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What you really, really want

Apple’s founder knew what people should desire even before they knew it. Mondy Thapar writes.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2011 15:06 IST
Mondy Thapar

As a dedicated Apple agnostic, I have watched the kind of effect Steve Jobs has had over a generation. Unlike any other grand innovator, he was able to stay ahead of the consumer’s desire curve, in effect plot the line of this trajectory in advance and tell the customer-to-be: oh, you want this even if you didn’t know until this moment that you want this.

Not for Jobs the demographic surveys and market research to find out whether people wanted their apples to be red or green, crunchy or juicy, or even whether they wanted apples in the first place or not. If he was showcasing a shiny, colour-changing apple with a beautiful interface, he would be able to tell folks that this is what they desired. In a way, more than Edison, Jobs was the Henry Ford of our times, pushing his version of the automobile man’s line about people getting to choose any colour for their Model T “so long as it’s black”.

I have seen the relationship between an Apple devotee and an Apple product border the religio-aesthetic long before people started to take their iPads to bed. While Jobs carefully played the card of building his company as the Manichean opposite to the evil corporation called Microsoft, the fact that he was heading a cult of people who swore by Macs and products with the lower-cased ‘i’ was lost on the herd of cool people clamouring to, as Apple’s ‘Think Different’ tagline suggested, ‘be different’.

Don’t get me wrong. Apple under Jobs ensured that the products were great. But Apple products went one whole mile farther by utilising the old Italian concept of beautiful functionality. If the Vespa scooter, the Fiat car and Ferragamo shoe were beautiful, they were first top-notch, high-end utilitarian products that were pleasurable to ride, drive and wear. In his turtleneck-and jeans uniform, Jobs latched on to this notion — thought up and executed with techno-art noveau zeal for each product by Apple’s English senior vice-president of industrial design Jonathan Ive — and took it away from the mob into the herd that worshipped the beautiful-fuzzy.

And above all, Jobs destroyed the myth that it costs the same to come up with a good design as it does to come up with a bad one. He certainly gave Apple unheard of profit margins to provide users with great designs for premium prices. Unheard of in the technology business, but, interestingly, quite the norm in the world of the creative arts.

Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal