iThink therfore iCon

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:32 AM

Taking on a different theme after my summer reading that has been mostly composed of light theology, “Christian life” and fictional books, I'm reading the new biography of Steve Jobs, iCon: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.

It is an interesting book so far that is very hard to put down. The book is detailed, insightful and well crafted in its storytelling. In a way, it reminds me of On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple, Gil Amelio's book, which was co-authored by William Simon, the co-author of this book as well, in its insights into the operation of Apple. There is another similarity between the two books: they both paint Jobs as visionary but also as general nasty.

I think everyone knows Jobs is suppose to be fairly unpleasant to work with (and was more so in the past), but I cannot help but wonder if this book tries to tip the scales in that direction more than necessary to tell the story. It seems like many of Jobs' smart moves are attributed to luck, while even necessary actions that were unfortunate are made to sound mean spirited. If Jobs and a given person have different ways of retelling an incident, the book seems to always turn against Jobs.

For example, the book spends a good deal of time talking about how the original Macintosh failed to sell as many units as Jobs had predicted (one in a set of events that led to the show down between Jobs and Scully, which was the beginning of the dark ages at Apple that ended only when Jobs returned). On the other hand, while the book notes that the Mac was selling very well after Jobs resigned, it seems to act as if that was not Jobs doing. On the other hand, I think an unbiased observer would agree that Apple's good years in the late 80's were essentially coming from the company burning up the last bits of the vision it had been endowed with by Jobs. The book likewise does not seem to appreciate how good the design of NeXTSTEP was, and instead talks about how Jobs focused too much on how the machine looked. In fact, it compares the NeXTcube to a beautiful but mentally lacking “starlet.”

We'll see how it turns out. I am enjoying the book, but I simply think it is too harsh on Jobs. I'm only half way through it, so I'll have to blog later on about how the second half paints him.

Re: iThink therfore iCon
Kinda funny reading your initial comments. My last job had me knee deep in the PC OEM world (including overseas ODMs) and it sounds like the book is dead on given the rumors I kept hearing. To point to something specifically, "Jobs focused too much on how the machine looked." I got an email a number of times (can you say repeated circulation) which compared OEM personal numbers. I.e. Company A had 3 people working the on board video while company B had 5. Stuff like that. Those numbers also included Apple. I forgot the "official" name but it basically was the people who designed the cases. The highest 86x OEM was Dell with 3 per system; and back then HP was the lowest. No surprise there. Apple was listed as 12. We always wondered if those numbers were bogus or not. To be honest they seemed high. That was until I was assigned IBM. I remember asking the question off-hand to see just how far off the email was. My contact said they were way off. I told them I thought as much, urban legend an all. He said the number was probably double what we saw. Given how slick some of their systems are (that really funky clear thing with the round spk cubes) I can see how it would be true. I still don't buy the actual numbers but if it were proven true that apple has the most number of people doing cases, it wouldn't surprise me.
Posted by Mark - Jul 17, 2005 | 10:38 PM

Re: iThink therfore iCon
I think they definitely concentrate more on design. No doubt about that. However, that is different than saying that the machines are all form and no function. Take the NeXT cube. It was clearly one of the most advanced systems ever made back in 1989. Perhaps it wasn't the best in terms of useful functionality, but it was more than just a pretty case. The book is somewhat contradictory. For instance, it seems to laud Steve's design sense in the case of the iMac (original) and the iPod. I bet those numbers are like your IBM informant suggested. :)
Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 18, 2005 | 4:07 AM

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