Does Steve Jobs’ creative philosophy (“Make something wonderful”) apply to obscure bloggers?

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ untimely death. Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, shared this reflection on Twitter:

Here’s a longer version of the same Jobs quotation, which Apple highlighted in the prelude to its September marketing event:

“One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there…. Somehow, in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love, something is transmitted there.”

I don’t feel a strong sentimental connection to Apple’s co-founder, but I find him a fascinating figure: irascible and difficult, yet undeniably visionary, even prescient. At times, he was childishly petulant; at others, he demonstrated careful thinking. So it seemed worthwhile to reflect on how Jobs’ ideas might apply to my renewed blogging and podcasting efforts.

Now, “expressing my appreciation to the rest of humanity” isn’t the way I usually think about my daily writing and recording routines. But maybe it should be; too often, I get hung up on “appreciation” flowing the other way around: from readers and listeners to me. How many times did listeners download this episode? How many views did that post get? Could I ever earn enough followers to monetize this site? Is anyone out there even paying attention?

This sort of selfish obsession quickly leads to discouragement. I lose my motivation to write, and I’m tempted to quit, as I have so many times before. That’s why I haven’t enabled analytics on this site’s current incarnation; I’m terrified that knowing how few readers I have will derail my determination to rise early each morning and do the work.

The Jobs quotation above suggests a more productive approach: ignore my desperate desire for affirmation and appreciation. Instead, focus on the work itself: creating something good, genuine, and helpful. That mindset makes blogging more sustainable, more fun—almost automatic.

Now, the end result may not be “something wonderful”, in Jobs’ parlance, but if I’m investing “a great deal of care and love”, it will be rewarding—to myself, if not to anyone else. ■

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Microsoft’s “convergence” vs. Apple’s “supersession”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook made headlines this week when he spurned suggestions that his company might merge its mobile and desktop operating systems:

We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. … Neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.

Cook’s comments indirectly belittle Microsoft’s Surface line, which combines a mouse-first desktop environment with more touch-friendly elements.

To be fair, Windows 10 is a solid effort, the fullest expression yet of Microsoft’s computing vision. Unlike Windows 8’s ill-conceived “Frankenstein experiment,” Windows 10 converges interaction paradigms with a tempered, desktop-anchored approach.

Use the OS for long, however, and you’ll see the seams: legacy UI that can’t be easily navigated via touch. For example, the new, finger-friendly Settings app in Windows 10 almost (but not quite) replaces the legacy Control Panel, which demands a mouse cursor. Presumably, over time, Microsoft plans to root out such vestiges of the desktop era, replacing them with more consistent, touchable UI.

Tim Cook rejects Microsoft’s strategy, in which computing’s past slowly transforms into its future. By contrast, Apple started fresh when it launched the iPhone and its touch-friendly interface eight years ago.

If we call Microsoft’s approach “convergence”, we might label Apple’s strategy as “supersession.” Over time, the replacement platform (i.e., iOS) matures to the point that it can replace the legacy alternatives (including Mac OS) altogether—or, at least, for the vast majority of users.[1]

I had my doubts about supersession’s viability up till now. iOS felt too small, too hampered, too limited to ever replace a laptop. I’d often feel as if I were wrestling with iOS rather than hitting my “productivity zone.” Drafting a tablet to fight a PC’s battle felt silly. And the market seemed to agree; the iPad’s cratering sales—along with the Mac’s continued growth—cast doubt on Steve Job’s assertion that the “post-PC era” had arrived.

But more recently, Apple’s mobile platform has taken strides that make supersession more viable. iOS 9—with its improved keyboard shortcuts and multitasking support—makes it much easier to do work on the iPad. In fact, I now write most blog posts (including this one) on my iPad Air 2. I’ve enjoyed the experience enough that I just purchased a premium keyboard dock.

The iPad Pro, released just a few weeks ago, further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to mobile productivity. The Pro offers an improved typing experience (via an optional hardware keyboard), vast screen real estate (another mainstay of desktop machines) and a pressure-sensitive stylus (replacing PC drawing tablets). Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop now? For most power users, the answer is “No.” But suddenly it’s much easier to see how that might happen in the not-too-distant future.

Regardless of whether mobile OSes “converge” with the desktop or “supersede” it, one thing seems clear: most people will buy just one non-smartphone computer. It won’t make sense to own both a desktop-class computer (whether a Mac or a touchless Windows PC) and a tablet (whether an iPad, an Android slate, or a touch-enabled Windows option).

  1. In adopting these strategies, both Apple and Microsoft are constrained by their current market positions. It makes sense for Apple to pivot its popular mobile platform into a productivity powerhouse. The Mac, despite its recent growth, remains a minority desktop player. Meanwhile, Windows Phone has struggled to earn market share and developer support, Microsoft would be ill-advised to bet big on that platform. Desktop Windows remains dominant (at least in sheer number of users); it makes sense to start there instead.  ↩

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No place for the iPad?

Yesterday, Apple released its second quarter earnings, blowing away most analysts’ predictions with record, unprecedented iPhone sales. News about the iPad was less stellar, however. Year-over-year, sales of Apple’s tablet continue to decline: from 19.5 million sold in Q2 2013 to 16.4 million in Q2 2014 to 12.6 million this past quarter.

Still, Apple CEO Tim Cook waxed optimistic about the iPad during the earnings call:

When you look at the underlying data, it makes you feel a lot better than the sales do. Things like first-time buyer rates; the latest numbers from the U.S. are like around 40 percent, and when you look at China, they’re almost 70 percent. These numbers are not numbers you would get if the market were saturated.[1]

Cook also cited the iPad’s stellar “customer sat” numbers, along with its potential for growth in the enterprise.

No one’s in a better position to predict the iPad’s future than Tim Cook. He has all the data, and he’s widely-acknowledged as an operations genius. Still, sales are obviously a critically important metric. The simple truth? The iPad—along with entire tablet market—has stalled. Fewer and fewer iPads are being sold, when the world had supposedly entered the “post-PC” era. That drop-off matters. It means something.

Tellingly, Cook acknowledged that the success of Apple’s other products has contributed to the iPad’s downturn. “We’re clearly seeing cannibalization from iPhone and, on the other side, from the Mac,” he confessed.[1]

Here’s the way I’d frame that: the iPad has literally lost its place in users’ lives. It’s not the best computer for any context.

On the one hand, I can use the tablet as a PC replacement. Pair it with a wireless keyboard, and it makes a servicable blogging or email machine. But a laptop does that job faster, more comfortably and more efficiently.

Similarly, while I could use the iPad on the couch or in bed, the smartphone’s a better fit for that use case. When I’m reclining, I need a light, one-handable device; the iPad’s simply too bulky to hold while lying down. And as smartphones have grown in size, they’ve minimized the iPad’s one major advantage: screen size.

So the iPad’s being squeezed on both ends: traditional PCs make better workhorses, and large-screened smartphones make better casual handhelds. Unless something changes dramatically, I can’t justify upgrading my iPad Air 2 when it reaches the end of its life. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an amazing machine—a marvel, like something straight out of science fiction.

But I almost never use it.

  1. Tim Cook, in Apple’s Q2 2015 earnings call. Transcribed by Jason Snell.