Let’s close the doors on the Church of Steve Jobs

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Let’s close the doors on the Church of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was brilliant but let’s stop making him the patron saint of computing.
Photo: Cult of Mac/acaben/Flickr CC

While Steve Jobs died 10 years ago today, he lives on as a way to criticize Apple’s current management.

In some people’s misguided memories, Jobs did no wrong. Ever. And members of this reality-challenged group — let’s call it the Church of Steve Jobs — frequently post comments on social media like, “Apple would be so much better if Steve Jobs were still in charge.”

But in reality, Jobs made plenty of mistakes. Here are some of his worst foul-ups.

Steve Jobs’ biggest screwups

It might seem rude to speak ill of the dead, but Jobs himself never hesitated to tell Apple employees when he thought something they’d done was “shit.” Hopefully, this roundup of Jobs’ own most high-profile missteps will bring some perspective to conversations about Apple’s current (wildly successful) leadership.

Apple III was rashly overpriced

Way back near the beginning of Jobs’ career came the disastrous Apple III. Its predecessor put Apple on the map, but this 1980 follow-up almost killed the company.

The computer suffered from feature creep that delayed its launch by more than a year and pushed its base price up to $4,340 — a stunning $14,400 in today’s dollars. Also, the Apple III frequently overheated because Jobs wouldn’t allow a cooling fan. This caused chips to come loose. All of these problems led to only 75,000 Apple III units ever selling.

NeXT never got off the ground

Just looking at Apple and Pixar, it’s easy to think that every company Jobs had a hand in became a success. That ignores NeXT, the company founded by Jobs after he was forced out of Apple.

NeXT’s eponymous computer was cutting-edge but cost $6,500 — that’s $15,000 in 2021 dollars, and proof Jobs hadn’t learned the lesson of the Apple III. Sales flopped, and NeXT came to an end when Apple bought it.

‘Hockey puck’ iMac mouse

The original 1998 iMac came with a round mouse. It looked cute, but its circular shape forced users glance at it every time to see if they were holding it correctly. Plus, the cord was too short.

If you think putting the charging port on bottom of the Magic Mouse 2 was a mistake, the iMac’s “hockey puck” mouse was worse. It stands as proof that even the iMac, a huge success for Jobs, suffered from some flaws.

Where are the Mac games?

Windows commanded the lion’s share of the business market for decades, but the iMac helped Apple take a significant chunk of the home computer market. While much of what people want to do at home is play games, Apple — with Steve Jobs at the helm — did little to encourage gaming developers to support the Mac.

That neglect spawned an uninspiring legacy. To this day, there’s never been a Mac focused on gaming. For perspective, PC gaming was a $34 billion market in 2020 that Apple could only look at from a distance.

iPhone was a 4-year AT&T exclusive

When the iPhone launched in 2007, it was only available on AT&T’s network. It wasn’t until 2011 — four years later — that Verizon began offering Apple’s smartphone.

Meanwhile, the first Android phone debuted in 2008. During that window, many millions of subscribers to other wireless carriers bought a smartphone running on Google’s operating system instead of an iPhone. And many of them remain Android users to this day. That’s the result of an unwise decision made by Jobs.

MobileMe bombed

Many of the services that make up iCloud today used to be available only through a subscription service called MobileMe. It didn’t work well at its 2008 launch, and it never found an audience. Perhaps it was MobileMe’s $99-per-year price tag.

Jobs blamed MobileMe’s developers. But as a person always ready to take credit when things went right, he should take the blame for missteps, too. Apple shut down MobileMe in 2012.

Keep Steve Jobs in perspective

Everyone makes mistakes, including the late Steve Jobs. Yes, he was brilliant. But he certainly was not infallible — as demonstrated by these examples.

A decade after his death, let’s drop the idea that Apple would somehow be vastly better off if Jobs still ran the show.

Especially as the company has done quite well without him. With CEO Tim Cook in the driver’s seat, Apple is worth six times what it was in 2011. Jobs had nothing to do with the Apple Watch, which became a huge success. The same goes for AirPods.

The company continues to post massive profits quarter after quarter, years after pundits predicted that “peak iPhone” spelled doom for Cupertino. Today, Apple occupies the enviable position of most valuable privately owned company in the world.

Steve Jobs couldn’t have done better than that. And he might have done worse.

It’s fine to harbor precious memories of Saint Steve — to pay tribute to his righteous curiosity his eternal quest for perfection. But it’s time to quietly close the doors on the Church of Steve Jobs.