The day Apple could have been a washing machine
As soon as the news broke that Steve Jobs was returning to Apple, every single person on this planet offered up their own advice with regard to how he should transform the company. Let’s face it – I did it too.
Look—we were young advertising creatives in the late 90s, and as premium Apple users, we had a lot to say. We dared to spend our precious time on Friday afternoons at the agency discussing Apple’s future, while holding a beer or a glass of good Barolo. It was as if no one thought Steve Jobs was capable of cleaning up or doing something good for the company.
Afternoon at the agency. Polaroid blur before Instagram.
Do not think that the press had a more qualified take back then; the editorial staff at Wired Magazine prompted Jobs to run Windows on the Mac and then to manufacture them as cheap as possible, even suggesting to license the Apple brand and software to washing machine manufacturers.
Crazy—wrong: The bible of the tech industry at the time, Wired Magazine proposed 101 ideas to save Apple.
But, Jobs has always had his own version of reality, and actually had a bunch of much more interesting people to pay attention to. His conflict personality aside, Steve Jobs was widely recognized as one of the people at the top of his field who had a gift for spotting talent, both inside and outside the company. He was a great listener, and someone with whom others wanted to share their wild ideas, in anticipation of consumer needs—many years in advance.
While touring Xerox PARC in the late 70s, Jobs seemed to be the first person to truly understand what was going on there. The potential of the graphic user interface featuring icons, windows and the use of a mouse was developed there, based on research by Douglas Engelbart at Stanford University. Jobs loved it, but Xerox’ top direction did not, and the rest—as they say—is history.
Crazy-right: The graphic interface from Xerox PARC.
Jobs was also the only Apple CEO who really understood the ideas put forth by the young British designer Jonathan Ive and his creative team. Ive’s proposals were the right kind of kind of crazy Jobs sought for his projects: titanium computers in the era of the Tamagotchi and disposable electronics; transparent and colorful computers in a previously all-beige world; and sleek mobile phone technology layered between sandwiches of metal and glass. Such innovations were just some of the many products which, under different direction, likely wouldn’t have passed focus groups or standard manufacturing plans.
Jobs showed genuine interest in listening to Ive and his team. What followed was an intense working relationship that produced some of the most acclaimed design products of the last two decades; crazy ideas that came from people seeking authenticity in design, in an industry previously devoid of any. The results: the iMac, the PowerBook, the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone…
Crazy—right: The first product from the new Apple—the iMac—is still as impressive as it was in the late 90s.
It took no time at all for Grey Odense—my agency at the time—to spoil us with brand new iMacs as soon they became available. After a few minutes of working on it, I immediately understood why Apple was indeed on the right track—despite never having heard of me or my plans.