Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson / That Bad Taste in My Mouth

I just finished reading Steve Jobs. My feelings on the story of his life were unexpected, and where I stand now on the philosophy of Apple’s products is most assuredly not where I was expecting to be after finishing the biography. As a book, the story reads quickly, remains exciting throughout and is, honestly, pretty riveting. I hadn’t known much about him (aside from the basics everyone knew,) and reading about him was fascinating, inspiring and educational for many reasons.

“How novel,” I thought to myself at first, “that I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography on an iPad.” It seemed an appropriate way to achieve total immersion with the story. I found myself immersed indeed. Steve Jobs’ life is a fascinating tale of an adoptee caught in between the world of silicon valley in bloom and the hippie idealism that many believe ultimately resulted in his death.

I wasn’t surprised by the stories of his steadfast, irrational and often intentionally offensive behavior. After all, his go-to phrase was “here is to the crazy ones.” I was, however, surprised by the changes I went through as a member of the “Apple era” who has bought, hook-line-and-sinker, the Apple suite of products and subsequent lifestyle choices.

I always resented the level of control exerted by Apple over its products because they not only prevented you from using the device the way you wanted to use it, but because they prevented you from getting any and every bit of content you might like to enjoy. Only Apple gets to choose how you use your device.

I can live with that, though. At least I thought I could.

While reading the biography I found myself shopping for non-Apple products. Not conscious of why, at first. Halfway through reading the book, I bought a Kindle. Reading the book on the E-Paper display, holding a lighter device whose sole purpose was reading, I felt liberated. It was, simply put, a much better user experience.

I’m in the process of shopping for a desktop PC. I like the way Windows 8 is trying to break the reputation of Microsoft not being an innovator. More than that, I’m blown away by how awesome Windows Phone 7 is.  It is totally innovative. The point of the device is to take you away from device obsession. It is a beautiful sentiment.

Apple wants you to be constantly using their devices. It wants you to be that guy, looking at the sunset or a concert or something special through your iPad’s camera. It wants you to be the guy at a cafe not looking at other humans. It wants you to be that guy who has to be told at dinner to get off your goddamn phone already. The Apple era is an one marked with innovative, ingenious thinking and spectacular, magical devices. But it is also one marred with a reputation for device overload, with family dinners ending with everybody on their phones.

I don’t know how much I want to be that guy anymore. And while I know that it isn’t just Apple anymore, Apple sparked the recent technological revolution and they like the status quo. I’m ready for the next revolution, one where our technology enriches our lives rather than distracting us from them.

On top of that, Steve seems to feel that the device defines the owner, and that the owner doesn’t know what they want or what they’re doing. I agree in some respects. Consumers won’t recognize what they want that is new until they are shown new technology. The famous reference, of course, is Henry Ford stating that if he’d asked consumers what they wanted they’d have said “a faster horse.” The problem, though, is that that isn’t exactly what Apple’s doing anymore. They gave us the technology we didn’t know we’d love. Now they’re saying “you’ve got the car you didn’t know you wanted, but we’re going to tell you how to drive it. Also, we’re going to restrict you from working on it in any way, changing the upholstery or repairing it yourself.”

“Ownership” is different in the digital era, and we’re still in the process of figuring it out. Companies pursue individuals with lawsuits for modifying products they’ve purchased and win. Piracy is rampant, but is dealt with out-of-proportion neigh-tyrannical legal actions. Apple started the mentality of “the customer-isn’t-always-right. In fact, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

I resent being condescended to in this way.

I want to make my own decisions.

But Apple products look so good, damnit.

In the end, I’m still an Apple fanboy. I love the minimalist appeal of the design. I love the care given to certain aspects of the user experience. I love the concept of “it just works” that Steve was so obsessed with.

I don’t love that Apple tried to make Jailbreaking Illegal. I don’t like that I wasn’t able to use the same book I purchased on my iPad on my new Kindle. I don’t like being punished for choosing another company’s product.

I don’t really know where to go from here. I’m going to buy my first non-Apple phone since the iPhone 3G, though. It’s the new Nokia Lumia 900. I’m going to be keeping my iPhone 4 though…just in case.

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