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The trails of Jobs

Steve Jobs: An appreciation

There may be primitive tribesmen in the Amazon or monks in Tibet who were unaffected by Steve Jobs and Apple. But whether you are reading this in print, online or via an app, Jobs touched your life.

There were other home computers around when Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976. After they created the MacIntosh in 1984, others copied the innovations, sometimes adding flourishes and often making them cheaper. But the blueprint was usually Apple’s.

When first buying a home computer, I asked my techie-est friend for advice. He said, “It’s like buying a car. If you’re just looking for something that will go forward and reverse and will turn right and left, there are a lot of options. If you want to spend a little more and get a Rolls-Royce, buy an Apple.”

People in Hollywood sometimes bristled that Jobs was arrogant and remote. Frankly, if I had his brain, I would be arrogant too. Look at that iPod: that wheel and the five round indents: So simple, so brilliant. Click and drag, the rule-of-thumb on every Mac computer: Amazing! The mouse! The iPhone! If you got into a time machine and showed that to people 25 years ago, they would faint or wet their pants. Or both.

The obituaries for Jobs, who died Oct. 5 after a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer, naturally emphasized his role as tech innovator. But unlike many brilliant people who are absent-minded professors, he was also a businessman.

Apple briefly replaced Exxon as the world’s most valuable company in August (coincidentally the same month he stepped down as CEO). When he died, his personal wealth was estimated at $8.3 billion. And when negotiating with titans of the film, TV and music industries, Jobs presented a business plan that would increase their income, but on his terms, such as pricing iTunes offerings at 99¢. To be unyielding when dealing with corporate execs is, in their eyes, an unpardonable sin. But they often accepted his terms, because they didn’t find a better alternative.

He was also a showman and happened to have great taste. The products and the graphics are attractive. And the Apple Stores are the embodiment of feng shui. They hypnotize consumers into wanting to buy something, but in a tech-driven world that’s increasingly isolating, they also become a community gathering place.

I met Jobs once. And (at the risk of sounding name-droppy) it was at the Academy Awards.

One of my favorite parts of the Oscars is at the end, as everybody is waiting for their cars at the corner of Hollywood & Highland, huddling under the heat lamps as a dozen valets with bullhorns simultaneously shout out the number on your parking ticket as your car finally arrives. And Jobs was standing there in the crowd like everyone else, smiling and looking inconspicuous, soaking up the scene. I introduced myself and he was puppy-dog friendly and funny; we talked mostly about Pixar. I’m not often star-struck, but then I don’t often get a chance to meet a stranger who affects my life every day.

As David Cohen wrote in Variety’s Oct. 5 obit, Jobs “may have had the greatest impact on everyday lives in general, and showbiz in particular, of any technologist since Thomas Edison — and his impact on showbiz dwarfs even Edison’s … he transformed the way people work and communicate — and the way entertainment is created and consumed.”

Pixar is fine. With Tim Cook and the team, Apple will be fine. There won’t be another Steve Jobs to come along for a long time. I have heard horror stories about his treatment of some people. If I were one of them, I might be writing a different piece, but I wasn’t one of them, so I can shrug and quote “Some Like It Hot”: “Nobody’s perfect.”

Yes, I have drunk the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. Yes, I am a longtime Apple addict. And proud of it.

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