Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

While reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs I was reminded of the large part that Apple computers played in my personal and academic life. My first attempts at programming was using the Monroe 1665 Desktop Programmable Calculator in the early 1970's. It had an external punch card reader which allowed for loading of programs since it had a volatile RAM which meant your program was lost when the power was turned off.  It was used to calculate the binding affinity of antibodies and it was cannibalise from a scintillation counter.

What a great leap this was when in 1982 I purchased my first Apple computer, the Apple II. This was later followed by the Apple IIe with DuoDisks -- the model which became widely used within the university for teaching and research. Then came the Macintosh and the "1984" commercial. There was something of a counterculture feeling about using/owning a Mac.

Then in 1990's came a profusion of Apple PowerPC models which sorely tested the faith of Apple users. Without Steve Jobs at the helm Apple lost that techno-Zen design quality.  With Steve's return and the Mac OS X operating system from NeXT, a new wave of innovation and computers followed with the iMac, eMac, iBook, iPods, iPhones and iPads.

It wasn't until reading Isaacson's biography did I fully appreciate how much of Steve's personality went into the management of the company and the attention to detail of the design of the products. Jobs defined himself as a child of the counterculture in his manner of dress and in the ads such as "Think Different" and "1984". He reaffirmed the rebel by claiming to work for $1 a year for the benefit of the company and not for himself. This was despite taking out share options worth tens of millions of dollars and carrying out dubious practices like backdating share options. As Isaacson put it: "Jangling inside him were the contradictions of a counterculture rebel turned business entrepreneur, someone who wanted to believe that he had turned on and tuned in without having sold out and cashed in."

Jobs's insistence on a closed and tightly integrated system allowed for a variety of portable devices to link in a seamless and elegant way in contrast to the copy-cat rival products. Again from Isaacson: "... in a world filled with junky devices, inscrutable error messages, and annoying interfaces, it led to astonishing products marked by beguiling user experiences. Using an Apple product could be as sublime as walking in one of the Zen gardens of Kyoto that Jobs loved, and neither experience was created by worshipping at the altar of openness or letting a thousand flowers bloom. Sometimes it's nice to be in the hands of a control freak."

The book is a long read (630 pages) but a good read - available on Kindle but not iBooks !