Let’s keep innovating

October 6, 2011

On October 3rd, 2011, I boarded a plane from Tokyo to San Francisco. The reason? A week earlier, Apple had invited me to its headquarters in Cupertino for a press event, an event that would undoubtedly lead to the unveiling of its next iPhone. Around 12 hours after I arrived, I co-liveblogged the unveiling of the iPhone 4S with Tim Stevens. It was Tim Cook’s first solo press event as Apple CEO, and it never occurred to me that anything was different.

Cook pulled off an Apple event in spectacular fashion. The cadence was correct. The adjectives were correct. The flow was correct. The mood was correct. It speaks volumes about Cook’s respect for Steve, and it’s proof – at least to me – that Cook has devoted his working hours over the past months and years to learning how to best fill a pair of shoes that will never truly be filled again. At least, not with the same mold.

After 5+ years at Engadget, this was my first time on Apple’s campus. I’ve felt exceedingly privileged to devote my working life to Engadget and the consumer technology industry as a whole, and it was a remarkable privilege to be able to bring the latest creation from Apple to our readers. It’s truly humbling to do the work that I do, and showing up at 4 Infinite Loop reminded me once again what a fantastical world we live in. A day later, the man that co-founded Apple and literally invented products that have entirely reshaped the world passed away. I can’t help but wonder how much Tim Cook knew before going on stage, but he handled the event with poise, regardless. That should not be overlooked. It’s a situation that many would’ve faltered in.

I woke up, back in Tokyo, stunned and saddened by the news. The gravity of the situation is incredible. A sitting president of the United States of America paused to issue an incredibly heartfelt statement on the loss of one of America’s beacons. I was fortunate enough to co-liveblog Steve’s final keynote as an Apple employee: WWDC 2011 in June. The photo below is the final one I took of him, as he was walking off of the stage and the entire crowd within San Francisco’s Moscone West was rising to applaud his appearance. I count myself lucky to have even come this close to a man that will unquestionably go down in history books with the likes of Albert Einstein, Alexander Bell and Johannes Gutenberg.

What saddens me most about the loss of such a luminary is how the future of consumer technology will be less, in some way, without Jobs around. It is incredibly rare to invent something that you can convince a global audience is worthwhile. It is even more rare to do it on multiple occasions, even with enormous industry pressures and plenty of pundits. The iPod, for all intents and purposes, defines the portable media player universe, despite being almost universally panned for its absurd price tag and limited reach upon launch. People that don’t even understand, or care to understand, technology still adore the iPod. This is part of the reason that Jobs’ death is impacting more than just technologists. Even music lovers are fully aware of how their lives have been improved by the introduction of the iPod.

Jobs, and the wildly talented team that he placed around him, quite substantially changed the game with the iPod and iPad. Are they perfect products? No. But the lightbulb, even in 2011, still emits too much waste heat. I don’t see anyone disputing the game-changing nature of that.

My job, and the lives of my friends, colleagues and peers, was made more interesting by Steve Jobs. Regardless of the state of consumer electronics as a whole, there was always one man that we could count on to shake things up. Be it the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, or his unwavering stance to never adopt Blu-ray despite plenty of reasons to do so, he simply made life more interesting. And in most cases, more enriching.

In closing, it’s hard to express exactly how saddened I am by the fact that Jobs will not be around to invent anything else. He invented the iPod and iPad, amongst other things, during my short stint on Earth. I can assure you that the next 30+ years would’ve been filled with even more inventions if Steve were still here. I hesitate to even hazard a guess at what would’ve come next. Would we even have Android without iOS? Would Windows 8 be taking the approach it is without iOS and OS X? Would there be any pressure at all for RIM to innovate without any of the above?

I sincerely hope that Jobs spent as much time as he could pouring whatever knowledge he could into the mind of Tim Cook and the people surrounding him. America needs that breed of innovation to continue. The world does, too. As dark as today seems in the world of technology, my hope is that entrepreneurs, startups and technologists celebrate the life of a visionary by pushing themselves further than they ever thought possible. I can’t say for sure that I’ll ever have the privilege to write about another person with the same level of impact as Jobs, but I want to. Badly. I hope that Jobs has proven that technology can change the world, time and time again. I hope that he has proven that mere mortals are capable of engineering the impossible. And I hope – for the sake of Google, RIM, HP, Dell, Samsung and every other company and consumer wrapped up in the technology universe – that Apple continues to innovate in the way that it has in recent years. Trust me, we’re all better off if it does.