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A little different this time around. One book only, yet a lengthy post about things related to the book. Also, as a bonus, my discussion of the latest iPhone software is in a separate post. Read on only if you want to follow the ramblings of a Mac geek.


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26 – iCon: Steve Jobs The Greatest Second Act In The History Of Business. Jeffrey S. Young & William L. Simon.

There is a new book out about Apple CEO Steve Jobs that I want to read, but I thought it wise to read this 2005 unauthorized biography first. When this edition was released, Jobs was so pissed that he purged all of the publisher’s products from Apple Stores. In many ways, that sums up a significant portion of the book: that Jobs, for all of his hi-tech knowledge and marketing acumen is often petulant, short-tempered, and cruel. Despite criticisms from inside and outside Apple (an author who published a previous unauthorized biography of Jobs argued that much of the material in this book was a repeat of what he had written), it is an interesting look at Jobs from his childhood, through his earliest days creating Apple with Steve Wozniak, through his forced exit from the company, to starting NeXT, buying Pixar and turning it into the most successful and profitable animation studio in the movie industry, and finally to his triumphant return to Apple.

I pulled this off the shelf at an interesting time. Since Jobs’ appearance at the World Wide Developer Conference in June, at which he looked extremely thin and weak, there have been rumors that he is again suffering from the pancreatic cancer he underwent surgery for four years ago. Just this past week, Apple’s stock took a pounding because of fresh rumors about his health. At the same time, the past three weeks have been the rockiest, most disappointing weeks* since Jobs’ return over a decade ago. The launch of the 3G iPhone was plagued with activation issues, short supplies, and disappointments about certain aspects of the phone’s performance. Both new and old iPhones suffered from the quite buggy v2.0 of the iPhone OS. Along with the iPhone’s woes came the disastrous launch of Apple’s MobileMe service. Some MobileMe users are just now able to access their e-mail consistently, are having information that is supposed to sync instead be wiped out, and have experienced periods of mind-numbingly slow performance of MobileMe’s web applications. For a company that has had almost ten years of uninterrupted, successful product releases, and the associated media love that came with that run, it’s been a shocking and disappointing change of fortunes.

Some wonder if Steve’s health has something to do with these struggles. If he hasn’t been running the Mothership directly and others at Apple have been left to pick up the slack, could that explain why everything has gone shitty this month? And what does that mean for the future of Apple if it can’t function normally during his temporary absence?

That may be true, but what I think gets lost in that is the idea that Apple is stretched too thin and tried to do too much at one time. A year ago, just before the first iPhone was released, engineers were pulled off the main Macintosh OS update to finalize the iPhone OS, pushing back the Mac OS X update five months. When Leopard did come out in October, it still felt half-baked. In fact, it didn’t feel stable until the second update in February. Now, the company is trying to release a new phone, update the phone’s OS, launch a store for selling third party applications for the iPhone, and roll out a completely new version of its hosted application service. It feels like there just aren’t enough bodies in Cupertino to do everything that they’re trying to accomplish.

This trouble came at a particularly bad time, as a ton of people who waited to see how the first iPhone performed were in the lines for the second gen iPhone. Some of them are having their first experience with Apple’s products and support. After hearing how everything Apple “just works,” this isn’t exactly the experience that is going to keep them coming back. A moment of monumental opportunity may have been wasted.

As iCon closes, the authors claim that, in 2005, Steve was ready to leverage the growing power of Apple to attempt to reclaim ownership of the personal computing world from Microsoft. That seemed far fetched to me, even with the three years of history the authors didn’t have. Apple has definitely been making more overt attempts to steal users away from Microsoft (Vista was a huge help**). But I always thought Apple would be comfortable growing market share but leaving the bulk of the market, and the problems that come with being the big dog, to Microsoft. With this latest spate of trouble, however, I’m wondering if, in fact, Apple hasn’t decided to go directly at Microsoft, but forgot they need to hire a lot more engineers if they’re going to roll out so many product and software updates at one time.

Jobs is arguably the current face of American business, no doubt satisfying to the man who has battled with Bill Gates for nearly 30 years.*** Despite the recent woes (which I certainly hope and expect a couple software tweaks will fix), he’s riding a monumental hot streak. New laptops are rumored to be right around the corner. Surely there are some other sleek new products in the pipeline as well. The next OS upgrade is supposed to take what they’ve learned from porting OS X to the iPhone and apply those lessons to the dekstop/laptop setting, saving space while leveraging the full power of the latest multi-core processors. With a core of Fan Boys/Girls plus the growing market of new Mac users, Apple should be fine. The lesson of iCon is that despite the flaws he continues to exhibit, Steve Jobs has taken the lessons of the rough times from the mid-80s through the mid-90s to heart. Health allowing, there’s no reason to think that he won’t continue to learn from the company’s recent troubles, right the ship, and continue Apple’s amazing growth.

* For Fan Boys only. The Haters have been loving Apple’s stumbles.

** Suzanne has a PC that runs Vista. I don’t spend much time on it, but each time I do play around with it, or attempt to help her with it, I want to throw it out a window. My personal favorite (or least favorite) element of Vista is when I go to install a Microsoft security update and get an error code. I look up that error code in Microsoft’s support database, to see what I need to do to fix it, and get a message telling me that error code does not exist. Fucking great. And don’t get me started on the spontaneous reboots. Didn’t they work on this for seven years? Vista almost makes all the smugness that we Mac users have justified.

*** As a total Apple Fanboy (Seriously, I own a lot of Apple shit. If I had a real job, I shudder to think how much more I would own.), I can’t miss the irony that Bill Gates, as much as we love to hate him for what he’s done at Microsoft, is in fact a much better person than Steve Jobs. Steve might have won the battle for making better, more useful, and sexier tools****, but he’s a total ass by many measures. He might make great toys, but Gates might actually make the world a better place thanks to all the money he and his wife are throwing around.

****In one Fanboy’s opinion, of course.

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