About 4 years ago my youngest daughter asked me what job I would do if I could do anything I wanted. I thought about it for a while and then told her that I would design lairs for evil scientists who wanted to take over the world. I'm pretty sure that's what Steve Jobs and I have in common.
Over at Bogost, Ian suggests that Jobs was a corporate fascist.
That's what everyone loves about him: he tells us what he wants, and he convinces us we are going to like it. And we do, not because he's right (despite popular opinion), but because it's so rare to get such definitive, brazen, top-down, abusive treatment in this era of lowest-common-demoninator wishy-washiness. It doesn't matter if he's right because his design sense is so definitive, it outstrips truth in favor of legend.
I think it does matter that he's right, but it took him a long time to be right enough. Jobs is something no other great computerist is, which is an enemy of interoperability. He alone had the nerve to build a set of products that needed nothing to do with the rest of how the world did computing. And from that basic premise of purity, everything else follows. Jobs basically said, I don't need to cooperate to build something I would love. He is your basic idiosyncratic perfectionist, and to my way of seeing things, exactly like every other entrepreneur who said, I built the thing I wanted and I hoped everybody would be just like me.
All his presentations have been about telling us how excited he is about the thing his company built just for him to his most exacting standards. And he had been doing it for years until all the right things clicked. There is so much weirdness in Apple's closet. By what standard is the original iMac anything but atrocious? The NexT cube, that was beautiful. And back in those days (take it from an old Xeroid) computer companies built everything proprietarily. There was nothing wrong with that, ever. Except Oracle took market share from IBM and began the necessity for interoperability standards in the lucrative world of enterprise computing with SAP and others contributing to make corporate IT what it is today - an ungodly mess. But Apple didn't give a crap about all that. They wanted to make what they wanted to make. Quadras. PowerMacs. And when Power Computing came around and made it cheaper and faster, Jobs killed them. Murdered them.
Apple is now like Mercedes Benz or BMW. It is the single mass market premium brand for computers. It's fair to compare Apple the brand to any luxury car brand for whom its parts are hard to find and not quite interchangeable. That Jobs stood alone is more curious than anything, because for the most part we're suckers for that obsessive who builds the spare-no-expense, ultra-hip, status symbol of perfection with its own walled garden of accessories.
I want to compare Jobs to Ferdinand Porsche or Enzo Ferarri or Frank Lloyd Wright or Dean Kamen, but I don't have the patience to make the appropriate contrasts. Except I do want to stress that had Kamen's ideas for the Segway pan out, he would have continued on to the sort of fame Jobs new enjoys. There's no comparison though. Kamen is by far the more prolific of the two and towards greater ends.