On Why the iPhone 4s is a Disappointment, and on Steve Jobs’ Greatest Failure
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Like many eagerly awaiting an iPhone 5 announcement, I was disappointed the other day when Apple announced the iPhone 4s. In thinking about the logical response to my disappointment, asking “would I have been happier had they named the new phone iPhone 5?” the answer is “no” because bumping up the number from 4 to 5 implies a revolution of some sort, and that's not present in the newly-announced phone.

“So what kind of new revolutionary features were you hoping for?” you might ask, and I think the answer is telling about why Apple is the success it is: I was looking forward not to some specific bell or whistle that I already knew I wanted, but to the features that I didn't even know I wanted, would probably not be interested in when first hearing about them, but like so many steps along the way since the iPod, after a year won't know how I could have lived without them. That's Apple's genius.

And though it may not be popular to say something unkind about Steve Jobs these days, while it's true he's a genius beyond modern compare, I have never been able to forget the story of how he shirked his responsibility as a man... as a decent human... in not taking responsibility for the first child he fathered. He impregnated his girl, then walked away with a “not my problem”. This was not a momentary lapse in judgment during a moment of panic.... he spent years actively being a jerk to mother of his child, and I think it's deeply telling about what kind of man he was.

In design and business he's an unmitigated genius, but not so much on the personal-ethics front. I can appreciate his good points, but the unadulterated praise saturating the web seems universal in trying to canonize him for sainthood. He was a man, and like all men, he had failings. (All women have failings as well, with the exception of my wife, mother, and mother-in-law, of course.)


All 15 comments so far, oldest first...

As someone still using the original iPhone (“iPhone 2G”), the iPhone 4S is very appealing to me. Honestly, I had thought that Siri would only be useful for voice dialing (finally! Took them long enough to add that to the iPhone), but it’s actually much more than that. Just yesterday, I was driving home when I received a text message. I choose not to read texts while driving (and I most certainly can’t reply to them), but it occurred to me that Siri would have been able to read the message to me, and then would have allowed me to dictate and send a reply, all hands-free. That’s pretty cool. I think there will be other uses for it that aren’t necessarily apparent at the moment, as well, and who knows what else the greater processing power will allow? I get the impression that a lot of people just wanted a new design, but I roll my eyes at that… I still view smartphones as tools, rather than fashion accessories, and I find it a bit ridiculous how often people change their phones. I respect anyone who wants to do that, but why complain about the fact that the 4S looks just like the 4 – go out and buy something else that has more “bling” if the phone’s hardware really means so little to you. (There are in-betweeners as well, of course, and I have a bit more sympathy for them.)

As for Steve Jobs, I’ve heard that he was quite an unpleasant person overall, but I still find him inspirational. In many ways I’m quite the opposite to how he was – very accommodating to others, perhaps courteous to a fault. I probably could never have done what Jobs did, not only because I tend to put others before myself, but because I am a very risk-averse person. While I don’t idolize Jobs or strive to be exactly like him, I admire the traits in him that I lack (and perhaps as a result, what holds me back and prevents me from seizing all opportunities that come my way).

— comment by David K. on October 7th, 2011 at 11:44am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

How true.

It’s very sad, in a sense, that Steve’s actions never lived up to his words. If you read his Wired interview from around 1995 (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.02/jobs_pr.html), he comes across as deeply passionate, reflective, and insightful about how to make the world a better place — and yet he spent the next 15 years making a fortune from encouraging the more trivial, selfish and shallow impulses in the human spirit (while the technology inside iPads and iPhones is nice, the materialism and snobbery associated with their ownership is disturbing).

Bill Gates might have gotten off to a bad start karma-wise, but in the past decade he has taken Andrew Carnegie’s advice (a fortune bequeathed is a fortune wasted) to heart, and made great strides in applying management disciplines to improve the effectiveness of philanthropy.

Steve may have had insanely great taste, but in my view that doesn’t give him an excuse to be an axe-hole.

— comment by Dave on October 7th, 2011 at 12:21pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Funny you would bring up Steve’s family life, I wasn’t aware of that story(or I had forgot it). Earlier today I was talking to a friend about the meaning of life and ecclesiastes. I brought up Steve Jobs and how none of his obituaries talked about his family, only his work. Truly someone who lived for his work. And I do not consider that to be a complement.

I think he kept his later family life private… that we didn’t hear about it doesn’t mean he didn’t have it. I dunno. —Jeffrey

— comment by Daniel on October 7th, 2011 at 1:25pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Yeah, like david mentioned, I was going to say the voice stuff, if it works like an apple innovation normally does, would be the thing. A voice command system that is actually intuitive and that works will create another one of those apple-waves through technology…

— comment by Josh on October 7th, 2011 at 1:43pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

“When he was 23, Jobs and his high school girlfriend Chris Ann Brennan conceived a daughter, Lisa Brennan Jobs. She was born in 1978, just as Apple began picking up steam in the tech world. He and Brennan never married, and Jobs reportedly denied paternity for some time, going as far as stating that he was sterile in court documents. He went on to father three more children with Laurene Powell. After later mending their relationship, Jobs paid for his first daughter’s education at Harvard. She graduated in 2000 and now works as a magazine writer.”

“9 things you didn’t know about the life of Steve Jobs” http://yhoo.it/o9gABJ

— comment by Gen on October 7th, 2011 at 4:01pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I still have the original iPhone, it does the job I want so I do not need to upgrade. I own an iMac for editing my photos but will not change it too soon because it does the job I want. Both great tools, both innovative and designed by a team of Apple Engineers (not Mr Jobs). He founded an innovative company and hired a team of innovative people. The only genius involved was how he put together a team of people who were inspirational in what they did.

“He impregnated his girl, then walked away with a “not my problem”. This was not a momentary lapse in judgment during a moment of panic…. he spent years actively being a jerk to mother of his child, and I think it’s deeply telling about what kind of man he was.” (This was Steve Jobs)

I think he was more directly responsible for the design successes than your comment suggests. He was famous for micromanaging small details about Apple products, from what I’ve heard, universally for the better. In the design of OSX’s UI, I heard that he kept hounding the designers, eventually saying that it should look so good that you would want to lick the screen, and in this he/they succeeded. (Look at OSX’s UI compared to Windows, or anything else, at the time, and the difference is the boxy industrial decay that was Windows vs. the smooth sleep polish of a modern art). That, too, is Steve Jobs. —Jeffrey

— comment by Richard on October 7th, 2011 at 4:15pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I really have to ask the question, if he was so innovative with design and the small details, why was NeXT such a flop?

I do not take anything away from the fact that he was a brilliant businessman who read and provided for the market at the right time, but all too often I see these type’s receive a God like status and acclaim for work which belongs to a team of people, not just the one.

— comment by Richard on October 7th, 2011 at 5:36pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

If the legacy of NeXT was that it enabled the WWW, then it was a most successful platform indeed.

“Programming the WorldWideWeb client was remarkably easy on the NeXT. There was already a software module, the Text Object, which was an editable multifont editor. I just had to subclass it to make a hypertext object, and add the internet code. Designing the app’s menus was trivial — just drag and drop with InterfaceBuilder. The code framework of the app was generated automatically. That is a platform: something which allows you to build things which without it would have been possible, but a lot of work.”

Tim Berners-Lee on Steve Jobs

http://www.w3.org/QA/2011/10/steve_jobs.html

— comment by Gen on October 7th, 2011 at 5:57pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

“on February 4, 1997, Apple Computer acquired NeXT for $429 million, and used the OPENSTEP for Mach operating system as the basis for Mac OS X.”

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/NeXTSTEP#Influence

— comment by Gen on October 7th, 2011 at 5:59pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

“Steve and I were talking about children one time, and he said the problem with children is that they carry your heart with them. The exact phrase was, ‘It’s your heart running around outside your body.’ That’s a Steve Jobs quote. He had a level of perception about feelings and emotions that was far beyond anything I’ve met in my entire life. His legacy will last for many years, through people he’s trained and people he’s influenced. But what death means is you can’t call—you can’t call him. It’s a loss. I’ll miss talking to him.”

Eric Schmidt on Steve Jobs

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/eric-schmidt-on-steve-jobs-10062011.html

— comment by Gen on October 7th, 2011 at 6:26pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

If Steve Jobs were to read your post, I believe he would agree with it. As I read all the posts/blogs in the last few days, almost all of them highlighted his product/technology accomplishments and not as a saint, so I am not sure from where you get that perception. Though Steve Jobs managed to keep most of the attention away from his private life, most of the details/failings mentioned here were public years ago, including stories of how Steve Jobs treated some of the employees/friends (read the story on the first sub-contract Steve Jobs handed out to Wozniak.) So as a product/technology visionary/genius: yes; as a role model on human characters: no. But I’ll not be the one to cast that stone, not this week nor ever.

— comment by Nam Nguyen on October 8th, 2011 at 1:16am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

On the 4S: I think a lot of the disappointment with this new model is that the rumormill had things so wrong, asserting that we would be getting something called an “iPhone 5” (whatever that actually entails), instead we’ve gotten a bumped up iPhone 4 with the addition of a software feature in the form of an overhauled Siri. You decry this as being revolutionary enough, but if you look back, how _actually_ revolutionary was the iPhone 4? Did it sport a clean new design? Sure (one which I’m quite fond of, especially since I’ve now had one for about a year and a half and it’s not creaking or falling apart, it feels pretty much as it did on day one plus/minus a few grazing scratches I only just added), and it added the “Retina” display, which is great, but it’s hardly revolutionary.

In reality a lot of the things that Apple does aren’t brand new ideas plucked from the ether and converted into things one never knew one wanted. What they do is take things that are maturely developed, but have often been done poorly and do their own take on it that shows a lot more insight into the interaction between design and functionality. This is why there isn’t a “4G” iPhone and why NFC (or something like it) won’t be found in an Apple product until it’s available pretty much everywhere. They don’t want the experience to suck. My overall point is that, sure, there could have been more examples of this process in what was just released as the 4S, but if Siri works as demonstrated, it delivers on the long-sought concept of something that really behaves like a personal digital assistant (one that is more modeled on the concept of a human assistant to whom you can request things verbally and have things done for you, while potentially asking further questions or confirming the request).

Additionally, Steve did make a difference at these announcements. He could sell you on even marginal added details and likely would have made this release seem more exciting had he been in peak form and on stage. Instead, the announcement was made by Cook and others at Apple, who, while capable, certainly don’t have the same presence on stage. Additionally, they must have been aware of Steve’s rather dire condition while making the announcement.

On Steve: While I don’t frequently endorse the way they get the job done, this Gawker article sums up the negative sides of Steve pretty well: http://gawker.com/5847344/what-everyone-is-too-polite-to-say-about-steve-jobs

Also, just as it feels disingenuous to go on about only his positive side, the same applies to just pointing out the negatives. It’s traditional in the US to emphasize only the positives of a person’s life after they’ve died, perhaps since they’re not there to defend themselves. I don’t think the people who are going on about his positive qualities think the guy was a saint. Even without the episode earlier in his life where he shirked his responsibilities as a father, there are tons of examples about Steve treating people like garbage to get what he wanted. Like plenty of other people who have made history in one way or another, he didn’t have the most balanced life. He was driven and obsessed, and many things suffered at the cost of that.

— comment by James Snyder on October 9th, 2011 at 7:24am JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

@iPhone 4S Siri

The feature is available in Windows Phone 7 for quite sometime already. It can do what David K is trying to do and more.

Mobile Speech Recognition

It’s been available for some time on the iPhone as well, as an app, but in the 10+ years I’ve owed devices with speech-recognition features, I’ve never found a single situation where it was worth bothering with. I doubt “Siri” will change that, but we’ll see. —Jeffrey

— comment by KF Leong on October 9th, 2011 at 11:19pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey,

Steve Jobs is a fascinating figure. There were three Steve Jobs if you look at his life.

The first one was the infamous immature , extremely arrogant, but brilliant Steve Jobs who built Apple and eventually was kicked out of the company he founded. This Steve Jobs was well known to publicly berate people and burnout his employees.

The second Steve arose from this public humiliation, and after he was unsuccessful in building NeXT into a rival that could best Apple. During this time he met his wife, had children, and I’m sure it was around the time he mended the relationship with his first daughter, Lisa. It was probably one of the best things to ever happen to him. It is also this period that he ran Pixar in a more collaborative way.

One can tell from some his public talks and speeches after coming back to Apple he was a deeper and more mature Steve Jobs. Steve was still demanding and a detail oriented perfectionist, but instead learned to build a very good team around him who was very loyal to him for many years.

The third Steve Jobs was the one who found out that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This was more introspective and a deeper more principled Steve Jobs as evidenced by his Stanford commencement speech.

No matter how you cut it the Steve Jobs story represents an epic story of hubris, pride, fall from grace, and redemption. You couldn’t script a better movie than his life.

— comment by Stanley Wong on October 15th, 2011 at 1:23pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I’m amused by the fact that a phone phreak talked a bunch of music people into letting him sell their music under DRM.

What I heard about him isn’t complementary. Yes, he was a visionary, but I’m glad to have never known him.

— comment by Sean on October 16th, 2011 at 1:43pm JST (6 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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