Reposted from the Digital Outcasts blog on October 9, 2011.
As most folks undoubtedly know, this week the world lost Steve Jobs after his quasi-secretive battle with pancreatic cancer. From a consumer standpoint, Jobs was arguably the most significant business figure of the past quarter century.
A number of technology and innovation pundits have already published lengthy blog posts detailing what Jobs meant to the world, with varying mixtures of objective accuracy and histrionic adulation. Inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, visionary, egomaniac, tyrant, blowhard … the labels swirl around like bits of paper on a windy day.
Your personal viewpoint of Jobs is likely bound to whatever degree an Apple product has influenced your life. For digital outcasts, that impact is significant because Jobs understood that successful inclusion means removing barriers to entry, not simply adding more features. He also recognized that the world “accessible” doesn’t solely refer to people with disabilities or other physical/cognitive challenges. Accessibility brings benefit to all users, regardless of individual competency.
An article in this week’s Wired Epicenter makes a very convincing case that Apple’s mission has resulted in better products and greater awareness for disenfranchised populations. However, the value proposition to consumers with disabilities is not recognized merely through any device on its own. According to researcher Daniel Danahoo, adoption among healthcare professionals is the magic glue:
[T]he potential of the iPad is not achieved by the iPad alone, nor by simply placing it in the hands of a child with autism. The potential of the device is realized by the way professionals like speech pathologists, educators, occupational therapists and early childhood development professionals apply their skills and knowledge to use the iPad to effectively support the development of children. The potential is realized by engaged parents working with those professionals to explore how the device best meets the individual needs of their child.
For me personally, I’m most impressed by the way Jobs course-corrected throughout the tenure of his long career. This is a man who was fired by his own board of directors, released his share of high-profile failures, endured ridicule when he shifted Apple’s focus from computers to content and still demanded A+ commitment to his vision. Beginning in 2001, he altered the entertainment business forever by recognizing that content distribution would render brick-and-mortar music stores obsolete.
All that said, I think the best take on Jobs’ legacy comes from Joel Spolsky, one of my personal heroes, because it’s as simple and intuitive as the products Jobs’ lifechild introduced to the world:
Steve Jobs didn’t give a hoot about the needs of nerdy computer geeks. He was trying to make a computer as simple as a toaster. Because he figured out that until you make computers as simple as toasters, you can’t make the world a better place. And, over the next 26 years, he stuck by that vision, and now, it has been realized. We have unbelievably powerful computers that you can put in your pocket and that anyone can figure out how to use. These supercomputers tell you exactly where you are on the planet and show you where that is on a map, and where the nearest sushi restaurant is and how good it is and whether it is open and you can touch a button and you’ll be speaking to someone who works at that sushi restaurant. Anyone can do this, and that’s why Steve Jobs changed the world.