Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs

I'm getting old: if I were to pass on at the same age Jobs did, my life would be more than half over already.

What separates me from Jobs?  There's the matter of leverage, where he could take his vision and coordinate the prototyping and development of it, into the iPod, the iPhone, the Macbook Air, the iPad.  There's also the matter of having vision.

In 2006 or so, I beheld my first iPod in real life, an old (FireWire based) model with a physical click-wheel.  In 2008 I picked up a different, small MP3 player and for the first time, immediately noticed the limitations of digital control.  Without having handled the iPod and getting a feel for the analog response of the wheel, I probably wouldn't have given the buttons a second thought.  Do you want to scroll on the generic?  Click-click-click-click.  Or click-and-hold, guess at how long you need to go (since the screen is slow enough to be unreadable at this scrolling speed, and they don't slow updates to compensate), and release.

The point here is, Jobs saw humans as inherently analog, and adapted all of his machines to analog control.  It's a simple thing, but Jobs was apparently devoted to HCI.  The "vision" simply falls out of that.

It's not like the limitations of digital control weren't apparent in the 1980s.  Compare Rad Racer to a real car's steering wheel.  Anyone focused on "how it feels" could have been Jobs back then, inventing 2010 in the 16-bit era instead of carrying 8-bit paradigms through the 1990s.

In contrast, I seem to lack vision because I'm busy implementing arbitrarily complex business rules at work, and staying away from the bleeding edge of gadgetry.  I'm not in the consumer space; I'm not taking any research toward the consumer space; and I'm not thinking about what's next for it, either (at least, not beyond what turns out to actually be the next thing*.)  But, I'm also having little impact on the wider world, writing code that never leaves the house.  It's important, but after I am gone, will these be the best years of my life?  Will I think college was the best time of my life, forever?

I think it's time to put my free time to better use and do something instead of watching the world slowly develop towards Jobs' vision on its own.

* I have a dead draft which discusses the crazy idea of "having a set-top box inside the remote" in 2006 or so.  It then points out that h.264-over-wifi ought to handle the bandwidth to do exactly that from your iPhone now.  It starts fleshing out what would be necessary to make it happen, then abruptly ends with a note: "Two days after I started writing this, Apple announced AirPlay."

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