Steve Jobs’s death leaves me cold

Picture of an eMac sitting on a wooden floor under a desk next to a black Dell system boxSo, Steve Jobs, the man who invented the Mac, the NeXT box and then merged the two together, is dead. Actually I’m sure a few people helped Jobs on the way, like actual programmers and graphic designers and, well, you get it, but the tributes I heard on the radio today were beyond ridiculous: there was a guy called Geoffrey Robertson, I think, interviewed by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, who claimed that what Jesus was to Christianity, Steve Jobs was to “tomorrow”; a letter-writer to the same programme opined that vintage Macs can be found in design museums but vintage PCs can only be found in skips; and finally, the line that three apples have changed the world: the one Eve ate, the one that fell on Isaac Newton’s head, and the one Steve Jobs invented.

I’ve got a lot of disabled friends who really rave about Macs and other Apple products: Mac OS has screen-reading software built in (not an unreliable, expensive extra as it is on Windows) and their handheld devices can be used (with the help of special software, which is extra) as speaking devices for people who cannot speak themselves (known as an AAC). There are other cases of disability where the Mac still doesn’t shine: Windows Vista and 7 have speech recognition built in (so, kind of the opposite to the Mac in that sense) and, although Dragon Naturally Speaking is the product most used for this (by those who cannot use a keyboard, such as quadriplegics), some have reported that Windows’ own speech recognition is good. Others have reported to me that they cannot use a touch-screen phone or PDA; they require an actual keypad, as on the Blackberry. and no Apple device has one.

I bought a Mac in 2004. At the time, they were good value for money, although I had a bit more freedom than I ever have had since as a trust fund (not huge, and sadly less than had been invested in it) had matured. For much of the time since then, Mac hardware has consisted of standard commodity hardware crammed into a fancy box, with a specification which fails to jusify the cost of the unit; in particular, memory and hard drive space were often low by comparison with PCs of the same price. To upgrade memory at purchase, you would have to pay twice as much as you would pay at Crucial or Kingston. For example, an upgrade for the current i5 Mac Mini from 2Gb to 8Gb currently costs £240 from Apple, while the memory itself costs £111.85, including VAT and delivery, from the Kingston partner SMC. I have heard various justifications for why the kit itself is so expensive (including “aluminium unibody casing” and the “Apple ecosystem”), but that is simply a rip-off.

Apple simply do not care about people who are on a budget and need a computer that works for a reasonable price. (This includes, for example, many of the Unix hackers who work on the BSD underpinnings of Mac OS X.) Jobs was on record as saying he had not come across a $500 PC that was not a piece of junk; it may have been junk to him, not coming in one of his fancy aluminium cases, but no doubt worked and had more memory and storage than a much more expensive Mac, and could be expanded, if need be, the case opened with the aid of a screwdriver rather than a decorator’s spatula. For me, the fancy box was nowhere near as important as what was inside it, and that’s why I haven’t bought a Mac since 2004 (and I once wrote that I would buy another Mac when it came to upgrading that one, if they were still a viable option). Mac ownership has become rather like an exclusive club, a bit like a gang of schoolkids at a posh school which shuts out the “poor kid”. Since I’m not rich enough to join the gang, am I going to mourn its leader? No, I’m not.

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  • sky7i

    A bit harsh I think.

    1) His design sense (though sometimes harshly put forward) really pushed the whole industry ahead.  

    2) In some cases — the iPad, the iPod Touch, the MacBook Air — the pricing is better than competitors.  Many cannot even produce equivalent hardware at the same price profitably.   RAM, HD, cables, etc. are sometimes overpriced, but now they are mostly standard parts you can buy from any vendor.

    I also find that Apple tends to need less service (which is expensive and tedious) and has a very long useful life.  There’s a reason resale prices for these products are also quite high.

    He had some troubling personal characteristics, but the products really do shine, and the value for money is excellent in many cases.

  • Embaayer

    he is an excellent marketeer..it one thing to sit and design this stuff, quite a few donkeys can do that, but it takes a smart smart man to give exactly what people want. sad he’s gone, wonder what else he would have provided us 10 yrs from now… god lets the idiots live to 100 and takes the smart ones away… so sad

  • M Risbrook

    Mac ownership has become rather like an exclusive club, a bit like a gang of schoolkids at a posh school which shuts out the “poor kid”.

    I’m old enough to remember the original Mac with its monochrome screen and inbuilt floppy drive. At the time I thought it was quite smart but later it turned into a machine best used for desktop publishing. Macs have always been a rather exclusive product mainly purchased by yuppies and enthusiasts rather than being a mass market computer, although I don’t quite agree with your analogy with posh schools because I have encountered plenty of less well off people who own them. In a way it could be argued that they are one of the few surviving remnants of the non PC compatible computers from the 80s kept alive by a small but loyal audience. The MSX is another example that is still produced by some small scale manufacturers.

    vintage Macs can be found in design museums but vintage PCs can only be found in skips

    This is probably a result of Macs being so damn rare and exclusive in comparison to PCs that scrapping a Mac is like scrapping a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari.