Thank you, Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Picture courtesy: Apple Computer Inc.

It must be very strange that I write my reactionary post to the demise of Steve Jobs, five days after he passed away. Unlike most media agencies who would have a readymade eulogy for every ailing celebrity, for me, the unfortunate passing of Steve Jobs was extremely sudden and has still to sink in. It was just like the time I was told that Michael Jackson passed on.

I am not an Apple user, have never bought an Apple product (apart from an IPod that I was gifted and hardly use) and have been fed a staple of competing products from the day I saw my first computer. But when you saw an Apple product, you felt envy. They were beautiful, simply beautiful. While most of us would argue that were not exactly functional, you have to agree that they were beautiful.

As a computer technician, I remember when I was asked to install software on an iMac G3. None of the other technicians wanted to take that service call. This was in India where the standard is Windows and Intel. And the Apple iMac was the costly fancy gadget that everyone wanted to just gape at and not mess around with. In a small discussion room in my office, there stood the Bondi Blue funny shaped monitor. When I snapped out of the awe for the funny looking computer, my first reaction was “Where’s the CPU??” And when they told me, I said “Why didn’t they think of that before??”

That reaction embodies Steve Jobs’ influence on Technology. He proved that technology was not just functional, but needed to be aesthetic too. The joy of a product is not just what it can do, but also what it looks like, feels like, the experience that the user gets. For Steve, like with Michael Jackson, it was the experience, not just the product. When you focus on that, its not about the product anymore. Ask any Apple fan anywhere in the world. 

Then as I got Steve Jobs as a case study in MBA class, you started to marvel at the maverick business sense the man had. With ideas that were way beyond the present, but with constant touch with what the customer would desire, he went onto to do things that were outrageous for the norm. The Apple Macintosh, iMac, the iPod, the Macbook, the Apple Store, the iPad… everything that made no conventional business sense, but Steve knew it would work. And how.

I know Steve only from what I’ve read about him, the presentations he made and generally hearsay. But when you hear him talk about life in a commencement address to new students at Stanford, you realize the depth of the man. he was not all technology and business, not all greed and the other human shortcomings. He was about life, and being the best you can be. And he was. In his own way, Steve Jobs was the best he could be.

Sir Richard Branson, the entrepreneur I most admire, calls Steve Jobs the entrepreneur he most admired. And in a way, I have to agree. Steve Jobs was the magician and showman who resurrected not once, but thrice in an entrepreneurial career that I’m sure he looked back at with restless satisfaction. There are few people for whom Frank Sinatra’s My Way would be the perfect swan song. Sinatra was one. Steve Jobs would be the other. But then for Steve Jobs, his swan song would be the enormous legacy of products, ideas and “awesomeness” he’s left us to gape at…

I’m going to miss him say, “One more thing…”

Thank you, Steve.

News and views: Microsoft to buy Skype for $ 8.5 billion

The biggest buzz on the street today is the imminent acquisition of Internet Telephony major Skype by IT giant Microsoft. More details about the news are here.

My particular read of this news is essentially that Microsoft is giving into its panic of losing the race for IT dominance to competitors like Google and Apple. I contrasted this with the earlier news of the tie-up with Nokia and in many ways, the rationale for the decision also seems to be the same. The Nokia tie-up was aimed at Apple iPhone and Google Android, while this one is solely levelled at Google.

Microsoft hit a plateau with innovation a long time back and has been content with providing “me-too” products. Somehow, the Microsoft top management answer to tackle this is either tie-up with or acquire popular market leaders in a financial crunch. Other than a few winners like Forethought (which became Microsoft Powerpoint) and Visio Corporation (which became Microsoft Visio) Microsoft’s history with acquisition has not been very promising, case in point, Hotmail.com, Savvis and Fast Search & Transfer.

The synergies for this acquisition are clear. Skype, being the first and most popular Internet telephony, has a huge retail fan base as well as is popular with Small Businesses. With Google’s GTalk slowly gaining popularity due to its integration with social networks, Microsoft would want to integrate Skype technology with its Operating System and Office Suite products and leverage its loyal user base in those products. Whether this integration would be smooth or would end up being another feature in the Microsoft products that users never use, is still to be seen.

The winner here is clearly Skype, which just like Nokia, has received much needed funds to remove its financial woes. Microsoft on the other hand, has gained powerful technology, which it would need to use innovatively to succeed.