Steve Jobs: The World Loses an Innovator and an Icon

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine

November 2011

Many years ago, while attending business school, I used to look up to Bill Gates (Co-founder of Microsoft) as a visionary and successful entrepreneur. His 1995 book entitled, The Road Ahead was a glimpse into the future of computers and technology. Gates spoke of the growth of the Internet, smart appliances, ebooks and other future concepts. Make no mistake, Bill Gates is a genius, and built Microsoft into the company it is today.

But as much of a visionary as Gates was — he never created the future products he spoke of, but instead capitalized on them. He will never personally be credited with changing the way we do things, or for creating products that would define how we interact with technology (even MS Windows was based on the Macintosh). For this we must look to Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder and CEO of Apple.

Jobs, the individual who brought the world the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad died on October 5th following a battle with Pancreatic Cancer. He was just 56 years old.

Long before these products revolutionized their respective industries, Jobs, along with his friend Steve Wozniak were credited with creating the personal computer industry with the Apple I computer in 1975.

It was the beginning of what would be a series of revolutionary products and product designs that would change the world we live in. Jobs was a perfectionist, and had an amazing ability for knowing what consumers wanted before they knew themselves. He brought simplicity and technical elegance to the masses by focusing his attention to detail on the user experience.

As expressed by an early Apple employee in Walter Isaacson’s biography entitled Steve Jobs, “Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way, too.” Jobs appreciated beauty and would become obsessed with product design. He would force his designers to make change after change until it was perfect.

An early motto of the company was, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, a quote from the famous artist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci. Simplicity, along with beauty and reliability would eventually come to define the Apple experience.

Some argue that Jobs was a visionary, while others claimed that he did not come up with ideas as much as he “knew great ideas when he saw them”.

A classic example of this was in 1978, when Jobs and several Apple Computer employees visited the research and development offices of Xerox company, where they were shown stunning developments such the graphical user interface (GUI), computer mouse and more. Although Xerox was not yet commercializing the technology, Jobs immediately saw its potential and instructed his team to develop similar technologies for the Apple Macintosh. Apple took these ideas and developed what we see and simply take for granted on any computer today.

Jobs could be ruthless as he demanded greatness from his employees and often criticized and shouted at those who did not meet his huge expectations. But as Isaacson would go onto say, “even though Jobs’ style could be demoralizing, it could also be oddly inspiring. It infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.” His behaviour and inability to censor himself would eventually lead to his very public ousting from Apple Computer in 1985, by John Sculley, who Jobs had brought in as CEO in 1983.

Jobs would go on to found NeXT computer company and become CEO of Pixar Animation Studios — the small computer animation company which would become famous for its movies like Toy Story 1-3, Cars and Finding Nemo. Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion.

In 1996 Apple bought NeXT, bringing Jobs back to Apple as its interim CEO from 1997 to 2000, when he would become permanent CEO. This was the beginning of Jobs’ and Apple Computers’ comeback, and rise to become the most valuable company in the world by 2011.

With Jobs back at the helm, Apple would not only release some of the most successful products in history, but would redefine entire industries and the digital age, including music (iTunes, iPod), mobile phones (iPhone), and tablet computing (iPad).

The company changed its name from Apple Computer to just Apple in 2007, to reflect the company’s new focus from just computers to consumer electronics. Downloading Apps, music, movies, TV shows and books were all streamlined into a simple, seamless process through iTunes, making Apple a lot of money.

Six weeks before his death, Jobs announced to the world that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, but would remain as Chairman. Following previous health-related leave of absences, he had told shareholders that if there ever came a time when his health might interfere with his ability run Apple, he would step down — he announced that time had come.

Shareholders, and Apple fans alike worried that Jobs might not return this time. On October 5, 2011 their worst fears were confirmed.

Whether we see Steve Jobs as a creative genius, an innovator or as someone with a skill to improve upon other people’s ideas and make them better, it is hard to argue with the results.

To be sure, Jobs did not invent the digital music player — but he certainly made it better with the iPod. And Jobs did not invent the smartphone, but the iPhone has certainly become one of the most popular smartphones on the planet, and Jobs did not create the tablet computer (tablet PC’s have existed for over a decade), but Apple was the first company to make a tablet that people wanted to use.

One of his greatest gifts was seeing all of the details for what they were — part of the user’s experience and something they would have to live with everyday — and he wanted that experience to be the best it could be.

Steve Jobs will not be remembered for being a jerk, or a ruthless boss, or for getting run out of his own company. He will be remembered for creating products that impacted our everyday lives, and for defining the way we purchase, and listen to music, download movies and even read books.

Jobs changed the way we consume digital media.

It could be argued that Steve Jobs was this generation’s Thomas Edison. The grandchildren of today’s youth will learn about Steve Jobs in their history classes, just as we learned about Edison, the Wright brothers or Alexander Graham Bell.

But, however you see Jobs’ accomplishments, perhaps Apple’s new CEO said it best in a letter to Apple employees, “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being.”

Something few of us can argue with.

A Look at the Last Decade in Tech

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine, January 2010

Wow. 2010…it’s hard to believe! If you would have asked someone 50 years ago, what it would be like in the 21st century, they might have said we would all be driving around in flying cars or communicating with our wristwatch picture phones.

We have come along way, and this last decade is no exception. So when reflecting back on the last ten years of technology, I wasn’t surprised at all that there was so much that I could talk about.

The year 2000 brought with it a new millennium, the Y2K bug – which never fully materialized, and the end of the Dot-com boom. Amazon.com was already the most successful online retailer, and Google was still a fledgling start-up company – not a verb!

This decade has seen the creation of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry and other smartphones, HDTVs, and next-gen video game systems like Xbox 360, PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. Blu-ray beat HD-DVD, ebooks finally began to catch on, and Netbooks became one of the most popular computers in years.

As an “early adopter” I tend to jump in to new technologies as they come out. I picked up the iPhone when it hit Canada – and can’t live without it. I own all three video-game consoles, which I use not only for gaming and movie/music streaming, but with my new Wii I can also get fit!

I was rooting for HD-DVD during the high definition video war (it was cheaper and more advanced) because I already had the add-on unit for my Xbox 360, but I am ok with Blu-ray winning the war. It still appears that DVD is king, however. When you are an early adopter, you sometimes get burned because it is inevitable that technology will become cheaper, faster and better. But even though my $2,500 HDTV now costs $700 to buy, I have enjoyed every minute of it over the last 4 years.

Getting back to innovative tech, digital music was revolutionized when Apple launched the iPod in 2001, and then iTunes in 2003 – now the most successful digital music marketplace in the world, with almost 10 billion songs downloaded.

Apple did it again with the iPhone – a smartphone that puts email, Internet, music, video/movies, games and over 130,000 apps in your pocket. It is now the number two smartphone in the world, behind RIM’s Blackberry, which had a significant headstart. Over three billion apps have been downloaded since the App Store was launched in 2008.

Apple is expected to announce a new “tablet” computer in January 2010 – could tablet computing (which has been around for at least 10 years) finally be the next big thing?

From its early beginnings in the first half of the 1990’s, theWeb really came into its own in the last decade. Websites went from being cheesy-looking experiments, to truly attractive, engaging, and interactive mediums. The concept of Web 2.0 has taken this even further with web-based communities and social networking sites, video-sharing sites like YouTube, blogs, wikis and other online technologies.

Social networking exploded in the last five years, first with the popularity of MySpace — perhaps the first successful mainstream social networking site, followed by the current king, Facebook. I personally use Facebook to keep up with my friends and share a little bit of my life.

Blogging became a hit as millions of people took to the web to express themselves, provide professional advice and information, or just voice their opinions about everyday stuff. There are now hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet. I too have a blog – mostly for posting articles I write such as the one you are reading, but I hope to do more with it in the future. You can check it out at www.digitaladventures.ca.

Twitter is another popular service (referred to as micro-blogging) that allows you to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and share it instantly with all of your followers. Personally this is one online innovation I just don’t get…but if you want to know what Ashton Kutcher is up to every moment, be my guest.

YouTube has become so popular that the site hosts over 100 million videos and over 13 hours of video is uploaded every minute. Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. The site costs over $1 million a day to operate, but Google says it will soon be profitable because the number of people viewing videos supported by advertising is increasing.

The web continues to grow as technology evolves and more and more users log on. It is estimated that the number of Internet users has increased from 361 million in 2000, to over 1.7 billion in 2009. This is over 25% of the world’s population.

The technologies and products I have discussed are only a fraction of the innovations we have seen in the last decade. And if that is any indication of what is to come, then we have even more to look forward to in the coming years! If you are like me, then I know you can hardly wait to see what is ahead.

Has Online Etiquette Gone Out the Door?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine

October 19, 2009

Online etiquette or “Netiquette” is defined by Wikipedia as a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction over networks, ranging from Usenet and mailing lists to blogs and forums.

Some of these rules have been in use since 1983, and a lot of it is common sense so why don’t the rules of real life interaction apply online? Is it because we are for the most part anonymous or hidden behind an online nickname that we feel we can slam somebody, their ideas or worse?

How about replying to email or online messages in a timely manner? This article was not meant to be a commentary on our lack of online etiquette per say, but rather I wanted to focus on a couple of observations I’ve made while using Facebook.

For the one or two of you out there who doesn’t know what facebook is, it’s a social networking website that allows you to communicate with and keep in touch with friends, by posting pictures, writing on walls, and essentially sharing information. The site has over 300 million users, and continues to grow rapidly.

Facebook is a great platform to stay in touch – by adding friends and sharing information. But I think most would agree that the vast majority of our Facebook “friends” are merely acquaintances or old friends you used to know – not good friends that we actually still hang out with, or even speak to for that matter.

I’m sure most of us are guilty of adding friends of friends we don’t really know (perhaps to chat up later?) and for some it even seems to have become a contest for who has the most friends. I know I’ve received friend requests from people I don’t know and I’ve even dated a few girls I met on Facebook, who added me because I was a friend of friend.

But do I really want to see daily updates from someone I knew in high school and haven’t seen since, or share information with people I don’t really know? Which poses a question – is it ok to delete Facebook friends? Should this be considered rude, or a slap in the face?

Personally I haven’t bothered to spend my time going through my list of 400 or so to figure out who I really want to be friends with and who needs to go. But sometimes I find that I get a little miffed when my number of “friends” goes down — I can’t help but think to myself, “who the hell deleted me?”

And then the odd time I’ve been scrolling through someone’s pictures and click on the link of another “friend” in the picture and suddenly realize they aren’t my Facebook friend anymore, or some other scenario. Is it ok to feel insulted when you get dumped by a Facebook friend? Or is this what we do all the time in real life – just without the proof? I suppose we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

Another online pet peeve of mine is when you invite people to an event on Facebook — a party for example, and they don’t seem to have the time or courtesy to respond with a simple “yes, no or maybe”! I liken this to receiving a wedding invitation in the mail…we request your response by a certain date. Common courtesy dictates that whether you plan to attend or not – you will check off a box and drop it in the mail. Certainly this takes more effort than simply replying to a check box in your online invitation. But invariably there are several people who just don’t respond at all online.

I suppose we perceive online activity as somewhat less formal, and maybe I am expecting too much. If most people on Facebook are like me, then they receive lots of invites to see live bands, and other events – and don’t bother responding because it is similar to an email blast. But a personal invite to a party – I think that is different.

As Facebook continues to grow, we have learned to live with the fact that we see advertisements on the right side of our screen, and businesses are definitely jumping on the band wagon by setting up their own groups and allowing people to join. But another trend I am starting to see, which probably goes against proper netiquette, is individuals using Facebook to market products or services they personally sell.

Where else can you blast information to hundreds or thousands of “friends” for free? I’ve also seen people use their “status” update to push products on their friends. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a business or other group inviting their followers to events such as a bar or club sending information about upcoming concerts – because you have joined that group specifically to get information, but I find it rather annoying to see advertisements via status updates every other day.

So as our online world continues to evolve I don’t think our online etiquette is quite keeping up. For today’s youth, online social networks, chatting and texting are just a part of life. Facebooking too might be a big part of their social life. I sometimes wonder if this lack of etiquette – either real or perceived, which seems to be the norm online will eventually transfer over into real life or has it already begun?

Growing Up Digital

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published October 2009) 

Cell phones, iPods, laptops, digital cameras…we are living in the digital age. The age of instant gratification. Hear a song on the radio and like it? Just download it from iTunes or other services right to your cell phone. Don’t feel like driving to Blockbuster to rent a movie? Just order it on-demand from your cable company, or download it to your Xbox, or PC from Amazon.com, iTunes or Netflix. Some even get it for free through peer-to-peer torrents (but this is the illegal way to get it).

Living with such convenience and easy access to digital content has changed our behaviour, created new business models (and crushed old ones), and opened up new ways to communicate with anyone around the world.

So with this in mind, the idea for this article came to me the other day when visiting the family cottage up north. No cell phone coverage meant no texting, email or Internet access on my iPhone. In other words, no access to this endless supply of content and definitely no contact with the civilized world (there is no electricity or telephone service at the cottage).

Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of not being able to check Facebook, upload photos, or see what my friends were up to. But is this really a bad thing? It made me think about what it was like before the Internet and other technology so common today.

As a 30-something “young” professional, I still remember when the web and email were shiny and new – still at University (for my first degree) I remember being provided an email address, and logging into the Internet (world wide web to be exact – the Internet is just the network behind it) in the computer lab to see what this was all about. Not very impressive stuff in the mid-90’s and I don’t think anyone realized how far we would come in such a short time.

But kids and teens today take the Internet, email, texting, digital music and YouTube videos for granted. They have grown up in the digital age, and it is truly a part of their being.

If the thought of having no cell phone or Internet access for a few days unnerved me, I could just imagine what it would mean to today’s youth.

My niece is part of “Generation Z” or the “iGeneration” (born mid-90s – 2000s), and just starting high school this fall. I know that she has embraced technology. She’s had a digital camera since she was seven or eight, is attached to her iPod, got a laptop this year, and I think she has already had more cell phones than me! When she’s over for dinner, it’s hard to say a few words without her phone buzzing away with a new text message. It annoys my parents to no end, but the thing is I get it.

I get that kids today are growing up with instant access to information, and instant communication through texting, instant messaging and Facebooking. I envy them in a way, but I sometimes wonder if all this technology makes things too easy, makes us too connected and makes our relationships too impersonal.

Why call someone when we can just text? Why ask someone on a date in person when you can send them a message on Facebook? Why research a topic at the library for a school essay when we can just Google it?

I remember writing papers in high school using books and encyclopaedias. Now today most kids will just look it up on the Internet. With all that information at their fingertips is it any wonder that plagiarism is on the rise in high schools, colleges and universities?Probably not all of it is intentional – they just don’t know any better. According to a New York Times study, most students don’t consider “copy and pasting” from Internet sources, without proper citation, as cheating.

Our world is changing and the older generations are just trying to keep up. If I wasn’t such a tech junkie I might be in the same boat. We’ve come a long way since my first Atari computer, Sony Walkman, and camera with actual film!

Today we can shop, communicate, download movies and songs, share photos and learn about almost any topic on the Internet. We can hold tens of thousands of songs in our pocket. We can watch TV on our cell phones, and download movies right to our smartphones.

Technology is both fascinating, and life altering. Good and bad. Today’s kids are the first generation where technology is widely used and accepted by both the parents and kids. Nothing will stop the stampede of technological progress, our evolving way of life. Let’s just hope we don’t get too caught up in it, and lose sight of the important things in life – our relationships with family, friends and loved ones. Because technology still can’t replace that.

So looking back now at my weekend at the cottage. Being disconnected from the outside world, and spending quality time with the family wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Sometimes it’s a good thing to drop the techno gadgets and get back to basics for a while – if anything just to clear your head and relax.

I’ll try to remember that next time.

Hot Tech for 2009

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published – January 2009)

In January of each year the world gets a glimpse at the next generation of great technology at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It is this year’s show that serves as part inspiration for this article, as well as other observations I have made in tech.  Below are only a few of the products that I feel will be hot in 2009:

Netbooks

Last year a new genre of laptop computer was introduced – dubbed the “netbook”. These small (7 – 10 inch screens) devices are essentially miniaturized notebook computers which are useful for surfing the Internet, email, listening to music and other casual computing activities.  Because the devices are relatively underpowered they cannot fully replace a “real” laptop but have proven to be immensely popular, with price points of between $299 – $499.  Beginning with 7 and 8 inch screens, more recent models have expanded to 10 inch screens, making them much more user friendly.

Netbooks have quickly proven themselves as popular and now most of the top PC companies have released models.  The only major holdout remains to be Apple, which said it would continue to watch the space develop.  There was speculatation that Apple would announce a netbook at the recent MacWorld event, but alas this did not happen.  2009 should prove another successful year for the netbook category as these tiny devices continue to improve in both style and capability.

Touch Screen Computing

Millions of iPhone owners have proven that consumers like touch screen technology. Competing smartphone models have been introduced by numerous competitors such as Samsung, LG, HTC and more recently Blackberry.

Another technology that never fully caught on (tablet computing) touch screen computing has begun a resurgence in popularity.  Microsoft has had a Windows Tablet version for several years now, but recent devices have fully embraced “touch” and consumers finally seem ready for it.

HP recently introduced several sleek “All-in-one” touch screen computers (up to 25” screens) that allow users to move objects, open windows, edit photos and much more using their fingers instead of a mouse.  Microsoft itself has developed a Surface computing device which resembles a table – but the entire surface is a computer screen that responds to touch!

Net Connected TV’s

Fresh off the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, almost all of the major TV manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic) have announced net-enabled TV with direct access to streaming movie or video services such as NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, as well as streaming news, weather and more.  These TV’s have built in Ethernet (some also have wireless capability) allowing for direct connection to the Internet.  Direct access to streaming movie services could mean a world of hurt in the future for video rental chains such as Blockbuster, Rogers Video and others.

Ebooks

Once thought to be the next big thing — Ebooks have been kicking around for at least a decade.  An interesting idea – a digital copy of books you can read on a handheld device — they have just never fully caught on.  But 2009 might be the breakout year for the ebook.

Amazon.com’s Kindle ebook reader was introduced in November 2007 and sold out in 5 hours.  With more inventory, sales resumed in 2008 and the company has had difficulty keeping the unit in stock ever since.  An endorsement from Oprah in October – as one of her favorite products – created another four month waiting list for the device.  Oprah’s endorsement may have finally opened the market to mainstream consumers – which represents a huge market opportunity compared to traditional buyers of these devices.

Amazon may have achieved what no other manufacturer in this space has done before – not only making a device that is easy to use but one that has easy access to a large inventory of new digital books.  With over 200,000 titles currently available for download using the device’s free wireless service, consumers can purchase ebooks for typically much cheaper than printed versions (New York Times best sellers are only $9.99).  Unfortunately, the Kindle is so far only available in the US, where it offers the free wireless service.  Hopefully in 2009 they will expand to other markets, including Canada!

Although unconfirmed, some analysts estimate that Amazon may have sold up to 1 million devices to date.  Sony’s latest readers have also been selling well, and smartphones such as the iPhone are also proving to be capable and popular devices for downloading and reading ebooks.  In 2009 it is expected that Amazon will release the next version of their Kindle device and a number of other companies are set to release readers as well, to capitalize on the ebooks growing popularity.  Even with increasing sales, ebooks still represent less than 1% of book sales, but this may be the year that things begin to change.

Blu-Ray High Definition

Last year at this time, Blu-ray finally defeated its rival, HD-DVD, in the high definition (HD) war.  Now that consumers were not forced to choose sides in the war of competing technologies, Analysts predicted that Blu-ray would explode in popularity.

Blu-ray HD video was finally poised to take the reins from DVD in the consumer video market.  But so far consumers continue to overwhelmingly support DVD.  The trouble with HD is that consumers faced a double whammy – requiring both an HDTV and a Blu-ray player – both being costly investments.

I stated in a previous article that I believed the price for Blu-ray players would need to come down to $200 (from $600-$1,000) before sales would pick up.  This has happened just recently and along with the dramatic reductions in the cost for HDTV’s, I believe that Blu-ray has finally reached a price point that will register with consumers. Unless the economy continues to take the wind out consumer spending, Blu-ray should experience greater success in 2009,

Conclusion

I have briefly discussed only a few products that I think will be hot in 2009.  As technology has proven throughout the years, it just keeps getting cheaper, better and faster.  By this time next year, we are bound to see even more exciting developments in computing, gaming, home audio/video, GPS, smartphones and more.   Here’s to another exciting year in tech!

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