Much will continue to be written about the legacy of Steve Jobs. At one level, the idea that one creative individual could completely disrupt the technology industry and subsequently the lives of millions of people is staggering.
The New York Times quoted Twitter user Mat Galligan: “R.I.P Steve Jobs. You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.” If you grew up with ugly, beige x286 IBM clone desktop PCs it’s easy to understand the significance of that quote in the iPad and iPhone era.
But there’s another part of the Steve Jobs story that’s profoundly shaped the channel. We often credit Dell and its direct mantra as one of the more disruptive impacts on the technology supply chain. Yet for all Dell’s assembly and distribution prowess, Apple’s in a completely different league. And there’s perhaps only one other company that warrants mention here: Google.
Both Apple and Google have harnessed the power technology in a way that few other companies have managed to grasp, let alone execute. Simply put, the quest for simplicity and efficiency tends to remove one of the biggest variables and risks associated with any form of business. People.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for much of the channel, but the simple fact is that people screw up. You might get a dodgy call centre operator who ruins your day, or as an IT consultant you might have great technology skills but an appalling desk-side manner.
At both Apple, and perhaps a lesser extent Google, every aspect of the consumer experience is understood, planned for and controlled. Try calling Google customer support. You can’t. Try negotiating a special deal with an Apple sales rep and you quickly discover there’s very little room to move. The rules are the rules, and if you don’t like it, tough.
Then there’s the experience of actually taking delivery of an Apple product. This year I’ve bought two iPhone 4s, an iPad and three iMacs for our office. Opening an Apple box you almost expect a heavenly choir to swell into a chorus as the beautiful packaging easily strips away to reveal a beautiful device that simply starts up, and without fuss, simply works.
Yes, I’m singing to the converted here, but we can easily forget what it takes to deliver such an experience. Complete and utter control is exercised over every aspect of the product, sales and delivery life-cycle. It’s equal parts science, art, and sheer bloody mindedness.
Like it or not, this moment when we unpack an Apple product is when the rubber hits the road. It’s either amazing or it’s not. All the work further back up the supply chain - margins, component suppliers, customer service, digital sales channels, glossy advertising campaigns - bears fruit in an instant.
Not that consumers care about details. Tragically, even the controversy about human rights abuses at the Chinese factories assembling Apple products seems to have faded from Western public consciousness.
No, we the iGeneration judge a product by its cover and its substance without regard for detail. And that’s because detail is an industry problem.
So it’s here where the channel must tip its hat to Steve’s other legacy; the channel. Few parts of the supply chain - from design to manufacturing, distribution and that magical moment of unpacking - have escaped his influence. Just ask Samsung and Microsoft; the loose confederation of non-Apple IT companies have long dreamed of the near-perfect hardware and software integrated demonstrated by Apple in recent years.
Steve’s legacy must therefore include the notion that big pictures are comprised of tiny fragments. And Steve taught us to care deeply about every little piece of the canvas.
Mark Jones is director of Filtered Media, and a former Editor-in-Chief of ARN firstname.lastname@example.org