Jobs, like the legendary magazine editors, trusted his gut
My first journalism job was at a magazine called InfoAge, which was all about what we then called microcomputers. I went to a lot of press conferences where hopeful manufacturers launched new models; the release of the Apple II in 1977 had turned a hobbyist gadget into something surprisingly powerful and then IBM’s introduction of its PC in 1981 made the “home computer” a legitimate business tool — and created a mad scramble of other companies that saw money to be made. At the time, I owned a machine that ran on an operating system called CP/M (don’t ask) so I wasn’t in the Apple camp or the IBM one, though Big Blue’s dominance of the computer industry frightened me (funny how that sounds now). But, in December of 1983, Apple gave me a sneak peak at a computer it was about to release.
I’d played on the Lisa, a graphical interface computer that had bombed for the company. But the Macintosh astonished me. And I’ve been an Apple guy ever since. By Easter, I owned a Mac and I kept it for nine years (though I did upgrade the original 128K of RAM to 512K). When it died, I switched to a PowerBook and then, in 1998, the original Bondi Blue iMac. Just about everyone I knew used PCs, but I argued, “Why would you drive a Dodge Dart when you could be behind the wheel of a Porsche?” As a Mac user and music lover, I downloaded iTunes early in 2001 and then heard about the iPod. I begged my wife to buy me one for Christmas and ever the enabler, she did, even though she wasn’t even quite sure what it was — and it cost $600 in Canada. I adored that thing. It was the one possession I wouldn’t have given up for anything. My five-gigger died a while ago, as did the 10GB model I bought my wife the following Christmas. But my 20GB and 80GB models are still going strong and my wife uses a Nano and a Touch. I also have an iMac, a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPad. I guess I’m a good customer.
Although I never met Jobs, I was lucky enough to interview Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Along with three or four other computer journalists, I sat down with him in a room in Toronto’s King Edward Hotel. Fortunately, my story on The Woz is not online — the writing is surely cringeworthy — but I remember two things from that meeting. First, I pissed off my colleagues by asking several questions about the Clash’s performance at the second of the two US Festivals that Wozniak had sponsored. (After arguing with Van Halen backstage and demanding hefty donations to charity before they would play, the angry members of the Clash hit the stage and, apparently, delivered an incendiary set.) The second was what he said about design: he and Jobs had really studied Braun because they loved the design of its products. This was an astonishing thing for someone in the computer industry to say in 1984.
Needless to say, I’ve been reading many different takes on Steve Jobs’s resignation as CEO. Many have been excellent — The New Yorker had several good pieces on its site — but “What Makes Steve Jobs Great,” by Joe Nocera in The New York Times is perhaps the best of the lot. Nocera, who spent a week with the man for a 1986 Esquire profile, writes, “The Steve Jobs I watched that week was arrogant, sarcastic, thoughtful, learned, paranoid and ‘insanely’ (to use one of his favorite words) charismatic.” He goes on to say that what Apple will miss most is Jobs’s instincts.
I think that’s exactly right. After all, talented designers, visionary business people and even charismatic leaders, while not exactly plentiful, aren’t that hard to find. But a guy with such great instincts, and the courage to trust them, is something else entirely. In fact, Jobs strikes me as similar to a great magazine editor, the kind who never needed consultants, readership surveys or anything else. No one told legends such as Time‘s Henry Luce, The New Yorker‘s Harold Ross or New York‘s Clay Felker what to put in their magazines, they just knew. That’s a truly rare gift in any industry.