Death is a tragedy, and a time for reflection, sympathy and reconciliation.
This has been manifest in the days since Steve Jobs died on the 5th of October, with words of remembrance spreading across the length and breadth of the Internet.
As a mark of respect to the deceased former Apple boss, Samsung and Google have decided to put off the imminent launch of the Nexus Prime, which was going to be the first smartphone to run the newest iteration of the Android OS.
When Tim Cook failed to match his "magical" predecessor at the launch of the iPhone 4S, there was sharp criticism at his dullness. This criticism transformed into deep sympathy just a few hours later, with the understanding that Cook and his team may have been troubled by the knowledge that their beloved mentor was drifting away.
The homepage of Apple, a huge profit-making corporation, stirred up emotions with a poignant picture of Steve Jobs in black and white on the sad day.
Openness and Future Innovation
My title is deliberately worded with "Steve Jobs and Openness", because like Julius Caesar, Steve Jobs is only going to become more powerful after his death.
Can the feelings of reconciliation at the passing of this powerful personality involve advocates of openness too? Let’s not forget, while Steve Jobs was the inspiration behind stunning innovations from Apple, he has shown limited inclination to support openness.
Apple's offerings tie hardware, software and services in a way that restricts developer freedom and interoperability. The OS X is linked to the Mac and the iPod won't work with any other service than iTunes.
Just around a month before Apple’s darkest day, Jobs wrote in his resignation letter, "I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role."
Steve Jobs, of course, isn’t around to smile over Apple’s brightest and most innovative days, but his inspiration and legacy of thinking different remain alive. His belief that you ought to be doing what you love has moved us. His ability to stir an emotional bonding with the products he inspired, combined with the sleekness in design were unmatched. He made Apple products natural extensions of ourselves, not least by the magical marketing skills of his cult personality.
Advocates of openness could learn from the depth of Apple’s different thinking, and the intensity of emotions that Steve Jobs brilliantly attached to its unique gadgets.
When you're talking about openness, however, you cannot ignore the fact that Apple has long had a complex stance towards it.
It helps to revisit the past, at times, with the hope that it can help define the future. When HTML5 was being promoted as an open standards replacement to Adobe’s Flash, Steve Jobs vigorously supported it and slammed Adobe for being "closed", ignoring criticism that Apple’s own software development was closed too.
While Apple’s operating systems do use open source components, the development work on their apps is strictly controlled. Apps cannot be developed and distributed without the payment of a fee to Apple and a subsequent approval. Apple had the choice between openness and tight controls; they chose the latter. This is in contrast to Google’s Android. Android development can be done by anyone, and apps can be sold via any marketplace, or individually, without a marketplace.
Jobs believed in stiff competition to bring out sparks of innovation, with the corollary being that openness dampened innovation.
Now that there's a possible opportunity for reconciliation, will Apple’s days ahead involve a more generous approach towards openness when it comes to software development?