Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

If you’re reading this posting, say a little thanks to Steve Jobs and wish him well on the next leg of the journey.  As much as anyone of in the last 25 years, Mr. Jobs helped create, promote and define how we use computing devices of every sort.  Less of an inventor or engineer, Jobs’ genius lay in the areas of promotion and salesmanship and in obsessive focus on elegant design and a simple interface.  He didn’t invent the mouse, the graphical user interface, multimedia PCs, digital music players, cell phones, tablets or online stores, but he promoted them and refined them relentlessly to match his ideas of what such devices should be.

Mr. Jobs was reportedly no easy guy to work for or even hang around with, but his obsessive nature made Apple products among the most thought-out, deliberate objects any of us ever encountered.  There are stories without end of him stopping or even killing project over things like buttons that made the “wrong sound” when clicked, an inelegant design inside a component that no one would ever see and so on.  To a rare degree in a company so big and with such a broad product line, everything with an Apple logo reflected the design and functional sensibilities of Mr. Jobs.

This is not to say Mr. Jobs never missed.  People who only know him for the last decade – the iPod era – know him for the successes he’s had in music, in phones, in tablets, in on-line stores, but those of us who’ve been around the block a few more times remember when he was basically forced out of the company because of his unwillingness to compromise in even the smallest of details.  We remember the Newton and the Next and have – for decades – cursed Apple products for things like one-button mice and no forward delete keys simply because Mr. Jobs decided we didn’t need them.  Even in the last decade, there’s been a few clinkers (using Ping anyone?  Apple TV?).  It is, however, a testament to the power of a determined, forceful personality and what a person like that can accomplish.  It’s probably a good thing he never fixated on politics.

I will miss Mr. Jobs and not just because he ran a company that makes cool things I use.  I’ll miss him because he embodied his company’s slogan:

“Think Different.”

We could use more of that in all walks of life these days.

- Austin

The Earth Shifts Orbit, the Sun Dims, Water Runs Uphill

No, these are not the end times.  And, no, this is not a wrap-up on yesterday’s Vikings’ performance (we should have just sent a letter that said, “Here, you take it, we don’t want it.”)

It’s something more important, more super-duper, more bigger than that. Apple is getting ready to make a new product announcement.

Unless every pundit on the tech beat is wrong, on Wednesday, Mr. Jobs will unveil a tablet device, something he’s apparently called, “The most important thing I’ve ever done.”

Unless you live in a totally tech-free environment, chances are you’ve heard something about this already.  The pre-announcement publicity on this device has been nothing short of amazing within the technology space.  The build-up has been coming on for months – way back to August at least – and hit the afterburners about two weeks ago when the Consumer Electronics Show ended.  Since then, this one announcement of this one device from one company has eclipsed pretty much the entire CES buzz (3D TV, in case you’ve forgotten).

All without uttering a word.  The entire media plan, including key messages, Q&A, FAQs, etc. leading up to Wednesday is contained in, “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation.”

Period.  And, if David Carr, writing in the New York Times, is right, there’s no nudge-nudge, wink-wink backchanneling going on either.  His column yesterday pretty much captured the magic that is an Apple announcement.

I guess the lesson for those of us who are occasionally called upon to capture a tiny bit of this lightning in a bottle for our clients is, “Work for a company that inspires a cult-like following, produces great products, is led by a messianic-type CEO and that cultivates an air of mystery about how it does what it does.”

The danger with this sort of strategy is that reality doesn’t live up to the hype.  Apple experienced some of this with the introduction of the iPhone, but in general their products mostly live up to expectations.  And, in the tightly connected world in which we live in, the obsessives following every tick and tock of Apple’s product development process generally winkle out a pretty close picture of what’s coming by assembling little bits of information from all over the world.  The latest t0day, for example, is from a company that has picked up evidence of its apps – originally written for the iPhone – being run on an unidentified device in and around Apple’s headquarters.  This little tidbit strongly suggests that the new device will be running an updated version of the iPhone operating system (versus the Mac operating system) and will be able to run applications much like the iPhone.

I personally am expected to be let down by the announcement if the rumors are directionally right.  I want a full-fledged computing device, not a scaled-up iPhone, one that runs lots of apps simulataneously and something that’s priced at the mid-point between the $200 iPhone and the $1000 iBook.  It doesn’t look like I’ll be getting what I want, but I’m prepared to be convinced.

And, probably, to stand in line to buy one (iPhone) or at least play with it (Mac Air).

- Austinnon profit grants nice

This Week in “Misplaced Blame”…

Citizen journalismLast week, Apple’s stock price saw an incredibly quick drop-off — and ultimately closed down 7 percent for the day — after a “citizen journalist” “reported,” via CNN’s iReport that Steve Jobs, Apple’s messiah-like CEO, had been rushed to the hospital after a heart attack.

Guess which part of that is true and which part isn’t.

More reading than you’ll ever care to do on the subject can be found here, but the bottom line is this: Some punk apparently thought the heart attach story would make for a good joke, but Apple’s investors surely didn’t.

In the wake of this BS story and it’s very non-BS impact, many have written about how citizen journalism has failed its first test. I don’t even understand that criticism, as CNN’s iReport isn’t new and it’s certainly the world’s first exposure to “citizen journalism.” More absurd, though, is this claim from the Public Relations Society of America’s “PR Tactics and Strategist Online.”

The headline reads: “Bogus Apple item reveals cracks in citizen journalism model.” The article says this incident “offers a cautionary tale about the perils of unverified citizen journalism.”

But isn’t that phrase — “unverified citizen journalism” — an oxymoron? Regardless of whether “citizens” or professionals (aren’t the professionals citizens, too?) are involved, “unverified journalism” strikes me as being a lot like “anti-gravity bowling”: it’s probably not going to work very well and it’s certainly not anything like the bowling we’re used to.

This story about Apple does not “reveal the cracks in the citizen journalism model.” It reveals the cracks in the rumor-mill model. If any journalism were done in this case, it would have put an end to this story, as eventually happened.

As one wise commenter pointed out on the PRSA site, this citizen and his bullshit “journalism” should tarnish the reputation of citizen journalism no more than Jayson Blair and his lies should tarnish “professional journalism.”

Photo courtesy of rsambrookon Flickr blank invoices fine

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