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.