The death of Steve Jobs, co-founder and latterly chairman of Apple, has brought many comments on his creative vision, skills and innovation in the field of consumer electronics. US President Obama’s tribute said that “Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it”. Like many other people, I am a user of a Jobs-inspired gadget that has a design that looked more attractive and useful than its rivals in the market. But I am less inclined to write a glowing obituary.
If Jobs was the genius to create popular, innovative products, then he also made sure that this was done in a way that ensured monopoly profits. Not only in getting these produced at minuscule costs on the backs of exploited Asian workers, but also in building into all of the product designs technology barriers that would protect the commercial interests of Apple and limit the options for consumers – unless they paid a lot more for not much. He made full use of the marketing notion invented by another monopolist: Apple’s products are ‘reassuringly expensive’.
I was also somewhat surprised to learn, when seeing an Apple Mac getting fixed in an IT shop, that there was a message inside the box that had instructions along the lines of: (a) you undertake not to use this device to send out signals that could be disruptive (OK, fair enough), and (b) you must not obstruct any signals coming into this device (Which signals exactly? Surely not from the government?).
Jobs’ real legacy should be to make us think what price society pays when good design ideas become weapons of monopoly capital.
Tony Norfield (owner of a 2GB iPod), 6 October 2011