Steve’s devices

It’s hard to imagine the pleasure Steve Jobs must receive from singlehandedly upstaging the entire Consumer Electronics Show. There was just one moment during his two-hour presentation yesterday when he went off script, but it was a telling one. His clicker failed, and while he waited for his backstage minions to fix the glitch he launched into a reminiscence about how, back in the day, he and Woz hacked together a little device that could jam television signals. They took it over to Berkeley and used it to mess with the minds of the privileged college kids by interrupting their viewing of Star Trek. Jobs hasn’t changed at all. He’s still jamming signals, and getting a huge kick out of it.

It was interesting to contrast Jobs’s presentation with the one Bill Gates gave at CES a day earlier. Thematically, Gates’s was a replay of his keynote at last year’s CES. He’s still pitching a “digital lifestyle” that nobody wants. Last year, it involved having computer screens all over your kitchen so you’d be able to track the movements of your family members and watch a bunch of different video feeds simultaneously while sipping your morning joe. It was a vision of the homeowner as Captain Kirk manning the bridge. This year’s was stranger yet. Not only did he suggest that people want nothing more than to be network administrators – the homeowner as Scotty – but he led the audience into a mockup of the bedroom of the future, the walls of which were covered entirely in computer screens. For some perverse reason, I couldn’t help but think of that episode from the old Garry Shandling Show when Garry has the big mirror installed on the ceiling over his bed. He’s had a sentence etched into the corner of it: “Objects in mirror are larger than they appear.”

Gates wants to sell platforms. Jobs just wants to make tools.

Jobs, in fact, couldn’t possibly be more out of touch with today’s Web 2.0 ethos, which is all about grand platforms, open systems, egalitarianism, and the erasing of the boundary between producer and consumer. Like the iPod, the iPhone is a little fortress ruled over by King Steve. It’s as self-contained as a hammer. It’s a happening staged for an elite of one. The rest of us are free to gain admission by purchasing a ticket for $500, but we’re required to remain in our seats at all times while the show is in progress. User-generated content? Hah! We’re not even allowed to change the damn battery. In Jobs’s world, users are users, creators are creators, and never the twain shall meet.

Which is, of course, why the iPhone, like the iPod, is such an exquisite device. Steve Jobs is not interested in amateur productions.

27 Comments

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27 Responses to Steve’s devices

  1. Good post.

    But is it really necessary to draw a false dichotomy between supposedly pro creators and UGC?

    The whole thing about the world today is there’s room for both.

    And I also disagree with the notion that Web 2.0 is just about creating a platform. It’s also about creating tools.

  2. But is it really necessary to draw a false dichotomy between supposedly pro creators and UGC?

    No, it’s not necessary to draw a false dichotomy between the two. It is necessary, though, to draw a real dichotomy.

  3. Scott Sutherland

    Regarding user generated content, I wonder if there is a connection between professional designers and, for example, open source software projects . Since an OSS project could be considered user generated content, wouldn’t that imply that all such projects are, to borrow your term, amateur productions?

    If that is true, then I wonder what that says about things like gcc, Firefox, Apache Web Server, Python, etc. Once you suggest that UGC is equivalent to amateur, what category does the UGC of a professional get put into? One could argue that Steve Jobs is a very large professional publisher, but I bet his writing requires editorial review.

  4. taznar

    I don’t get your Jobs vs. user generated content angle. This is the Jobs who enthusiastically demonstrated things like iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand in previous years. Not to mention how the Mac ushered in the era of “personal publishing”. And the iPod, like all Apple hardware, works very well with UGC.

    It isn’t Jobs vs. UGC, its Jobs (and Apple) vs. big media and software companies.

  5. deet

    Steve may not be interested in *selling* user-generated content, but Widgets on the phone, Dashboard on the desktop, Applescript, Hypercard, and Apple Basic have all been part of Steve’s attitude that people should be able to program their own computers, regardless of how sophisticated the technology becomes. Apple has always been about making the power of advanced technology accessible to the user. So it’s worth making a distinction between shoveling crap onto YouTube, and using elegant tools to extend the functionality of a sophisticated system. Steve might not care about MySpace or blogging, but he gets excited about a Wikipedia widget. See the difference?

  6. Taznar and Deet,

    You’re absolutely right. I was talking about the the idea that companies should rush to incorporate user-generated content or other contributions into their own products. Apple’s tools have certainly been aimed at giving individuals more creative freedom. I should have been clearer about that distinction – and I’ve tweaked the text along those lines.

    Thanks,

    Nick

  7. I think Jobs does understands web 2.0

    He understands that to use Web 2.0 you need a powerful browser, a big shinny screen and connectivity.

    He also understands that in order to sell a 500$ phone, it REALY has to be stylistic and impressive. Apple always had that.

    Sambian might have the experience, Linux the technical edge and windows the desktop compatibility. Apple has style.

  8. sferris

    Steve’s keynote address was posted the same day on Apple’s website. Whether the iPhone is Web 2.0 is beside the point. It’s in the interface design that Apple is the real leader. Every time I use a smartphone I feel like throwing the stupid thing away because I am just so disgusted with it. It’s not enjoyable experience. The iPhone will revolutionize the phones of the future in the same way the iPod has for the music devices. Other companies are going to be tripping all over the shoelaces trying to catch up with Apple now. The iPhone is computer with telephony. Developers are chomping at the bit to develop applications and widgets for this device.

  9. And Steve doesn’t want third party developers making apps for the iPhone:

    http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/macworld2007/gizmodo-iphone-hands-on-part-deux-why-isnt-it-white-and-other-questions-227575.php

    “It isn’t OS X proper, as you’d expect. And like an iPod, it won’t be an open system that people can develop for. Remember, this is both an iPod and a Phone.”

    I detect no such attitude that people should be able to program their own computers.

  10. CK

    I think this is right on the money. I’m an AS/400, iSeries, System i5 (whichever you prefer) administrator at work. My computer of choice at home is a Mac. The reason being, I want an enjoyable experience at home, I do enough admin computer work during the day and don’t need that at the home. I’m not an Apple expert, nor do I claim to be. The beauty of this is, I don’t have to be to enjoy the experience they’re selling.

  11. Rico Mac

    Some consider iTunes a Web 2.0 application. It’s a rich user interface that talks to a back end.

    Similar concept to Adobe’s Apollo.

  12. Rico Mac

    Also, all the iPhone applications are using Web 2.0 concepts: google maps, visual voicemail, email, etc.

  13. kb.

    Unless you have the tools to do it, you cannot personally replace the battery on an iPod and most other music players. Apple has a “battery replacement” program in which they swap you’re iPod out for a new one for $99. Not to mention the 100s of 3rd party battery service programs out there.

    Apple chooses to sacrifice the user-replaceable batteries for cleaner, better industrial design. So far, that business decision has contributed to their #1 spot in the market.

    And on the subject of Web 2.0, you fail to make a reasonable argument. The web is a platform but perhaps not all devices with a microprocessor should be. The last time I checked, I wasn’t able to develop applications to run on my digital camera.

    Microsoft’s Zune will be made an example of this illogical connection to Web 2.0 community/technology and embedded devices. You’re right about the iPod/iPhone a happening stage for an elite of one: the best user experience possible.

  14. kb, you can argue with me until you’re blue in the face, but we’re still going to be in agreement. Nick

  15. jeffn

    I’ve given up predicting that Jobs will fail, although by now I would suspect the odds have to be shifting in my favor.

    The funny thing is that despite all the things about the iphone I am not fond of, like the touch screen, the price, and Cingular… I still want one. It’s almost as if Jobs has really created a gigantic market hypnotizer but made it fit in whatever product carries the apple logo.

  16. sferris

    Couple of responses to some of the postings above. First, the fact you can’t replace battery is a disadvantage. However, there are numbers of batteries coming that will charge almost any type of device – “One battery to charge them all.” Second, it’s not clear yet what’s Apple’s policy is regarding building applications for the iPhone. Will have to wait and see. The phone is a computer, so my guess is the API will eventually be opened up. Third, Web 2.0 is an empty marketing term for a collection of different technologies that has long since outlived its usefulness. Please retire the phrase because it’s meaningless.

  17. “But is it really necessary to draw a false dichotomy between supposedly pro creators and UGC?

    No, it’s not necessary to draw a false dichotomy between the two. It is necessary, though, to draw a real dichotomy.”

    Yes, but, of course, you are drawing a false one. Notify me when you draw a real one, please.

    At to another one of your comments, there are companies that should integrate UGC. They’re called media companies.

  18. Nick Carr

    Sometimes reading blog comments is like waking up at three in the morning and realizing you have ants in your bed.

  19. tghfbt

    Nick,

    You forget that Web was developed on Next and for some time was part of Next technologies.

    Without proper devices it is not possible to produce and distribute content.

    And when did you last time solder transistor in your TV.

  20. Nice try, Nick. But even you can’t make things like preventing people from changing the battery into a positive instead of a negative. It just makes it sound like you like to be dominated — “used” if you will — by Steve because he’s so darn visionary and totally, like, a genius.

    And I couldn’t help but notice that you have a “Digg” link after your posts. So I guess Web 2.0 interactivity is fine if it helps you get more traffic and make money from your ads, but when it comes to design or anything else, people should just stick to being “users.”

    I don’t think anyone (except maybe you) is saying it has to be a binary choice between user-generated chaos and the kind of benevolent totalitarianism of Steve Jobs. Collaboration takes many forms, not all of which are useful in every case. I think your inner troll is showing.

  21. Skip McCoy, American

    “It’s almost as if Jobs has really created a gigantic market hypnotizer but made it fit in whatever product carries the apple logo.”

    Yeah, it’s called good design. It works for sportscars and girls with really long legs, too.

    And as Target is currently demonstrating, it even works for $17 toilet brushes.

    Watch people pawing an Apple device at The Apple Shrine. It’s genuinely pleasurable to hold and to feel, quite apart from anything it does. If Steve Jobs made whipped cream in a spray can, it would be the most beautiful spray can you ever felt. (And cost $40.) Meanwhile the other apes in the business look at these things and scratch their heads and think– how he do that?

    And yes, Nick, I’m sorry that 9 out of 10 didn’t get what you were saying because they got caught on the barbed wire of how you said it.

  22. Like others commented, Apple has been consistently providing the best tools to create and manage digital content in the last years, it’s the very card they are playing in their commercials to say that MacOS X is different from Windows.

    Saying that Apple is against UGC seems quite stretched. They do want full control of their platorm, it’s the way the choose to keep users experience clean and rich, but changing batteries is not UGC, imho.

  23. taznar: It isn’t Jobs vs. UGC, its Jobs (and Apple) vs. big media and software companies.

    Um. There were an awful lot of guest spots in that keynote. That’ll be Jobs and Apple and Paramount and Disney and Yahoo! and Google vs big media and software companies…

    I don’t think the difference between Jobs and Gates has anything to do with Web 2.0, mind you.

  24. Nick Carr

    But even you can’t make things like preventing people from changing the battery into a positive instead of a negative.

    Believe it or not, Mathew, there are tradeoffs in engineering. I would say that, for the iPod, for instance, preventing people from changing the battery is a net positive, as it optimizes the overall design and certainly the form factor.

    I couldn’t help but notice that you have a “Digg” link after your posts.

    I put it there because I needed something to replace the Trackback link I dispensed with. But, no, I’m not averse to free publicity. I share that quality with Jobs.

    And when did you last time solder transistor in your TV.

    Never, but when I was 22 I did solder something in a set-top box to get free cable. (I’ve also changed an iPod battery – an iPod screen, too, for that matter.)

    they got caught on the barbed wire of how you said it.

    Nice.

  25. New Manifesto

    If Steve Jobs made whipped cream in a spray can, it would be the most beautiful spray can you ever felt. (And cost $40.)

    I just went to the Apple Store and couldn’t find this wonderful whipped cream. Please tell me you’re not fooling. I hadn’t even thought about whipped cream, but now that Apple has released it, it turns out they knew exactly what I unknowingly needed!

  26. Skip McCoy, American

    It’ll ship in June.

  27. The whipped cream goes particularly well with the new iScream.