Saturday, October 5th, 2013
On January 27, 2010, Steve Jobs walked on stage and took a seat at a large red leather armchair. Looking slightly frail, and we would later learn less than two years away from his death, an energetic Steve gave a passionate demonstration of what was obviously his life’s work. Over the next hour and a half he would introduce the world to iPad, the device that would finally make computers easy enough for everyone to use.
It was a long and bumpy road, one that only Steve would be able to navigate. But over nearly three decades, he dreamt up each of the components to what we would come to know as the iPad.
At the International Design Conference in Aspen in 1983, Steve gave twenty-minute long speech that successfully predicted the next 30 years of computing. In it, he discussed computers taking off and making the world a better place. He described computers as communications devices (The world wide web was still eight years away from being invented), and somewhat interestingly, he described the current methods of software delivery at the time as becoming obsolete:
Where we’ll be going in transmitting this stuff electronically over the phone line. So where when you wanna buy a piece of software we’ll send tones over the phone to transmit directly from computer to computer, that’s what we’ll be doing.
We didn’t know it then, but this was the seeds of what would eventually become the App Store. But his predictions didn’t stop there. He went on to describe what would later be the iPad:
What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes…we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.
In 1984, after years of grueling work with a core team within Apple, a much younger Steve Jobs unveiled his first attempt at bringing computing to the masses, the Macintosh. With the graphical user interface and heavy dependence on a mouse, the modern day computer was born. The entire computer was built into the screen as a single unit. It was beautiful. Computers began gaining traction, showing up on the desks of people the world over. But this was only the beginning.
When Steve returned to Apple as CEO in 1997, it’s no surprise his first major product was the iMac, yet another all-in-one machine. Though praised for its introduction of color and Jony Ive’s design to what had long been a series of beige boxes, in hindsight it was another step in building the entire computer into the screen. The next year, Steve introduced the iBook, the first computer to include WiFi (which Apple called Airport), bringing us yet another step closer to achieving his vision laid out in 1983.
Fast forward to 2010. Steve introduced the iPad. An all-in-one computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes. Critics panned it. They called it a large iPod touch, which made Steve annoyed and depressed. They were panning his life’s work. But the iPad went on to be a rousing success with nearly 200 million sold to date.
I started working at the Apple Store in 2010. Long after Apple’s struggle to survive, after the introduction of the iPhone and the iPad. But each and every day I would go to work and see people of all colors, creeds, ages, and skills pick up and start using iPads. Whether customers were two or ninety-two, they would pick up the iPad and zip through it. They browsed, they read books, they played games. They used computers, something many of them never thought possible.
Every day I got to talk to at least one person who was using a computer for the first time in their lives. People young and old finally had a computer they weren’t afraid of. I saw grandparents tear up as they began to FaceTime their grandchildren hundreds of miles away, I saw children learn to play in entirely new ways. I saw toddlers learn to read.
It’s easy to get lost in a world of design, of benchmarks, of craving the bleeding edge. But any tool is only as powerful as a person’s ability to use it. The iPad, though it may never be as powerful as powerful as a Mac Pro, is the computer that finally enabled everyone to use computers. The world is a better place for it.
I was at the store two years ago when Steve died. I teared up. So did most of my coworkers. None of us had ever met Steve, but he had touched us all and all of the customers we interacted with every single day. It felt like losing a member of the family.
In his final email to the staff, Steve said Apple’s best days were ahead of it. And that may very well be true. But at that small conference in 1983, Steve laid out what would go on to become his life’s work. To make computers accessible to everyone.
Mission Accomplished, Steve.
RIP Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011