As a former marketing and communications bloke, Steve Jobs held a special fascination for me. This is chiefly because he broke the first rule of retail marketing and won: namely, that once one standard format gets a grip on retailers, regardless of product quality, it wins the game.
I first got an insight into him during the 1980s, when Apple’s American ad agency Chiat Day spoke to me at one point about the job of running their London office in a joint venture with French agency Boulet Dru. You could see the fit immediately: Jobs and Jay Chiat were both entrepreneurs whose natural inclination was to zag when others zigged. Chiat felt an obvious kinship with his Apple client, because both men subscribed to the theory that a great idea overwhelms a million theories. Jay Chiat would say, “At our agency, creative is not a department”. I loved that.
Sadly, neither man is with us any longer. Jay too died young, and now Jobs has gone at 56. Steve Jobs’ marketing and technical achievements were myriad, and his insights legendary. Eventually, I went with the market minority and bought a Mac pc. I never had a day’s problem with it, and I never threw it away, because it is a design classic – and it still works. Through clever niche reputation – particularly among designers and in publishing – Jobs made the Apple Mac a cult product close to being a status symbol. He fended off the gigantic rumbling Microsoft, and in so doing probably created the space for others to chisel away at that company’s dangerous dominance of the market. Today, the Itablet he brought to market is just the most joyous product to use. It’ll never be my main product – the format isn’t right for those of a literary bent – but as a second, recreational Thing to carry round and read – part book, part pc, part communicator, part newsroom, part…well, it goes on and on – it is the next techo-gadget I’m going to get.
Apple will struggle from here on. The driving cultural spirit is no longer there, and no matter how talented or hardworking the replacements are, Jobs’ creativity is irreplaceable. But the contribution he has made, in many ways, to leaving the world better in his field than when he found it, has been historic. He is, I hope, going to be remembered by future generations as somebody up there with Logie Baird and Edison.