Remembering Steve Jobs through Apple's products (Apple Talk Weekly)

This week we take a small break from rounding up Apple's news to take a look back at how its gadgets influenced tech perception.

Jobs taking the wraps off the iPhone 4 at last year's WWDC.
Jobs taking the wraps off the iPhone 4 at last year's WWDC. James Martin/CNET

Editors' note: This week's edition of Apple Talk Weekly is not the usual roundup of top news from the week. For that, you can read all about Apple's iPhone 4S event on Tuesday, and our coverage of the life and legacy of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away Wednesday.

commentary Long before I ever thought I'd be writing about Apple, I had a deep fascination with its products. That journey started as I imagine it did for most people my age: an iPod, followed shortly thereafter by one the company's computers, then later, one of its mobile phones. I subsequently learned that there's a term for that dubbed the halo effect: get customers into the company's experience through one product, and you'll get them into the rest. That is, if the other products are designed to work with one another.

Few companies have had that vision as clearly as Apple has during the past decade. And at the heart of it was Steve Jobs, who passed away earlier this week.

I never got to meet Jobs, only coming to cover the company after his last medical leave, and long after Apple had become the financial and technological juggernaut we know today. But I came to know the company's products well, which have Jobs' touch all over them. In that regard, trying to separate Jobs' and Apple's vision of what technology can be is impossible--which explains in all too brief a manner the significance of his passing.

On that note, I can't think of a better way to remember Jobs than to look at the impact his products have had on my passion for the world of consumer technology.

The first Apple product I ever bought was a third-generation iPod, the one with the touch-sensitive buttons that managed to attract tiny bits of dirt and finger oils that were nearly impossible to remove. I treasured the device after having come from a Sony MiniDisc player that worked very well but left me scratching my head when it came to Sony's thinking about how people wanted to get music on and off their device. The Sony software would turn MP3s into Sony's proprietary format, a painstakingly long and drawn out process. After shelling out for a Firewire card for my PC to sync up the iPod with iTunes, it was hard to imagine using a product like that MiniDisc player again, with albums zipping over in just a few seconds using a software program I actually wanted to use to listen to music on my computer too.

Later on, I'd get my first Mac. Replacing one of the last ThinkPad models IBM made before selling that business to China-based Lenovo, I picked up a G4 iBook. The thing was perhaps the biggest lemon of a computer I'd ever used, but its ease of use and overall design aesthetic somehow made me overlook its shortcomings.

How bad did this thing end up being? In no more than a year's time the paint wore off the keys, the battery swelled just enough to stick out so that the laptop wasn't quite level when sitting on a flat surface, and it had a finicky logic board that made the thing freeze up quite frequently, and usually at the most inopportune times. There was also a mysterious crack that developed on one of the corners, and the little rubber feet on the bottom would fall off incessantly.

Despite these flaws I stuck with it, in part because I liked using it. If this had been a romantic relationship, it would have been like me explaining to friends and loved ones that my significant other was the nicest person ever--when she wasn't being a total flake or lighting my term paper on fire the night before it was due.

Maybe one of the best examples of how much of a dud the G4 iBook was, was when I had prepared (between kernel panics) a slideshow for my sister's surprise birthday party. I had colluded with my brother-in-law to scan a bunch of photos, put them into iPhoto, and time them with one of her favorite songs. We had talked over the phone as I explained this process to him, with him replying incredulously that I was able to do that in an afternoon. "Yeah, it's free software," I said, to which he replied "I can't wait to see it."

Unfortunately for both of us--and the iBook--that never happened. The hard drive completely bit it on the way to the party. Opening up the lid from what would be its last sleep, we had nothing but a blue screen. In the frantic hope of not making my fellow family member look like he had flaked on a gift, I spent the next hour at a nearby Genius Bar, where a surprisingly sympathetic Genius offered to swap out the hard drive and see if anything could be recovered from the old one right on the spot. Never mind that it was out of warranty. The data ended up being kaput, but somehow my faith in the company that had made this incredibly clunky computer was restored, if only by that one tiny gesture.

Not too long after that I found myself working at CNET, attending Apple's events, and seeing Jobs pitch the company's products on stage--with perhaps my first such assignment being the most memorable: the unveiling of the original iPhone. I had gone in there not having any idea what to expect, and ended up being thoroughly entertained as Jobs detailed the product's capabilities--most importantly the making of phone calls, which Jobs demoed by making an infamous prank call to an unknowing Starbucks barista and trying to order 4,000 cups of coffee for attendees. There's no question those antics will be missed at future Apple events.

As many-- including myself --have written in the past several days, the future of Apple is now filled with some of the same mysterious qualities we have looked for in the company's products over the years. While there will always be the lingering question of what would have been if Jobs had lived on and led the company into its next decade--or two, or three--there will still be something special in whatever comes from the company next. Whether it's a TV set, a printer, or a high-tech clock radio, we'll all know it has a bit of Jobs in it.

 

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