One Year Later, What Was Steve Jobs’ True Legacy? [Opinion]

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Steve Jobs has changed the world four times, by my reckoning. One year after his death, is the world different? What is his legacy? Is it the company that he started, journeyed outward from in disgrace, and ultimately returned to in triumph? How about the devices he had an enthusiastic hand in bringing to market? The business of music and film? What is the world now that it would not have been without Steve Jobs?

It’s all of those things, of course. Jobs’ legacy is not something we can distill into a simple slogan or tagline. Steve Jobs worked for a world in which the design, manufacture, and marketing of consumer electronics enhances our lives in a very human way.

Let me explain.

Steve Jobs took Steve Wozniak’s original hack-a-puter and turned it into the Apple, then the Mac. He made personal computing a reality. Without Steve, there would be no Mac, and possibly no mouse or graphical user interface. The digital music revolution would not have happened in the same manner. The ubiquity of the iPod brand and the ease of the iTunes music ecosystem created the music industry that we know today. Would Pixar be producing movies with the perfect blend of high technology and art without Steve Jobs at the helm? I think not. Finally, the move to a post-PC world started at Apple with the revolution of the iPhone, and the further extension of the iPad. Both devices are powerful, portable, connected computing devices that anyone can use.

He did not invent these things; many, many other talented and amazingly creative people did. Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards. He then put these devices and processes out into the world and marketed them as a lifestyle choice. Because, for Steve Jobs, it always was.

Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.

The Apple brand is like no other. People don’t use Apple products thoughtlessly. From my first Performa 638CD, I have been an Apple fan. I’m not a supporter because I’m blindly led by marketing or “cool” culture. I use these products because they make sense to me. They provide a level of user experience that is second to none. When I got the first iPhone, I brought it out to the bar to show my friends. One in particular, a really smart guy, explored the interface with his fingers. The first thing he noticed was the “bounce back” effect when scrolling to the top or bottom of an email or web page. His comment? “That’s what Apple does best. They make things that feel human.”

Think Different. A marketing slogan? Certainly. A way of being? Yes, and one that was fully expressed by the work Steve Jobs engaged in. Steve Jobs saw himself as one of a select few remarkable individuals, the same ones in the very personal Think Different campaign. Hubris? Perhaps, but the fact that the world is remembering the day that Steve Jobs passed from the earth may just prove him right in the end.

Think Different is a way of being.

Consider your typical day. You carry around enough computing power to put the largest supercomputers of just a couple of decades ago to shame in your pocket. You probably carry around a second or third device of the same or more computing power. You connect to friends and family all over the globe, in real time, with these always on, always connected devices. Your less tech-savvy family members have them too, perhaps because you helped them choose, but probably because they decided that they wanted in on the modern digital lifestyle.

I still have a Newton. It still works. I also own a Mac 512k. It runs, as well. My iPad 1 continues to entertain and inform my household, as well as the latest model Macbook Air I’m typing these words on. While consumer electronics are part of a societal culture of planned upgrade and will continue to have an environmental impact far beyond the current moment, the products made at Apple are of a quality that is rare in our mass-produced world. The devices are engineered, obsessed over, and made as true objects that meet in the intersection of design, engineering, and manufacturing. The materials are solid, the way they are put together is beyond believable, and that they cost as little as they do speaks volumes to the entire process as espoused by Steve Jobs. These are items we can believe in; tools that fit us.

Humans interact with tools. It’s one of the ways we became successful in our evolutionary niche, this use of tools. The tools we use have always evolved through continuous iteration and refined manufacturing. Whether we’re talking about a stone knife or the crazy sci-fi iPad, the tools that we all end up using that get passed along to other members of our human family, are the ones that are uniquely suited to us and our humanness. There is a reason that the iPhone-style smartphone has reached its current level of ascendency. It is a tool that fits our modern humanity like no other device. Steve Jobs had a talent for stripping away more and more of the technology, and leaving more and more of the humanity.

There is a reason that the iPhone-style smartphone has reached its current level of ascendency. It is a tool that fits our modern humanity like no other device.

Truly, Jobs’ legacy is the fact that we live in the world he envisioned, over time, with his own unique perspective on what it means to be human. Our lives are inextricably tied to the end result of his ability to influence the design and creation of the very stuff of our daily existence. Try to go one day without using or seeing a computer, a smart phone, piece of digital media. Our very way of life is Steve Jobs’ legacy? You bet it is.