The Steve Jobs moment

Everyone has their favourite Steve Jobs story. For us in India, it was the first time we set our eyes on products that seemed to have been invented on another planet. Even back then, they obviously catered to a different aesthetic and helped to elevate our perception of what computing could be. PCs with Windows were workhorses. If you were passionate about design, you drooled on a Mac. The earliest Mac I saw was in a studio – used for something as arcane as ‘pulsing’ slides for a slide show. Those slide shows in the Kodak trays synchronised to music and voice, to create a sound and light presentation for audiovisuals. This was in the mid-80s. The first time I saw an Apple Mac was when a close friend Sankaran Nampoothiri, imported some of the earliest Apple Macs in the late 80s for desktop publishing at his company Password. He was like a little child when the machines arrived, showing off the GUI and the sleek white mouse. He told me it would change the way publishing worked and ad agencies would move completely to computers to design ads. They would no longer cut and paste artworks but send them digitally to publications – and sure enough, within the next few years, they did.

I recalled this when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker about Steve Jobs visiting the Xerox Parc research centre and seeing the mouse for the first time. He challenged his product designers to reduce the cost of the mouse from $300 to $15. The importance of not just the ‘idea’ of the mouse but the way Steve Jobs fundamentally altered the landscape of computing is captured in this excerpt – Jobs’s software team took the graphical interface a giant step further. It emphasized “direct manipulation.” If you wanted to make a window bigger, you just pulled on its corner and made it bigger; if you wanted to move a window across the screen, you just grabbed it and moved it. The Apple designers also invented the menu bar, the pull-down menu, and the trash can—all features that radically simplified the original Xerox PARC idea.

But he did not stop there. He changed the way we hear music, the way we look at phones and the way we surf the net. All these were ‘ideas’ implemented much earlier by others. But Steve Jobs has been the magician who impacted our daily lives like Ford transformed personal transportation. He had an instinctive feel for what would work in advertising as well. The 1984 launch of the Mac placed it as a bulwark against an Orwellian future. It aired just once went on to become a cult classic. And probably the only case in advertising where the entire budget was blown up with just one ad aired during the Super Bowl of that year. It’s another story that Apple has gone on to become, in an ironic twist, the company with more reserves that the US Government!