Steven P. Jobs had a knack for creating compelling products and a passion for communicating their greatness in ways that sometimes smacked of a bit of magic.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Steven P. Jobs had a knack for creating a moment, a bit of magic.
At one of the handful of his keynotes I attended, he demonstrated a new photo editing program bundled with the iMac. I can't think of any other industry chief executive who—in jeans—has the chutzpah to do his own live demos of his company's products on stage.
In this one of many he did in every keynote, Jobs stepped through a simple process of creating a photo montage. He linked the pictures to a song on his hard drive, hit return and, "Boom," he said. In the dark silence, funny, silly images of someone's daughter filled the giant screen as Van Morrison sang, "She's as sweet as Tupelo Honey."
I felt a tug. I think everyone in the packed theater did. Jobs said, "This is why we do what we do."
Years later I was talking to Andy Bechtolsheim after a panel session at some other event. The lanky serial entrepreneur pulled out of his jeans pocket one of the first iPhones and began exulting over it. Finally someone gets it, he said, the cellphone is an open mobile browser.
Bechtolsheim was right. Many people had made cellphones before, but none had the stunningly simple realization that its main function was to be a browser in your pocket. And none had the idea of using touch screen technology, which also had been available for years, to make it easy to use.
I never interviewed Steve Jobs, but I sometimes talked to two people close to him.
After every Jobs keynote I would wander through the crowd and find Jon Rubinstein, Job's hardware engineering lead since the days of Next Computer. Ruby would never give me any of the scoops or inside information I would probe for in those chaotic moments after the event. But he did give me a palpable sense that he was excited about the work he was doing and venerated (maybe even feared a bit) the man who made the magic on stage.
He was not alone. Those keynotes were well known for having a sort of front row of deacons there to watch Steve do his thing. After one event I saw in the crowd John Lasseter, the producer of "Toy Story." I was able to make my way to him, introduce myself and thank him for the hours of entertainment he gave me.
I do not know exactly what role Jobs had in bringing those Pixar movies to life, but my intuition can connect the dots.
Years ago I met Tony Fadell when he was a young overweight junior engineer at General Magic, a high flying PDA startup that crashed and burned. I stayed in touch with him as his career progressed until he became the man behind the iPod.
Tony would take my calls from time to time, a rarity in the information lockdown of anyone working at Apple headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop. But like Ruby, he would never give me any scoops or inside information.
However, once Tony helped flip on a light in my head. He shared with me part of his design philosophy, something I imagine was touched by the design philosophy of Jobs.
It's not about the technology, Tony said. He didn't care about the latest, greatest component. What was important was knowing what it available in high volume, what puzzle pieces were out there in the global supply chain you could depend on—and how you could put them together in really interesting ways that no one else has done yet.
Now I think of design as a puzzle game. A good engineer sees thousands, maybe millions of pieces he or she can use. The magic comes when they see a novel way a bunch of them fit together to do something insanely great.
No engineer, Steve Jobs had a knack for seeing the sort of insanely great things someone might want. He could drive others to deliver them. In a sign of the detailed level of his influence, his name appears on 317 Apple patents. And he could stand up in jeans in front of a few thousand people and communicate his great excitement about the cool things those products did and how easily they did them. Boom!
He was a showman who deeply believed in his product. Thanks for the magic, Steve.