With the death of Steve Jobs and the release of his biography there is much discussion of his legacy in the tech world and beyond. Anyone who knows me will know that I have never been a fan of the Macintosh operating system or the Apple hardware that runs it. However as I have documented here as well as my now lost purchase of a 5th gen iPod nano last fall I have given money to Apple for four iPods. I have also been party to Kelly getting an iPhone 3 and 4, even pretty much paying for the 4.
I wanted to write up some thoughts on Steve Jobs and the more recent products he had a large part in releasing. This wasn’t meant to be as long as it turned out but I just kept writing. Hopefully it is worth the read for those who find it.
Many people will argue that Steve Jobs legacy is the Macintosh and its related computing devices or possibly Pixar. I think his iDevices have had and will have much larger and longer lasting impact on the technology world and beyond.
The iPod was first introduced almost exactly ten years ago on October 23, 2001. When the iPod was released it was not the first MP3 player that honor goes to the Diamond Rio which was followed by the Creative NOMAD . It wasn’t the best by most accounts either. It didn’t even really take off in sales until 2003 when the 3rd Generation iPod (now known as Classic) came out. Not surprisingly sales seemed to increase when iTunes 4.1 was released and introduced Windows support for iPod removing the need to use MusicMatch Jukebox to sync the iPod and opening the iPod up to the vast majority of the computing world using Windows instead of Macintosh computers.
The iPod did nothing truly new or unique other than potentially the click wheel which Apple didn’t even create (Synaptics who is known for laptop touchpads primarily created it) and has since been all but killed by the iPhone and iPod Touch. Over the first few generations Apple rapidly refined the iPod and iTunes to support it. As the iPod sales and popularity grew it basically killed off the rest of the MP3 player market. The iPod is also arguably responsible for the near death of the CD and growth of digital audio sales via the Internet.
There have been many sizes and shapes of the iPod including the now named Classic, the Mini, the Nano, the Shuffle and lastly the Touch which is really an iPhone without a phone. The storage sizes grew with the growth of miniature hard drives and then shrank again when the iPod switched to solid state memory instead.
At this point it appears Apple is ready to kill off the iPod except for the iPod Touch which has more in common with the iPhone than its iPod ancestors. The iPod was the first of the iDevices and started a string of changes throughout the world.
iTunes is a piece of software as opposed to hardware like the other three but it is intrinsically linked to them and they wouldn’t have worked as well up to this point without it. iTunes was initially released on Mac OS 9 and then shipped with all versions of OS X. As mentioned above in October 2003 iTunes 4.1 was released bringing with it Windows (2000 / XP) support. iTunes wasn’t the first CD ripping / MP3 playing / music organizing software and initially it definitely wasn’t the best. The Windows version still to this day is a little bloated and slow but it is your only option if you have an iDevice, at least for now. Just as with the iPod iTunes has succeeded in killing of most competitors (like its initial partner MusicMatch JukeBox) or at least keeping them niche players like WinAmp.
During its development Apple added podcast support and even tried to control the name podcast saying it was related or similar to iPod. Again iTunes became known as the defacto standard podcast aggregator mainly due to the index of podcasts available in the iTunes store. I personally use iTunes and iPods for podcasts about 90% of the time with audiobooks and music making up the remaining 10%.
In the spring of 2003 Apple released the iTunes store that is now one of the largest (if not the largest) digital media stores on the Internet. The iTunes store started with music only; bringing with it some of the biggest changes in the music industry in decades. iTunes brought legality to the realm of MP3 (or AAC) music; something that had been sorely missing in the time of Napster and other P2P sharing services. Second, in most cases songs were available individually rather than in a total album grouping. This allowed consumers to purchase only the '”good” songs and skip the filler that many albums had. Over time there have been several competitors in the digital music sales arena that have come and gone even from big companies like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. Currently the only real competitor to the iTunes store is Amazon, which is good since it is keeping Apple honest at this point.
The iTunes store started offering other products over the years as well. First was Audiobooks via a partnership with Audible. Next Apple added video in the form of music videos and TV shows in October 2005 with the release of the first video capable iPod. Later in March 2009 Apple added movies to its video library. The last major addition to iTunes was the App Store as part of the iPhone 3G release. The App Store now has hundreds of thousands of apps available. My biggest problem with the App Store is that it doesn’t have a requirement of having demo versions. In many cases the only way to test an app is to purchase it and hope it is worth the money.
One interesting note about iTunes is that even in its latest version of 10.5 it still supports Windows XP which means machines dating back to at least 2001 if not earlier can still run it. On the flip side iTunes 10.5 only works on Mac OS X 10.5.8 which can’t be run on anything before 2003. It is required to have iTunes 10.5 to support the latest iPhone which means some will be forced to upgrade their computer to support their phone.
The second major iDevice released was the iPhone which was announced in January 2007 and released in June 2007. Just like the iPod the iPhone wasn’t the first smart phone by far, the Palm Treo (2003), Windows Mobile (2003) and BlackBerry 8000 (2006) all proceeded it in the US alone. It also wasn’t the first Apple branded phone either, that honor went to the doomed from the start Motorola ROKR. The iPhone brought with it a new touch screen based interface not needing (or really working with) a stylus and form factor eschewing almost all buttons. It also had a web browser that worked more like a desktop one than a mobile phone one allowing access to more of the web. It did however ship without Adobe Flash and still to this day lacks it and by all indications will never have it. With the increased functionality of HTML5 the need for Flash keeps shrinking.
The original iPhone lacked 3G which meant its Internet connection was quite slow, even in its latest version it doesn’t yet have LTE/4G opting to wait for the chips that provide it to shrink and lower power demand. It also had an initial price of $599, which was soon dropped to $399 and left many early adopters a little unhappy. The first versions of the iPhone came in 4 GB and 8 GB models which was less storage space than almost all iPods which meant the iPhone wasn’t even a very good iPod initially. Now more than 4 years later the iPhone is on its 5th version with an almost yearly release schedule. The latest generation is thinner and lighter but for the most part is similar to how it started.
The iPhone started with a still only 2 megapixel camera and now has an 8 megapixel still camera that can also record 1080p video as well as a secondary camera that is front facing for video conferencing. Its storage has also grown up to a maximum of 64 GB on the current high end models. The screen also doubled in resolution giving it one the highest pixel density displays on the market (it is less than 4” in size though).
The iPhone has sold millions of units worldwide now over its five versions. Those sales have brought thousands of developers trying to cash in on all the users of iPhones via the iTunes App Store. Also as the iPhone has matured its performance and capabilities have improved allowing for larger, more complex and a wider variety of apps. All apps must go through the Apple approval process which sometimes seems overly rigorous and at other times amazingly lacking. If Apple doesn’t like an App, like Google Voice, it will just not allow it but then turn around and allow over a hundred fart sound apps.
The iPhone made a large dent in the fledgling smartphone market. It pretty much sealed the fate of Windows Mobile 6.x but Microsoft is attempting to make a come pack with Windows Phone 7. The iPhone began the decline of BlackBerry which has since accelerated and now it is questionable how long BlackBerry will survive. About a year after the iPhone came out in September 2008 Google released the first Smartphone running the Android operating system.
At this point there are close to a hundred different smartphones worldwide running the Android operating system from almost a dozen manufacturers as opposed to the 3-4 models of the iPhone from only Apple. The Android operating system is still pretty rough around the edges and Google has to rely upon phone makers and cell phone service providers to release updates as opposed to Apple being able to totally control the process. However due to the sheer number of options the Android based phones are now outselling the iPhone. Apple still has mindshare due to marketing and the app store but who knows for how long.
There is no denying the iPhone revolutionized and jump started the smartphone market just like the iPod did to the MP3 player market. It remains to be seen how the iPhone will fare in the long run since it actually will have to compete instead of simply being a monopoly owner of the market.
The final iDevice and potentially the one that Steve Jobs will be remembered most for is the iPad. The iPad was announced in January 2010 and released in April 2010 and then was quickly followed by a second version in March 2011. After the initial announcement I wrote up my thoughts on the iPad based on the information released at the announcement. I still agree with much of what I said then but I have changed my opinion in some areas.
This will sound like a broken record but the iPad was definitely not the first device of its type, there have been tablet / slate devices since the late 90’s at least. Many if not most of those previous devices were not commercial successes. One of the more successful previous attempts was Microsoft’s Tablet PC as part of Windows XP and later Windows 7. Even Microsoft couldn’t break out beyond a couple of vertical markets like healthcare and education. Microsoft was just not a wide ranging success.
Apple took what it had learned and succeeded with in the iPhone and iPod Touch and just expanded it to a larger screen. The iPad doesn’t have the phone functionality of the iPhone but does have the option of cellular or can be Wi-Fi only like the iPod touch. The software is literally identical between the three devices which have further helped expand the market for the iTunes store and especially the app portion. It seems Apple just took the iPhone and stuck a 10” screen on it.
The iPad had the luxury of coming out at a time where miniaturization, screen technology and battery efficiency intersected in such a way to make the device possible. Previous devices were missing at least one of the above which prevented the device from succeeding. For Windows the two common drawbacks were weight and battery life. Other devices lacked functionality or performance to get the battery life needed for a portable device. I honestly don’t think the iPad could have existed as little as six and for sure twelve months before it came out.
The iPad has been an even bigger success in a shorter time than the iPhone; it has sold 40 million units in only 18 months. It took the iPod over 4 years and the iPhone almost 3 years to sell that many units. As a result of its massive sales the iPad has become synonymous with the term tablet so much that when talking about a Windows tablet PC I have to be careful to be more specific since if I just say tablet everyone thinks I mean iPad. The iPad has also helped accelerate digital books (but not nearly as much as Amazon Kindle) and digital magazines along with digital on demand of other types of content.
Just like with the iPhone the competitors (after getting over the initial shock) are fighting back. Google followed almost the exact same game plan by taking its existing Android operating system and polishing it a bit and putting it on 10” tablet slate devices. Also just like with phones Google has partnered with even more hardware providers with devices ranging from 5-11” trying to compete with Apple. Google’s attempts thus far have had not had much success with the sales of its device being measured in the tens of thousands instead of tens of millions. Although Samsung with its Galaxy Tab 10 has gotten such a good device out that Apple has sued to prevent its sale based on patents. As with phones, I have a feeling that given time Google will get more devices refined and will have a broader range of devices and pricing and as a result may start selling more competitively with Apple. Microsoft is also preparing a response with Windows 8 which will be geared more toward touch based computing with an emphasis on slates. Windows 8 is most likely 6-18 months away though so Apple will have an opportunity to have 1-2 more revisions and get an even larger sales lead in this space.
I think one of or all three of these devices will be Steve Jobs lasting legacy or at least the changes they brought about in technology and society. Apple and Jobs didn’t invent most of these ideas, what they did was refined and polished them and marketed them amazingly. That is another important part of Jobs legacy is being this generation’s P.T. Barnum and knowing how to make people desire what he is pushing. Most competitors could only wish they had a pitchman like Jobs and the mystique of Apple. It remains to be seen how Apple will do in the post Jobs era, but it will take 12-18 months to really get an answer.