Monday 18 December 2017

Last night’s TV: Steve Jobs: iChanged The World

Amongst Steve Jobs’s many legacies, it turns out, is obsessive overuse of the letter i says DiarmuId Doyle

The late Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad in January 2010. Photo: Getty Images
The late Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad in January 2010. Photo: Getty Images

Last night’s Steve Jobs: iChanged The World (Channel 4), which followed on from last week’s iGenius on Discovery, punctuated its obituary of Apple’s co-founder with captions like iStarted It (about Apple’s first invention – a device which allowed free calls to be made anywhere around the world), iWas There (featuring reminisces from people who knew him back then) and iGambled (about the man who handed back an early 10 per cent share in Apple for no money whatsoever).

Somewhere, you can be sure, somebody is preparing a documentary about Job’s wedding day called i’m Getting Married In The Morning.

iFor One Am Getting Very Tired Of It.

That annoying characteristic aside, the documentary was a reasonable attempt to explain Steve Jobs’s success and examine his personality.

The promised interview with Jobs – conducted shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer – turned out to be a few uninteresting clips in which he never mentioned being ill.

However, there were enough contributions from people who knew him throughout his career, and who had interesting things to say about him, to make the programme worthwhile.

When Jobs died on October 5, and impromptu tributes began appearing outside Apple stores around the world, it became clear that he had become a Princess Diana for geeks, a phenomenon who needed to be explained to those who didn’t keep up with technology matters.

Last night’s documentary was premised on the notion that the worldwide grief didn’t need to be explained: Jobs had changed the world through the launch of innovative, hugely popular products and was, therefore, a genius.

He was worth $100m at the age of 23 and about $2.7bn as he approached 50. Nobody makes that kind of money without placing his product in hundreds of millions of homes, and affecting the lives of as many people. What further explanation could you possibly need?

From the point of view of this viewer at least (who’s waiting for his new iPhone 4GS, and who has recently developed a close relationship with an iPad, surely one of the most beautiful inventions ever), it would have been useful to get a sense of how people react to their Apple products, and to what need in those people that Jobs identified and exploited.

It’s not enough to call somebody a visionary and a genius – you need to say why, and show how his work impacted on individual lives. Steve Jobs: iChanged The World never really attempted this and was the weaker for it.

It was on much stronger ground giving us an insight into Jobs’s personality. It didn’t pull any punches. He may have been a visionary and a genius, but he could also be a deeply unpleasant man, as bad an advertisement for Buddhism as it’s possible to be.

He was “a schoolyard bully”, according to Alvy Ray Smith, co-founder of Pixar, who recalled Jobs insulting his accent during a stand-up row at a board meeting.

He “ultimately betrayed everyone” said journalist Robert Cringely, who basically liked Jobs, and who recalled being offered stock in Apple in its early years as payment for work he had done. “I held out for the cash”, he recalled ruefully.

Businessman Ronald Wayne – a co-founder of Apple with Jobs and Steve Wozniak – didn’t like Jobs much – “he had the kind of manner of approach to people that was business oriented”, he said politely – and after some reflection handed back his 10 per cent share in Apple for nothing. That share would be worth €38bn today.

Steve Jobs: iChanged The World was at its strongest when it was telling personal stories like that one. We also found out that though Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates made a reasonable fist of expressing mutual respect in public, “they both said nasty things about each other”.

Gates “is a better friend than Steve Jobs” we were told, “But Steve Jobs is more fun than Bill Gates”.

That sense of fun, as well as Jobs’s pride in his product, was well-captured in a story about Jobs attending a party for John Lennon’s son Sean in Yoko Ono’s New York apartment in the mid-1980s.

Jobs brought an early version of the Apple Mac with him, placed it on the ground and inserted an art application into it.

Within seconds, Sean Lennon was on the floor, playing with it, instinctively understanding how to work it. Within minutes, another of the guests was on the floor drawing pictures, and enjoying himself immensely. “I drew a circle”, Andy Warhol said proudly.

The image of a nine-year-old boy and one of the world’s most famous artists taking equal pleasure in such a new and untried product was the only time in the documentary that we really got a sense of why Jobs and his inventions were so loved around the world.

A little more of that would have gone a long way.

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