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How Steve Jobs changed mobility

Melissa J. Perenson | Oct. 10, 2011
It's no dispute that Steve Jobs' influence on technology has been far and wide. However, in reflection, one could say he single-handedly transformed and redefined mobility in the 21st century, in a way no other technology company or individual has done.

The iPhone and its competitors have transformed how we can stay connected while on the go, no matter where we are or what we're doing.  When considering where we came from, connectivity-wise, it's hard not to wonder just where we'd be if Jobs hadn't pursued the iPhone, which in turn led to Google's Android response.

Mobile for Everyone

Jobs performed a similar transformation for laptops after honing his initial MacBook Air design. The Air was Jobs' admitted pet project. But he knew a market was waiting to be tapped; all it took to release the floodgates was the right combination of design, components, and price. When the MacBook Air first came out, I wasn't completely floored by it, conceptually: After all, on previous visits to Japan, I routinely saw slim, ultramobile designs that were available in the Japanese market only. As a fan of sub-three-pound laptops, I coveted such a machine, but when I'd ask manufacturers why we never see such machines in the U.S., they said the same thing: There wasn't a market for them.

By having the conviction to push through his vision, Jobs once again single-handedly created a market -- and proved those companies wrong. Hit the right marks, and the audience will find you. It wasn't that consumers weren't interested in thin, lightweight laptops; they weren't interested in them at the outrageous business-centric premiums manufacturers used to charge for ultralight systems. Meanwhile, as the MacBook Air  got better with age,  the pricing got more attractive, too, particularly as Apple commandeered component supply to achieve more favorable market pricing. Now, three years after the first MacBook Air appeared, look what we have: An entire PC subcategory of Ultrabooks (as Intel calls them), and more ultralight designs based on ARM processors coming next year.

The iPad is a third -- and perhaps Jobs' crowning -- contribution to changing our definition of what was possible in mobile. "Tablet" and "slate" PCs had been in the market for years, but no one had ever pushed through the vision of how to scale it in a way that made the concept of the tablet the mass-market product consumers craved.

Jobs did that with the first iPad in 2010. And yes, Jobs really meant it when he said the iPad was magical and revolutionary. The operating system may have been the same as on iPhone, but the iPad stands out for its physical design; it is curved, not a boxy brick, and it has a responsive touchscreen that works. And it had the power to replace a laptop for all but the most processor intensive tasks (Technologizer's Harry McCracken used his iPad 2 as his only computing device while in Tokyo, for example). All of this is available at a starting price that mere mortals can afford.

 

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