Why the death of Steve Jobs is good news

Among the comments on the Economist web site about the recent death of Steve Jobs, the vast majority praising the man like he was a saint and a spiritual guru, one shined for its insight:


“A great quote from Slashdot: “From the fall of AOL to the rise of iComputing, we had a 12 year golden age where walled gardens were derided, people owned their own devices, and the landscape of the internet formed more or less naturally.”

RIP, Steve, but as much of a visionary as you were, I hope that your passing away will contribute to giving us back the openness in computing, that same openness that you did so much to destroy.”

Steve Jobs was a dangerous man. He did more than anyone else to destroy the concept of open platform, and in general to jeopardize the consumers’ right when dealing with computing.

Apple under Jobs has embraced an approach which can be summed up as: remove choice. According to Apple, the end user must be given practically no voice on how they should use their devices. Apple knows better. Apple will decide for you. When Apple says Think different it really means “Let us think for you”.

This can be just a very clever marketing approach if it’s about operating system interface customization, or limited number of models available. But it becomes a real nightmare with the app store model, which Jobs popularized.

App stores like the ones for iPhone and iPad mark the shift from a world where:

- there are *platforms* like computers which have a known interface, on top of which everybody can write software and distribute it

- there is an Internet which is accessed by open, public protocols

to a world where:

- the platform is closed and apps have to be explicitly approved by the platform manufacturer (and they can be censored/retired at any moment, at the manufacturer’s whim)

- Internet services are accessed by close, independent apps

Mind you, this is not theory or catastrophic thinking. This is the reality that every iPhone user keeps in their pocket. Censorship of apps and content the Apple app store is an even too infamous fact: just for the record, read this for a quick recap of what is the issue about (even very mildly) sexual content, or this in China (where Apple chooses not to think so different from the government), or how it attempted to censor satire.

Now, one could think that it’s just my problem: if I don’t want that, I don’t buy Apple, and fine. This is true, but it is only part of the problem. The real issue is that Steve Jobs made this kind of approach viable and respectable. He not only made a model which takes away freedom from the user acceptable: he even made it enthusiastically embraced. Jobs really was a marketing genius: he twisted reality, in his customers’ minds, up to making them believe that he was giving them freedom, when he was only giving them expensive, shiny tools that took away their freedom -even worse, that removed their need for freedom. Love of the Big Brother has never been as real as in Apple fans. And if Apple has been successful this way, why shouldn’t its competitors follow it? That’s the danger.

One could object: well, it’s just phones. But what will happen if and when such an approach extends from iPhones to desktops and laptops? This is not at all far fetched: the iPad is the natural step towards that. Do we want a computer where Microsoft, or Apple, or Google will control what applications will run and which won’t? What content we can access or not? What we can read, see or even talk about? This is not crazy talk. iPhones and iPads already behave like that.

Steve Jobs was a genius, true: a genius of deceipt and marketing, capable of misleading otherwise brilliant creatives and learned professionals, guiding them into the cult of “Think different” -by stopping thinking and following Jobs vision. Humans are all too prone to do all the same thing by making them believe they are unique: Jobs understood that and exploited that to the end. This made Jobs incredibly dangerous, because he was mind-bogglingly capable of selling his snake oil under the sexy, glamour gadgets he sold.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish”, he said, and his fans now repeat as a mantra. Yes. He wanted everybody to be foolish enough to buy his swindle, to be hungry enough to want his gadgets.

That’s why the death of Jobs is a relief. He hypnotized everyone for far too much. After him, we can try to hope that the future of computing will be again in the hands of the users.

12 Comments

  • This article is such bullshit. Jobs did only what an entrepreneur does. He made products his way. According to his vision and his creativity. And made a lot of money doing so. Good for him. The products he made are amazing with high quality engineering and a unique artistic design. If you don’t like the way they were made, then build your own fucking computer. Oh, that’s right. I forgot. The person who wrote this article is probably a failed computer engineer living at his moms house in silicon valley because he wasn’t smart enough to accomplish what Apple has. There is nothing stopping anyone from picking up where steve left off. Free open source development is what fuels young developers and entrepreneurs. And once you have invented that killer App, go out and sell it at a premium price. Jobs wasn’t just a “spiritual guru” or “hippy dippy philosopher”, he was a brilliant businessman. Steve Jobs deserved every penny he earned.

  • Did I say that he didn’t deserve his pennies?

    Of course not. He deserved them all. He was a fucking genius at marketing and his idea of putting back aestethics into computing was brilliant.

    Problem is, in doing so, he was the leader in the current trend of removing control of devices from the users, a trend that now Amazon and even Google are beginning to embrace.

    He was a brilliant businessman. A fucking dangerous brilliant businessman.

  • That’s what I thought.

  • If you define him as a dangerous businessman, then you must define all businessmen as dangerous. Every businessman has complete control over how a company and it’s products operate. That’s how the American market works. And as far as controlling what apps the user can use and deciding how the device works for the user, again, I say make your own device. Make your own Apps. And distribute them yourself. I find it ironic complaining that Apple, Google and Amazon decide which Apps are distributed an which are not. Yet you are riding their coattails and taking advantage of their successful brand and software delivery service (the APP Store) that they built. Kind of like biting the hand that feeds you. Radiohead recently released an album without any record label involved. They simply distributed it over their own website. It was the highest selling album of their career. I admire that.

  • You haven’t understood anything of what I wrote.

    First of all, let me get rid of this nonsense:

    “Yet you are riding their coattails and taking advantage of their successful brand and software delivery service (the APP Store) that they built. “

    W T F ?

    Where do I take advantage of app stores? How do they feed me?

    I have no application on app stores whatsoever -in fact, I never, ever developed an app in all my life, let alone selling it through an app store. And for sure I never developed anything at all for iOS or OS X. What are you talking about??

    Now:

    “Every businessman has complete control over how a company and it’s products operate.”

    Of course. But only a few companies have the power to fiddle with objects I already own.
    Apple (and Amazon and Google, but Apple pioneered and pushed more than anyone else on the concept) has a killswitch. You know what a killswitch is? It is a way to remotely control your devices (e.g. iPhone). They can remotely disable apps from your own device. They can do what they want with it, remotely. It is not your device anymore, even if you paid for it.

    “Radiohead recently released an album without any record label involved. They simply distributed it over their own website. It was the highest selling album of their career. I admire that.”

    Sure, I love that. What has this to do with what we’re talking about?

  • What I gather from your article is that you are complaining about Apple’s business model and the control they have over your device. Then fuck his business model! Make your own business model. And make a device that you control. Sell it in the open market and make a fortune! You don’t like their business model? Then destroy it! Challenge them. I would love to have more options than Apple or Microsoft. I’m glad Google has entered the playing field. Who else has great ideas? I want to see them. And I don’t mean to speak for you as someone who has developed an App for IOS. But if you haven’t. Then why do you care about the plight of other developers who have? The Radiohead analogy just implies, they took business and creative matters into their own hands. That’s all. That’s what I aspire to do as a developer. But as long as I use Apple’s and Microsoft’s platforms and name recognition to build a better App, I will thank them for their contributions and allowing me to do so. And the Hitler comparison? You want to accuse me of making comments that have nothing to do with your point? WTF does Hitler have to do with the technology business. And lastly, don’t accuse me of missing the point of your article. That’s just a cheap shot because you know I’m making valid points. Steve Jobs did say “Don’t follow anyone’s Dogma. Find your own voice. Use it.” That’s what he did. Don’t follow Apple’s Dogma either. But if you buy their products, then you agree to their “Terms of Service”.

  • And lastly, don’t accuse me of missing the point of your article. That’s just a cheap shot because you know I’m making valid points.

    Since I wrote that post, I pretty much know what is the point, thank you. If I tell you you’re missing the point, it’s because you are, indeed, missing the point.

    Which is:

    Then why do you care about the plight of other developers who have?

    I care as a user, not as a developer. I want my devices to not be remotely controlled from their vendors after I’ve bought them.

    Imagine yourself not being able anymore to control the software on your laptop (or anything else), and you get what I mean.

    That said, I feel I have explained myself enough. Good luck.

  • O.k. And good luck to you. My best advice toy you is stop buying Apple products. And once the masses begin to feel the control that Apple has over your user experience is more than the high quality products they put out. I’m sure you will all bring Apple to it’s knees. You have made some very good points in your article. Especially the one about Steve Jobs = Hitler. And that you are glad he is dead. Those are every rational and sensible points. By the way, I wanted to let you know about an Anti-Apple underground movement currently taking place in Cupertino. It’s called “Occupy 1 Infinite Loop.” Make sure you bring our Hitler = Steve Jobs sign with you.

  • The last one actually made me chuckle.

  • It seems to me that a (huge) point is missing, in this whole argument. That is: when Apple (or MS) develops for their users, it does not so having you (or me) in mind. The end user, in the great majority, is just too happy to have no voice in deciding how they should use their devices – simply because they would not have the skills to do otherwise.
    As far as censorship goes: Apple is operating choices in their distribution policy. We might disagree with them (I do). In my opinion, still, it is their very own right to do so. If Apple has been successful in this path, it is simply because the market has found it fulfilling of their needs. I acknowledge the company to having been able to do so: *the company*, not Jobs. (Perhaps this is because I am a fu**ing snob nerd, and I refuse the whole Jobs-pop-icon concept altogether.)

  • A close friend recently pointed out the striking similarity between arguments coming from the Pro-Apple-Jobs-Mac defenders and the creationists. Lots of nonsense, lots of guts.

    Thanks for this post. It’s a relief that someone finally speaks out amongst all this nonsense.

    I think there’s one point missing: Jobs didn’t invented the Mac (it was Wozniak, Jobs marketed it), he didn’t invented the clean design (Ives did), and he didn’t invented the OS (it works because is a UNIX OS). Hell, neither did he invented the portable MP3 player nor the smartphone. What Jobs did (and he deserves to be in the buddist-geek hell for it) was to create nonexistent needs for a shallow consumer cult. His revolutionary business idea was to make computers and sell them as status items.

    Quoting Fight Club: “I would browse through the AppleStore and wonder ´what kind of gadget defines me as a person?”

  • This is the first time that I’ve read something different about Steve Jobs but this is yet to be the most honest opinion of him. It’s like you have read my mind and put it into writing. Kudos!

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