By Richard Waters 2010-02-04
Seven years ago, the globally recognisable boss of a certain giant
technology company spoke often of the touch-screen “tablet” computer
whose development he championed. This pet project was going to change
computing for millions of people.
The man was Bill Gates, and the product was the Tablet PC – a device
that, while still on sale, has fallen into the limbo reserved for
failed electronic gadgets. This week, when Steve Jobs of Apple ended
months of feverish speculation by unveiling his own company’s tablet
machine – branded the iPad – the echoes were hard to ignore.
Mr Gates has since left the business stage to pursue philanthropy. But
for Mr Jobs, who last year took six months off work to fight a
near-fatal cancer and undergo a liver transplant operation, it is back
to business as usual: sprinkling his pixie dust over inanimate lumps
of metal and glass to create objects of desire for the digital age.
Tablets (bigger than a smartphone, smaller than a laptop, and without
a keyboard) have been the graveyard of personal computing. If Mr Jobs,
54, can succeed, it will open a new phase in a comeback career. The
launch was classic Jobs, points out Jean-Louis Gassée, a high-ranking
Apple development executive in the 1980s who later founded a rival
personal computing company called Be Inc. “The whole product reflects
Steve’s attention to detail and the drive for a minimalist approach –
just enough, as opposed to piling on feature after feature,” he said.
“It’s from the Steve we know and admire.”
Behind the simple lines of the iPad lie a technological mastery,
aesthetic flair and marketing savvy that have long set the Apple chief
executive apart. Mr Jobs’ perfectionism, bordering on the obsessive,
is summed up in a telling anecdote by John Lasseter, the top creative
brain behind Walt Disney’s animation business and a long-time friend.
“He found this one really great black turtleneck which he loved – I
think it was Issey Miyaki – so tried to buy another one and they
didn’t have any more,” Mr Lasseter confided to the FT recently. “He
called the company and asked if they would make another one, and they
refused. So he said: ‘Fine, how many do you have to make before I can
buy them?’ So they made them – I think he has a closet full of them.”
For anyone who has worked for him, that perfectionism has a downside:
a stinging lack of patience that can border on bullying. Approached to
comment about his management style for this article, several former
employees and associates declined. The fear of Mr Jobs is still
powerful, one person said.
One figure who is less cowed is Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder.
“Steve can be annoying to people, and he can be obnoxious,” he told
the FT in a recent interview. “He would walk into meetings and just
say, ‘Forget it. It’s all a bunch of junk. You’re not doing it,’ and
walk out, and: ‘You’re all idiots.’”
Mr Job’s harshest critics accuse him of a secretive manner. The
accusations dogged him three years ago when Apple blamed two former
senior employees for a scandal over the improper issuance of stock
options – even though Apple belatedly revealed that Mr Jobs had known
about it and received some of the options. Mr Jobs was later
exonerated after a review by regulators.
Of course, no one ever said geniuses had to be easy to work with – and
“genius” is one word that long-time associates like Mr Lasseter use
freely. Larry Ellison, the billionaire head of software company Oracle
and a friend, summed up his talent: “He has the mind of an engineer
and the heart of an artist.”
That blend is key to his success. He once studied calligraphy and said
it influenced the first Macintosh, calling it “the first computer with
beautiful typography”. It is evident in his computer-animated hits at
Pixar, a company he bankrolled before its sale to Disney in 2006, and
in the success of the iPod, the first digital media device not to feel
soldered together by ham-fisted engineers.
Yet his career has also been defined by a rare clarity of purpose.
Returning to Apple in 1997 – 12 years after losing a power struggle
and being ejected – he had to put aside years of bitterness. According
to Mr Lasseter: “His simple statement to me about it was: ‘The reason
I went back to Apple is that I feel like the world would be a better
place with Apple in it than not. And it’s hard to imagine the world
without Apple now.’”
In a remarkable speech at Stanford University in 2005, in which he
laid bare some of the most sensitive parts of his life – his unwed
mother had put him up for adoption, his sacking from Apple, the moment
in 2004 when his doctors believed he was dying of cancer – he
delivered an eloquent testimonial to what makes him tick. “Remembering
that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever
encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” he said.
“Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all
fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the
face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Such public declarations have reinforced a feeling that the enfant
terrible of the tech world has matured, or sees things in a new light.
They add to the impression, stirred by his counter-cultural San
Francisco roots, that he stands apart from the judgments of the crowd,
with their ordinary measures of success. The trappings of eastern
religion have followed him for much of his life, from the Hare Krishna
temple he says he ate at each day while “dropping in” as an illicit
student at Reed College, to the Buddhist monk who officiated at his
wedding in 1991.
This week, Mr Jobs seemed unusually relaxed. Looking less gaunt than
for some time, and in his trademark turtleneck, he mixed easily with
journalists in San Francisco after the launch – a rare event. Yet he
has little to be shy about. Apple’s stock market value has soared to
$180bn – above Google and two-thirds that of Microsoft . Mr Jobs’ last
launch, the iPhone, accounts for more than a third of group revenues
and sparked a doubling of Apple’s shares in a year.
Initial reaction to the iPad has been muted. Like Mr Gates before him,
Mr Jobs could fall flat on his face. But if his record is anything to
go by, consumers could yet find it hard to live without their iPads.
作者：英国《金融时报》 理查德•沃特斯 2010-02-04