The evening that news of Steve Jobs dying broke, my wife and I were at a kid-friendly restaurant with our young daughters. It’s the sort of place with lots of colors and a balloon on the way out, but I was distracted from the family fun, instead following the world’s collective grief by checking Twitter constantly until my battery drained.
Like nearly all of you reading this, I never met Steve Jobs. Unlike most of you, I was fortunate enough to attend his last Macworld Expo keynote and experience his vaunted Reality Distortion Field up close and personal. In 2008, I walked in carrying a BlackBerry. I went home with an iPhone. Say what you will about the RDF, but I never regretted that decision.
My love of technology started with Apple and, to a lesser degree, Commodore. But for many years I never owned anything designed by Apple, relying instead on borrowed time in school or during visits to friend’s homes. I didn’t buy my first Mac until 2005, when I succumbed to the halo effect generated by the beauty of my first iPod. Today there are six Macs in my house, a couple of iPads, a few iPhones, and various other Apple products. Including, still, that first iPod I can’t seem to let go.
It doesn’t matter if you love Apple or hate Apple – nearly everything we do in technology today is influenced by the work of the teams Steve led. Every computer, every modern phone, and every music player is influenced more by Apple designs than by any other single source. Even the CG animated cartoons my daughters loves so much wouldn’t be the same without Pixar’s work.
My mind was more focused on Jobs than my family as we finished our meal and started to leave. Carrying my one-year-old, I passed the hostess desk, grabbed a helium balloon and slipped the ribbon around her wrist. As we crossed into the parking lot, she started giggling and batting at the balloon, a look of sheer happiness in her eyes.
Smiling down at her, I thought to myself that, as a grown-up, I rarely experience such childlike joy from an object, no matter how simple or complex, cheap or expensive.
And then, influenced by the day’s events, I remembered how, for months, I’d stare at the Retina Display on my iPhone 4. Or the cool light emanating from my first iPod. Or how, two models and nearly two years later, I’m rarely without an iPad nearby.
Not all Apple products bring back my feelings of childhood wonder. But if something with a screen and a processor does, the odds are it was designed in Cupertino.
Steve Jobs left us many gifts, but this is the one I think I’ll remember the most. For him it wasn’t enough merely to drive a new technology into our lives; he also wanted us to share in his joy of creation.
His death hit me harder than I expected. I know this isn’t the end of Apple, or the end of great products. But the entire technology world just lost the one person climbing the hills in front of us, breaking the trail, and enthusiastically turning back to wave and shout “Follow me!”