Jobs Opening

Steve leaves (Click to link to the letter).

Today, Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple. While this is hard­ly a shock, it is cer­tain­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the achieve­ments of a man whom many, includ­ing myself, con­sid­er an inspi­ra­tion. While the sto­ry of how Steve Jobs turned Apple around from a fal­ter­ing niche play­er to the most valu­able com­pa­ny in the world is already the stuff of leg­end, I think the man’s great­est achieve­ment is in the dis­so­lu­tion of boundaries.

Bound­aries define the world we live in. They delin­eate the rich from the poor (or, as is often the case, keep the poor away from the rich), neigh­bor­hoods from slums, the exclu­sive from the com­mon­place. When bound­aries are uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged or upheld, they become bor­ders: between class­es, races, polit­i­cal par­ties, and nations.

At the lev­el of Tech­nol­o­gy and Enter­tain­ment, con­cep­tu­al bound­aries exist(ed) between lux­u­ry (Bang & Olufsen) and func­tion (Sanyo), Pro­fes­sion­al (Avid) and Con­sumer (Sony), Busi­ness­man (IBM) and Artist (Apple, in its ear­ly days). Prac­ti­cal bound­aries exist­ed between tablets and com­put­ers, mouse and key­board, phones and lap­tops, desk­tops and lap­tops, sta­tion­ary and mobile. Legal bound­aries exist­ed between music you own and music you rent, orig­i­nals and copies, box edi­tions and downloads.

Over the years, with prod­ucts like the Mac, iPod, iTunes Music and App Store, and of course the uncon­test­ed iPad, Steve Jobs and Apple con­tin­ue to erode these bound­aries to the point of almost total dis­so­lu­tion. Long con­sid­ered a lux­u­ry com­put­er, the Mac is now acces­si­ble to the mass­es, final­ly out­selling the PC. The iPod slashed across class­es to become syn­ony­mous with and even replace the phrase “portable music device.” Their retail out­lets (the suc­cinct­ly named Apple Stores) take on the form of a lux­u­ry bou­tique (with all its mate­r­i­al trap­pings), com­bin­ing the beau­ti­ful min­i­mal­ism of mod­ern design with the acces­si­bil­i­ty and open­ness of a pub­lic venue.

Their prod­ucts allow the aver­age con­sumer access to pro­fes­sion­al grade tools for mul­ti­me­dia pro­duc­tion, bring­ing the abil­i­ty of self-expres­sion to any­one almost inde­pen­dent­ly of finan­cial and edu­ca­tion­al means. In oth­er words, cre­ativ­i­ty is now the ulti­mate deter­min­ing fac­tor, almost unim­ped­ed by social­ly imposed restric­tions or even tech­nol­o­gy. While Android and Win­dows wal­low in their own lofty goals of being every­thing to every­one and thus frag­ment­ing into dif­fer­ent ver­sions in the lat­ter case and mul­ti­ple form fac­tors in both cas­es, Apple keeps it sim­ple. It has one Oper­at­ing Sys­tem in OS X (which with Lion is already merg­ing with iOS, which pow­ers its mobile devices), one iPhone, one design aes­thet­ic (sil­ver and black), one tar­get demo­graph­ic (“the rest of us”), one keynote speaker.

“Make me one with every­thing,” said the Zen Mas­ter to the hot dog ven­dor. As a Bud­dhist, Jobs has always agreed. The busi­ness world is in con­stant need of a guru, and his depar­ture has left the posi­tion wide open.

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