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The Steve Jobs Phenomenon

Watching the news reports of those mourning the death of Steve Jobs, it struck me that for the first time in my experience people are genuinely saddened at the death of a business leader, rather than a rock star, a member of the royal family, or a politician.

Did Henry Ford’s death garner similar expressions of grief?  Or Alexander Graham Bell’s?  Or even Albert Einstein’s?  I don’t think so.  The closest experiences I can remember are the deaths of John Lennon (rock star), Princess Diana (royal), and the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert (politicians).

What is there about Steve Jobs’ death that creates this kind of public ritual of mourning where thousands leave flowers and candles in front of Apple stores around the globe?  Simply, Steve Jobs changed the way we live our lives.

Recently Debbie and I cleaned out our entire collection of CDs, and actually threw them away.  Granted, our CD collection was modest by most standards, but we actually threw away CDs we had paid good money for a few months or even years ago.  Why?  Because all our CDs, and all our new music is on her iPhone and my iPod Touch.  And on her iMac and my macbook, too.

We now have two Apple computers, an iPhone, an iPod Touch (we still have an old iPod Nano with the click wheel), and now we have Apple TV which replaced our cable connection.

In short, Steve Jobs made how we get our media, where we keep our media, and how we access our media more important to us than the media itself.  I pick up the free iTunes cards at Starbucks each week.  I’ll download the songs, which I may never listen to again if I don’t like them, just because I can.  My 32G iPod Touch is not close to being maxed out, and so right now what I put on my iPod isn’t as important as the fact that it’s on my iPod.

Whether we realize this right now or not, this is a revolution in media.  When I was in high school, I bought a lot of records, then a lot of 8-tracks in college, and then a lot of cassette tapes, and finally a lot of CDs.  I can’t remember when I bought my last CD, which says something about why record stores went out of business.

I must admit I have an Android phone — the new Samsung Galaxy S II — which is very similar to the iPhone 4S just released, except only better in some categories.  That might seem like a contradiction to what I am saying, but actually it proves my point.

Watch the 2007 MacWorld presentation when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.  Apple presentations are available now as video podcasts on iTunes.  Everyone interested in business, innovation, product design, or effective presentation techniques ought to watch that first iPhone presentation.  Jobs’ performance is right on target as he introduces the product which changed the mobile phone industry, and led to the eventual creation of Android by Google.

In 2007 all smart phones had physical keyboards.  In 2011, the best smartphones have touch keypads.  And on, and on.  Android exists because the iPhone was invented.  Period.  Now the Apple experience is available on non-Apple products. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery after all.

I have owned computers since 1981 when I bought a KayPro, before IBM came out with their Personal Computer, for ever after known as the PC.  I have owned an Apple IIc (which didn’t work very well), Gateways, Dells, Toshibas, and even a Radio Shack brand, but nothing beats my satisfaction with my macbook which I bought in 2009.

But, now because of Steve Jobs, I would give up my macbook before I would give up my mobile phone.  Why?  Because Jobs was right.  The iPhone did become “my life in my pocket.”

My phone, and my iPod Touch, contain all my music; all my recent photos; all my contacts; all my email; directions to any place in the world; the internet; a camera; a video camera; all of the books I can find as ebooks; lots of apps for all kinds of things I want to do, know, or track; and, I’m sure a lot of other stuff that I can’t even think of now.  Oh, my Starbucks card is on there as a scanable barcode, too.

Steve Jobs changed the culture by changing the way we get, access, and use media of all sorts.  His creative genius, intuitive understanding of how we wanted to live, and his design sensibility combined to transform, not just a generation, but an entire culture.

No wonder we are saddened at his passing.