Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The end of the Steve Jobs era

Shortly before the close of the stock market today, the powers that be ordered a halt to the trade of Apple Inc stock. A few moments later Apple made an announcement that the Apple world has been dreading for some time. Steve Jobs resigned his position as CEO.

Cancer was not mentioned. He didn't say he was close to death. Rather, the statement read "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first let you know. Unfortunately that Day has come."

Most do not believe Steve Jobs would take his hand of the wheel of the ship unless he were fairly close to death. We all know he had major surgery for Pancreatic cancer 7 years ago, and a liver transplant surgery 2 years ago. He took a medical leave earlier in the year. We understand the situation.

When trading resumed, the value of Apple stock dropped from around $375 a share to $356.

You aught to have a look at a documentary titled "Welcome to Macintosh" which is available for immediate streaming on Netflix. It was made in 2008 and released to DVD late in that year. It's a very good history of Apple and more specifically the Mac. The last 12-15 minutes are dedicated to prophecies of the future of Apple in the post-Steve Jobs era.

It was understood at that point that Steve had suffered a few mortality incidents, and Apple was going to have to begin planning for the future. Major voices from Apple's past and present were interviewed in that segment. There was no question about it. All of those voices were worried. Some rang an optimistic note. Some rang an uncertain note. Guy Kawasaki and Andy Hertzfeld rang uncertain notes.

It is widely believed on Wall Street that Apple is a one-genius firm. They believe that Steve Jobs is the visionary poet-prophet who inspires the technological revolutions. They are very concerned that there will be no more inspired revolutions from Apple Inc. in the Post-Jobs era. This was the reason for the big drop in Apple stock values immediately after the announcement.

The same announcement at NCR or IBM would trigger no such stock movement.

We will have to see what sort of a man CEO Tim Cook is. Let's hope he does not try to revive the old time religion of Scully. That was a serious turn-off.

I've known about Jobs through most of my life. I became a computer adept at the tender young age of 14. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was never an Apple II or Apple III guy. Nobody ever bought a Lisa.

Believe it or not, I was an enthusiastic devotee of the Mac philosophy in the early days. That would be circa 1984-1987. I began loosing interest after that.

It became clear to me that Macs were not priced to move, and they would never be the computer of the general population. Jobs was forever obsessed with Jaguar. He wanted to be the luxury and elite brand. He was never a populist.

It always made me laugh when Mac religionists would say that 198x was going to be the year that the Mac took-over. That year never came, and it never will, because this objective was not and is not a part of Apple's goals or model. They always wanted to be the brand for elitists with significant money. You can't let the plebes own the good stuff.

This brings us to the performance of Apple's stock on Wall Street. The Street loves any company that can command high margins on premium priced products, and build customer loyalty at the same time. This is the entire secret of Apple's stock performance. They innovated, but so did Commodore and Atari. Both of those firms raced to the bottom in terms of margins and prices. They both died. Apple stayed up based on higher margins.

You must understand, this means you pay higher prices... if you buy in.

These reservations aside, it is with a great sense of sadness that I heard this news. I knew immediately what it meant. Steve will not be with us for much longer. Most of us pioneers who remember well the days of 8 bit micro computers have had jobs around for all our lives. It is remarkable moment which means that all of us a lot closer to that final end that we realize.

Arguably, this will be the first passing of one of the tech titans who made the modern computerized world. This impact will be felt by us all. Some may say Gary Kildall was the first tech titan who passed away. I deny that. His window of influence was so short, I have difficulty calling him a tech titan. Sure, he strode tall in the early industry, but his window of influence was only about 10 years. Then it was over.

This announcement may be felt keenly tomorrow on Wall Street, folks. Apple Inc is one of a few healthy and robust firms in our nation. They are a bell weather of sorts for our economy. If tomorrow begins with a sizable dump of Apple stock, it could spook an already jittery and skiddish market. Apple stock is a part of the profitability plans of a lot of investors. They may be shaken by this news.

My own thoughts about Steve Jobs are complex. On personal level, I always liked the guy. Incidentally, he happens to be a Pisces. His pricing model always infuriated me. I regained some respect for the dude when he made moves to quash the fundamentalist religion Scully instituted after Jobs was thrown out. This began in 2006 with the introduction of Intel based Macs, and the adoption of Windows as an alternative through Bootcamp.

Jobs is not the innovator and inventor he portrayed himself as [he stole almost everything from Xeorox Parc], however, he was crucial in the mass popularization of these technologies. Fundamental technologies such as the ethernet, the mouse, the GUI, object oriented and event driven programming, and laser printing might never have made it to the mainstream without this guy. At the very least, there would have been a long delay.

He did change the industry for the better many times. Our world would not be what it is, and probably not as good as it is, if Steve Jobs had never lived.

In a sense, my thoughts about Jobs reflect the sort of love-hate-love ambivalence I often feel towards Pisces figures. There is no doubt that this guy got under my skin many times.

He will be sorely missed by the technology world.