Steve Jobs's dire legacy: Devastating bad taste

Steve Jobs's dire legacy: Devastating bad taste

Summary: Apple's appetite for destruction in the mobile phone business sits uneasily with its history and its moralising. How much damage is enough?

TOPICS: Apple, Smartphones

"We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas" — Steve Jobs, Triumph of the Nerds, 1996

"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this" — Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, 2011

What made the Jobs of 2011 so different from the 1996 model? Power. Apple was in trouble in 1996, losing its way in a welter of bad products and worse decisions. Jobs was at NeXT, contemplating the failure of his workstation strategy.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and turned the company around. Image credit: James Martin/CNET News

But in 1997, Apple bought NeXT and hired Jobs as a consultant. By 2011, Apple was one of the most powerful tech companies in the world, fully equipped with corporate nukes, and Jobs was its saviour and untouchable leader. He was also dying.

Dying leaders threatening nuclear war on rivals are rarely good news. They have no reason to lie.

Take a moment and let Jobs's threat sink in. This is a man who once excoriated Microsoft about its lack of taste: for him to use nuclear war as a metaphor is a horrible irony. For most of the past 70 years, it has been the single most plausible mechanism for global destruction — a state of such chaos, pain and inhumanity that causing it could only be contemplated as the act of a madman.

We have seen nuclear war just once, in the closing days of the Pacific theatre in World War II. It was not one, but two brutal strikes against Japan, a broken country already close to suing for peace. President Truman took the decision to forestall Soviet aggression: an act whose morality, even in the context of that cruel conflict, is questionable.

But in one respect, it did its job. The demonstration of the power of nuclear weaponry stamped its consequences firmly in the global mind. The point of having such weapons was not to use them, but to stop others using them.

Lost leader

Apple, however, is following the diktats of its lost leader. It is using its cash and patents — the nuclear weaponry of large corporations — while, inevitably, claiming that this is the application of natural justice against a great wrong.

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The facts of thermonuclear war are stark. The collateral damage to everyone, regardless of their active involvement in the conflict, is tremendous. The long-term consequences are incalculable.

It is extraordinarily distasteful to talk of the mobile phone business in such terms. That Jobs, a child of the Californian Cold War counter-culture, should have chosen it as his metaphor is telling. For he will have known that such actions are not necessary to guarantee victory, let alone survival.

Android, after all, is guilty at worst of nothing more than the sort of behaviour that Jobs himself once gloried in — back in the days before he had nukes.

Yet he pushed the button. He may have been comfortable with the consequences for consumers, for the economy, for the ecosystems that drive innovation, of closing down competition.

The rest of us may think differently.

Topics: Apple, Smartphones

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Harsh Article

    ALLEGORY - Please have a look at this word in a dictionary.

    Jobs's legacy, in its entirety, may have dark corners but, you really go hard on this one.
    • the article is no more harsh than reality

      Jobs stole, smirked about it, parked illegally in handicap spots, was rude to photographers who knew their jobs... no pun at all...

      And ironic, had Xerox any patents apple would have been obliterated decades ago.

      I've barely begun to respond, but the article is one of ZDNet's best lately...
      • Xerox

        If you read the history, Apple was given rights to the information at PARC as part of a stock purchase by Xerox. So Apple had rights to those concepts as part of a business agreement.
        • People don't care about the truth!

          Most people don't care about any Xerox-Apple agreements. They just say "Apple steals" when in fact they don't as they are haters.

          Johnpford, You make a great point and I respect you for that since you are right.
          • Plus

            Apple hired the original engineer to further develop the GUI into something sellable. We have OS X and while in certain ways the interface has just improved over the years, it has stayed consistent because it's a good design. I think Apple could maybe work a little on the theme, and a couple of other features I would like to see, but other than that. Apple just gets better and they seem to integrate some pretty innovative stuff along the way. Obviously, it's impossible to not bring other people's ideas to the computer, but it's making it unique that makes it different. Samsung/Google/Android platform was doing a lot of things that are just blatent and a kludge. That's why I don't care for Microsoft, too much of a kludge to me.

            Oh, and was DOS original? NO. It was a twist on CP/M.
          • Read your own rubbish....

            "Obviously, it's impossible to not bring other people's ideas to the computer, but it's making it unique that makes it different" you must be completely nuts. We can all see that this is what Apple do; it's what MS does; it's what Android does but you are so far far into Apple you cannot even see any irony.

            If it's OK for Apple... why is it not ok for everyone else? It's complete rubbish!

            For the record I do have an ipad, an iphone, win7, Blackberry, Android and run MAC OSX in VMware for user support. I love my technology but I hate Apple telling me what formats I can watch movies in; telling me I dont need a mouse /keyboard on my ipad (I can have either but not both..HUH) to connect to my work PC (I think I know what I need and Android delivers that better thank you very much); telling me I dont need connectors on my ipad when I can plop sd/usb drives on my transformer to watch films when I like. Of course there's a compromise with everything... except Apple of course. Everyone else is almost satanic apparently!
          • Agreement

            The "agreement" of using/developing GUI was done after "Apple" was threatened by Xerox and Microsoft had already licensed it to use in Windows.
          • Whoa....

            Lets not let facts get in the way of a good chat :-)
          • What has apple not stolen?

            They started the first PC. Since then nothing.. Ipad? 2 years plus after others made tablets, Iphone? 20 years after others invented cell phones. Ipod? years after others made portable MP3 players. Name one thing they invented and didn't "borrow" from others?

            They may have made cell phones better but they didnt invent anything, Even the vaunted Siri they bought lol
          • Amnesia ?

            The iPad? Newton.

            Remember the Newton? It could run apps, had networking ability, a touchscreen?

            The iPhone?

            Who else had a glass-touchscreen smartphone? Blackberry was the ONLY smartphone and they used keyboards then.

            Then the UltraBook thing going on now; laptops without optical media or a hard drive.

            Kind of sounds like the Macbook Air, doesn't it?

            Apple was the first company to standardize on the 3.5 inch floppy; there were a handful of competing sizes trying to replace the 5.25" inch floppy.

            And they were the first to abandon the floppy altogether.

            They were the first to put CDROM drives in as standard equipment.

            They were the first to put networking in a computer as standard equipment.

            They were the first company to make WYSIWYG Desktop Publishing practical with their LaserWriter;

            And lest we forget, the first company to ship a mouse standard with a computer, AND the first company to introduce a LED Mouse instead of the roller ball type.

            I think you have Amnesia.
            William Carr
          • Palm based Handspring Treo

            A Palm based smartphone/PDA. It had a grid of apps on the screen that you could touch to activate. 2002.
          • What has Apple not stolen?

            The first PC??? They would have been doing well to have developed the TENTH PC! I think that the MITS Altair 8080 was the first personal computer, followed by the IMSAI 8080, Processor Technology's several machines (the SOL-20 was physically very similar to an Apple II), Chromemco, North Star, SWTPC 6800, etc., etc., etc . Even IBM beat Apple with the IBM 5100 series of APL/BASIC all in one PCs from 1973!

            Apple no more invented the PC than Al Gore invented the Internet!

            They did refine the MP3 player into an amazingly user-friendly device and then they did the same with the smartphone... which was (somewhat arguably) pioneered by Blackberry, among others.

            I neither love nor hate Apple, in fact I'm a member of the "We only want the OS!" club. I use OS X (Lion and ML) on almost all of my PCs probably 80% of the time since I build iPhone and Android apps and I don't like rebooting between W7/8 and OS X - it takes too long to reopen and position all the windows I have open on whichever machine I happen to be using.

            With Steve Jobs gone, the new products are already beginning to show signs of QA-neglect. Something he never would have tolerated... maybe they should hire a new CEO; like maybe John Sculley, LOL. Without someone like him (JS), they have enough cash to last through at least 50 years of mismanagement - I believe he could cut that by at least 75%!

            But that's all just my opinion, I could be wrong.
        • Wrong.

          Nice attempt at spinning though. They paid for the visit. Not the tech.
          • Exactly right, which is why Xerox sued Apple

            They were very upset at Jobs' backstabbing ways.
          • @toddbottom

            apparently we were both computing at the time, and remember. Well said! And remember MS bailing Apple out to save their only competitor, which in turn kept them from monopoly charge susceptability. Steve did what he thought he had to, and it is all well documented. Where the disconnect occurs is when he is a public hypocrite and the faithful can't see it. Not won't, can't!
            Paradigm blindness at its most obvious to all but the blind. No amount of time or effort can help. Drink enough koolaid and the effect is permanent.

            I have read a lot of your well thought out and straightforward posts and look forward to your sig now.
          • Distorted Reality

            " remember MS bailing Apple out to save their only competitor".

            No... I remember Apple SUING Microsoft for outright theft of the Quicktime software code; Apple found it in Video For Windows.

            Apple had commissioned that code from Canyon Software. Imagine their surprise finding it in VFW, the precursor to WMP.

            The legal battle raged, and Microsoft realized they were losing.

            They finally settled, caught red-handed.

            They agreed to buy $150 Million of non-voting Apple Stock in that settlement, another like amount in cash to settle past claims {the original lawsuit}, and had to agree to share their code base AND keep developing Microsoft Office for five years.

            Now, according to the guy who wrote "Apple Confidential", Microsoft sold short on the stock purchase.

            Which means when the Stock went up, they got badly burned.

            They COULD have doubled their money in that five years, too.

            That story about "Microsoft saving Apple" is a pile of BS the Softies have been passing back and forth for, oh, fourteen years now.

            It salves their wounded pride for losing and makes Microsoft look magnanimous.

            But it's a lie.

            It was only a year later, that Microsoft WAS hit with Monopoly charges. Company after company sent witnesses to testify against them.

            And they LOST.

            They would have been split up, like AT&T was, except for a peculiar thing that happened in that Presidential Election cycle...

            So the argument that "saving Apple" protected Microsoft from Monopoly charges is... false on it's face.

            Uhm, what was it you were saying about KoolAide?
            William Carr
          • Unfortunately...

            Xerox wasn't able to sue because the statute of limitations ran out. Ironically enough, it happened after Apple decided to go after Microsoft.

            Xerox had a WTF moment, and basically wondered how in the hell Apple could sue for theft over something they themselves stole.
        • No....

          From Wikipedia: "In return for the right to buy US$1,000,000 of pre-IPO stock, Xerox granted Apple Computer three days access to the PARC facilities. After visiting PARC, they came away with new ideas that would complete the foundation for Apple Computer's first GUI computer, the Apple Lisa."

          So how does three days access to the PARC facilities turn into a rights to information?
          • How does it not?

            Please tell me how you can insist that the information gleaned NOT be used if you don't first require some form of non-disclosure agreement?

            Apple in this case didn't take PARC's concepts whole-hog, but rather used what they saw to create their own products from scratch--merely BASED on what they studied. Take a look at PARC's GUI. Take a look at PARC's mouse. After comparing them, please tell me how either one is a "copy" of PARC's engineering.
          • Which is...

            Which is EXACTLY what Apple sued Microsoft for... the "look and feel" of the OS. How is it any different when Apple is "borrowing" the look and feel vs. when someone else "borrows" it from Apple?