solution.

(Thanks to Mike Kelly for pointing me to this!)

Postscript: There’s a darkly funny irony that a new feature of the iPad – the successor to Apple’s failed Newton, the original PDA – might be called “Palm rejection.”

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With great market share comes great responsibility

Buy an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, and you get to choose from thousands and thousands of “apps”: software that ranges from full-blown business applications to games to novelty items. But before an app can make it to your iPhone, it has to make it onto the virtual shelves of the App Store… and that means convincing Apple that the app is worthy of inclusion.

Apps are rejected all the time for a wide range of reasons – some of them more opaque than others. And that often leads to controversy… and, sometimes, embarrassment for Apple, when its gatekeeping looks less like protecting the user experience and more like arbitrary capriciousness.

The latest glitch came when online cartoonist Mark Fiore won the Pulitzer Prize (a watershed moment for doodlers unaffiliated with newspapers, by the way). It emerged that just a few months earlier, Apple had rejected his NewsToons app for “ridiculing public figures” – a rule that covers much if not most of the world of satire, and a big swath of civic conversation. (And it’s not the only time arbitrary rulings on cartoons have caused consternation.)

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists sent Steve Jobs an open letter raising free speech concerns. The App Store is “becoming one of the primary ways people publish news and information,” they said, and “with that innovation comes new responsibility.”

That one sentence hints at a much bigger issue, one we’re all going to have to deal with.

* * *

More and more of our online social activity is happening in “private” places – that is, sites and services that are owned and controlled by companies. The more happens, the more those private places begin to look like civic spaces. Yet those spaces are governed by corporate gatekeepers – accountable not to us, but to the owners of the sites, services and products mediating that experience.

Maybe in an ideal world, the market would pressure those owners to be more responsive to participant communities – or risk losing them to a more open and accountable competitor. But there’s a self-perpetuating cycle with large networks like, say, Facebook. Once they reach a certain size, their market share is a market differentiator; of course you’re going to participate on Facebook, warts and all, because that’s where everyone you know hangs out. And they all hang out on Facebook because that’s where all their friends – including you – hang out.

Besides, you have a ton of stuff locked in there: photos, videos, months or years of notes, updates and application data – not to mention your network of friends. It’s not like you can pull up stakes, leave Facebook and have all that stuff follow you.

Facebook has this huge market share because they’ve built something compelling. They’ve made a lot of things very, very easy – from maintaining a decent-looking social profile (compared to the god-awful mess over on MySpace) to keeping tabs on what your friends are up to. It’s not as though they haven’t earned a big chunk of market share.

Same with Apple. The iPhone is a glorious device, as is the iPad that followed it. There’s good reason for Apple’s reputation for making spectacularly well-conceived, well-designed products – and their large audience makes them an attractive platform for developers.

But here again, there’s a vicious (or, if you own Apple stock, virtuous) circle at work. Developers flock to the iPhone in part because there’s a large user base. Users flock to the iPhone in part because there’s a massive selection of apps, built by those developers. The more users, the more apps being developed; the more apps, the more users drawn to the iPhone.

In each case, a company has gained enough market share to make it far more difficult for a competitor to pose a threat. In each case, they’ve gained enough market share that their gate-keeping decisions have a significant impact on the flow of information and conversation. And in each case, those companies have at times treated that impact capriciously and arbitrarily – falling fall short of a reasonable standard of accountability.

What can we do at that? I’ll look at one alternative in part 2.

New site for tablet computing fans

Mike Kelly (of Strangely Entangled fame and partner-in-crime of friend-of-Social-Signal Natasha Scott) (see how I got that little bit of disclosure out there so subtly?)… where were we?

Right. Mike has just beta-launched a new and highly cool news-and-opinion-site for anyone following tablet computers… in particular, the upcoming (so-the-rumour-mill-has-it) Apple tablet.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dr. Tablet.

Here, by the way, is my comment on one of Mike’s posts:

One area where I still think Apple could miss a trick: extensibility. Yes, the iPhone has the app store – but so much of what apps are allowed to do is truncated and locked down.

While we accept that in a phone – grudgingly – for now – we’ve grown to expect the ability to enhance and extend our computer experience. On the Mac, even the simplest add-ons like Default Folder X and TextExpander have dramatically improved the way I work. Mail.app enhancements and Safari plugins add functionality that many (or even most) users might not need, but that make my life easier. And there are other programs and utilities that extend or combine the features of existing programs and system functions in a more sophisticated way.

I’m excited about the Apple tablet. But if it really is “just” a giant iPhone, or a Kindle in funky black, then I’m quickly going to be frustrated – and looking at other options.

(By the way, nobody knows for sure what Apple’s big January 27th event is. Could still just turn out to be this.)

End audio embarrassments on your Mac

At the very end of a post about professional public speaking (more about Tod’s public-speaking series of posts soon – they’re fantastic, and this one is actually hilarious), Tod Maffin offers a piece of advice that just about every Mac user should take to heart:

Mac machines by default make a chirping sound each time you hit a volume key. You can turn that off by going to System Preferences, then Sound, then uncheck “Play feedbackwhen volume is changed.” Really, the last thing you need is a speaker-destroying chirp that glues your audience to the ceiling. Lousy client relations.

It sounds pretty distracting and unprofessional in a client meeting, too. Or in the middle of a podcast recording (I’ve heard plenty of those). I’ve just made the settings change – I encourage you to go do the same if you’re the kind of person who takes their MacBook out in public.