Steve Jobs and Me

By James Kwak

I took a short break from fiscal and monetary policy to write an Atlantic column about Steve Jobs’s retirement and what it means for the eternal debate over whether and when founder CEOs should be replaced by experienced outsiders. Along the way, I read some interesting papers on the relationship between founder CEOs and stock market returns or company valuations.

I should clarify that I’m no Apple fanboy. I use a MacBook Pro, which I consider almost a necessity given how much time I spend with my computer and the abominable state of Windows. But I don’t like the “my way or the highway approach” when it comes to hardware; I wish it had a Backspace key and a deeper keyboard, among other things.

I understand that controlling the hardware ensures a more consistent user experience and less customer dissatisfaction, but allowing hardware manufacturers to compete certainly has its advantages. Look at Android, for example: I use an Android phone, and even if the iPhone is still the best phone for the median customer (a highly debatable point), the proliferation of Android models means that for most people, there is an Android phone that is a better fit. Although I was an early iPad adopter, I’m generally disappointed with it. It’s great for playing Plants vs. Zombies, checking the weather, or watching a TV episode, but it’s too slow and the browser is too weak to do anything serious. And the fact that you can’t swap out the default Apple keyboard (as far as I know) is a classic example of the problem with the Apple approach: the thing doesn’t even have arrow keys (yes, I know how to use the magnifying glass), and every Android keyboard does a better job with special characters.

Still, there’s no question Steve Jobs is a genius, and nothing like the empty suits who parade through the Times‘s Corner Office column who talk about nothing but hiring, motivation, and teamwork.

Update: Sorry, I meant to say Delete key, not Backspace key.

30 thoughts on “Steve Jobs and Me

  1. i believe if you hold the ‘fn’ key [lower left corner modifier key] and depress ‘delete’ you will get the backspace behavior you’re looking for on the keyboard of your macbook pro.

    you can even turn on a ‘lock’ for the key if you go to —

    apple menu -> system preferences -> universal access -> keyboard

    — and turn on ‘sticky keys’

  2. “I’m no Apple fanboy. I use a MacBook Pro, which I consider almost a necessity given how much time I spend with my computer and the abominable state of Windows. But I don’t like the “my way or the highway approach” when it comes to hardware”

    FWIW, my way of dealing with this is to use Linux Mint on HP hardware – I’ve ordered a t-shirt, so I guess that makes me a Linux Mint fanboy :).

  3. What you call the “median customer” is what I call “most people.” You think of possible users of the iPad and you think of the set of people who are long-time PC users. Apple thinks of everyone. Most people don’t like PCs (whether crappy Dell PCs or shiny MacBooks Airs). Keyboard and mouse interfaces are terrible if you didn’t grow up with them or become accustomed to them through hobby or professional interest. Both the iPhone and iPad empower the people who aren’t already technologically enabled. My parents are immigrants from Vietnam who got manufacturing jobs in America and never used computers in their lives. But they like everyone else wanted to get online, have email, and share photos of their grandchildren. I tried introducing them to both Apple and PC computers, and they hated it. The computers were frustrating and hard to use and when they made mistakes, they didn’t know how to get back to where they started. They’d given up the idea of ever getting online. Then I put an iPad in their hands and both of them were browsing the web, writing email, and admiring photos of their grandchildren within one hour of picking up the device. It does everything they need it to do.

    And if they ever get to the point where they want some custom keyboard, well then they can turn to Android then, I suppose. (Except, of course, Android tablets are a ridiculous sham.)

  4. Do you any laptop that allows swapping out keyboard? I didn’t think so.
    I am sure you are not talking about iphone keyboard, that would be
    the stupidest request ever.

    Obviously it is debatable whether google stole others copyright and
    intellectual property because you want cheap gadget that doesn’t
    keep you satisfied more than month. Why didn’t you buy the TouchPad
    for $99 and see how you like flash. ipad 2 processor is equivalent to 2000 PC
    yet you should have known that before buying but it doesn’t stop you from bitching
    about speed.

  5. Mr. Kwak,

    Enjoy your work on The Baseline Scenario. I have sent you an email about a potential interview on the current affairs program I work with, The Agenda With Steve Paikin. If you could please give me a call at 416-484-2600 X 2501, I’d greatly appreciate it.


  6. @no Android lets you swap the keyboard on the phone, for instance to use the Swype gestures.

    I go back and forth between Android and iOS and find them pretty close substitutes. (I’m always amazed about how invested people are in their opinions about how everyone should use technology and how it should work. There’s probably some research to be done in there on the psychology of tech ‘back-seat drivers’/Monday-morning quarterbacks/fanboys.)

    But I am appalled that I have to buy every app through the App Store. If you’re a developer, you have to pay an Apple tax and Apple tells you what your business model needs to be, conveniently favoring Apple. For instance, magazine publishers can’t bundle a free app with a paid magazine subscription. And of course, if all my info is in the cloud, I’m pretty locked in. If Microsoft had tried to pull this crap, people would have rightly gone apes**t, which is testimonial to Apple’s strength as a brand people trust (for now).

  7. Weather Jobs is a genius or not remains to be seen, my 75 year old rents have always loved the basic America online coupled with the uncleanable lap top. This ensures they are rookies at all times and continueously replacing hardware. I don’t mind staying ahead of them on everything from books to street smarts. But a partnership with auto’s was where I drew my line, I need cheap, fun, consistant, relieable transportation for free over the long haul, not this new suv every 3-5 years with payments and maintenance left and right.

  8. Windows 7 is very solid, far, far better than anything Microsoft had done re: OS’s since the 90s.

  9. Mr. Kwak, I’ve heard some very good things about a Taiwanese company named Asustek that is making great strides in portable computing. I would really love to see you do a post on Asustek, the general area of tech they inhabit, and what you think of them. I would even settle for a short paragraph with the general gist of your thoughts.

    I have very mixed feelings on Steve Jobs. It’s really hard to argue with the results and achievements he has had, which can’t be brushed aside easily. Nonetheless, there was the problem of the i-Phone antenna, which I think Steve Jobs had to take full responsibility for as nothing is released to market without his final say. The cowardly act of trying to push off the i-Phone antenna fiasco on an employee by firing speaks of low character in my book. The man who was fired didn’t make the decision to release the product to the market too early, and any idiot who tried the i-Phone (including Jobs) would have known the antenna problem if he had given the phone a few test runs himself.

    Also there was the backdating of options scandal, which again had Steve Jobs inky fingers smeared all over it. Backdating of options is one of the most low-down, disrespectful, disdainful things a corporate executive (much less a CEO) can do to his shareholders. It shows Apple scored a big <bZERO in the corporate governance column. It’s really incomparable in its sliminess in regards to fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. It doesn’t speak much for Steve Jobs’ morals or ethics.

    Also I see him as very similar to Lee Iacocca in his mastery of P.R. By that I mean when he was done at Ford, Iacocca had everyone believing he had written the original engineering blueprints for the Ford Mustang. Iacocca was more skilled at marketing than engineering. When Jobs takes all of the bows for the products such as Mac, I-Pod, mouse, the original scroll down menus, i-Pad etc, he may deserve a part of those bows for assembling a good engineering team and cajoling them to make a great product. But to say he was the “creator” of all those ideas is very misleading and discredits what I am sure was an outstanding TEAM of engineers.

    One last thing which strikes at least equally as bad as the others. The suicides at Foxconn. Anyone who believes a guy as anal retentive as Steve Jobs had “no idea” the situation at the Foxconn plants, I am afraid is a little more naive a person than the average. You cannot massage/encourage the media’s interpretation of you as detail oriented and then turn around and say “Oh, I didn’t know” or after 17 people kill themselves say something to the effect of (and I am paraphrasing here) “Oh, it’s really not that bad, the workers have a pool at the factory”. To say it strains believability (much less insults human intelligence) is an extreme understatement.

  10. You’ve expressed my sentiments exactly: “I don’t like the “my way or the highway approach” when it comes to hardware” or software for that matter. The elitist attitude Apple takes in deciding that ‘i’ know best for the world has left me totally against ever purchasing an Apple product.


    WEDNESDAY, AUG 31, 2011 09:32 ET
    How the Internet is destroying the middle class
    Artist and theorist Jaron Lanier argues that high-tech “innovations” are making us poorer and less ambitious

    How the Internet is destroying the middle class
    Jaron Lanier
    In a wide-ranging interview for the online magazine Edge, theorist Jaron Lanier diagnosis many of the ills that ail the Internet-age economy.

    Apropos of nothing…
    The Local-Global Flip, or, “The Lanier Effect”
    A Conversation with Jaron Lanier [8.29.11]

    “We used to think that information is power and that the personal computer enabled lives. But, according to Jaron Lanier, things changed about ten years ago. He cites Apple, Google, and Walmart as some of the reasons.”
    (a bit later…)
    “When you start to use an information network to concentrate information and therefore power, you benefit from a first arrival effect, and from some other common network effects that make it very hard for other people to come and grab your position. And this gets a little detailed, but it was very hard for somebody else to copy Wal-Mart once Wal-Mart had gathered all the information, because once they have the whole world aligned by the information in their server, they created essentially an expense or a risk for anybody to jump out of that system. That was very hard. … In a similar way, once you are a customer of Google’s ad network, the moment that you stop bidding for your keyword, you’re guaranteeing that your closest competitor will get it. It’s no longer just, “Well, I don’t know if I want this slot in the abstract, and who knows if a competitor or some entirely unrelated party will get it.” Instead, you have to hold on to your ground because suddenly every decision becomes strategic for you, and immediately. It creates a new kind of glue, or a new kind of stickiness.

    … It can become such a bizarre system. What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated. It’s an anti-liberty system, and I know that the rhetoric around it is very contrary to that.

    … Essentially what happened with finance is a larger scale, albeit more abstract version of what happened with Wal-Mart, where a global system was optimized by being able to build data that could be concentrated locally using a computer network. It tremendously enriched the people who ran the network.”

  12. @ Beth Higby

    Apple products are designed to extract a pure profit from younger buyers who act out of emotion rather than analysis. Apple is more of a fashon company than a technology company. It should relocate to Milan.

    One tidbit from decades past, mid-’80s. I know a woman who dated Jobs when she was working at Santa Clara University a quarter century ago. She called him a pig, said he considered girls expensive disposable conveniences.

    Perhaps he should run for Congress.

  13. @Woych

    Interesting site – “EDGE” – thanks for sharing. I guess everyone knows where the edge is once they fall off of it….


    The “Molecular Cut and Paste” article has ensured that I will have a sleepless night – YIKES!

    With no emotional bonding (parental imprinting) or understanding of the personality of the Creator, playing *god of earth* as a monkey brain with imagination and mucho $$$$$ is cause for a sleepless night…

    Planet Billionnaire’s Hare-Brained *Reality*…?

  14. Jobs will be missed.

    Back to more (pressing) economic and financial matters…

    Mr Kwak, please consider giving Dean Baker’s latest coherent 163 page book (downloadable at, its free, but a donation to CEPR is encouraged) “The End to Loser Liberalism” a read.

    Mr Baker is one of the few economists who saw the Housing Bubble coming. That is, he is not one of those who claim economic/financial expertise, yet failed to see the most profound economic/financial event of their ‘professional’ career (to date) coming.

    I enjoy following the work of Mr. Baker and others at CEPR, as I do a number of other groups, including yours. I am not an economist, nor have any stake in CEPR. Its just a remarkable book.


  15. Jobs had a basic unrelenting understanding of his business and stated it often to his employees” this is not a democracy here”, he had a marketing/sales point of view and maintained it throughout his business life if that makes him a genius I am not sure but at least he understood his generations desire for surface beauty and delivered.

  16. Mac is Unix parading as mac. Linux is unix parading as linux. Mac makes money and gives you little option. Linux often doesn’t and gives you many options.

  17. @Ronald: So didn’t Strom Thurmond in congress, if your view point didn’t concur with his, and you were not on the committee, your vote didn’t count and you were treated as such. And that was/and still is, a democracy.

  18. I wish to follow up on what Joe Bill posted. He mentioned Linux; good.

    I think Mr Jobs is a fine inventive businessman, and I certainly wish him
    well in his struggle against cancer.

    But the really significant figures in computing of our era are surely
    Richard Stallman, and Linus Torvalds. These are the visionaries
    who have _really_ changed the face of computing. RMS, despite
    the many programs he has written, or supervised, will be known
    100 years from now mostly for his GPL, the license that makes sure
    that Open Source software will forever remain free/libre.

    As to Mr Torvalds: I have been running Linux exclusively at home
    and at work since 1994(v .99 pl12). At first Linux was just a Toy;
    after a while, “Oh, very unreliable”. A bit later on: “Oh, good for
    hobbyists, but it is not ready for The Enterprise”. And now of
    course any real Enterprise runs Linux; think Amazon, Ebay,
    Google, etc.

    Finally: there has been mention of Android. Do we all know
    that Android is simply an adaptation of Linux? The Google
    people give it away free because they have to; it is bound
    by the terms of the GPL.

    Best wishes,

    Alan McConnell, in Silver Spring MD

  19. @Woych – Lanier popped out of his man hole and is all over the internet and MSM lately…

    Reading between the lines, it appears he’s terrified of the FACT that through internet *collectivism*, the self-proclaimed knowledge hoarding elite loss their power to re-write history for the collective – ie. manage the propaganda.

    How about a *reality* play hour – go get a Viking-size row boat, chain a bunch of slaves to the oars, and then let them all start rowing in different directions – a Monty Python skit, for sure, and Lanier doesn’t even have to costume-up for the Viking era :-)

    Wikipedia was supposed to be an experiment in evolving an e-Library….

  20. Wow, so much hate and misinformation all in one place. Glad I stopped by before the weekend so I can recuperate. I won’t even attempt to correct others mistakes. May they sit in eternal internet bliss. Maybe someone can Godwin the comment section also.

  21. Lanier’s thoughts on the internet are provocative and also reminiscent of others including Niel Postman who noted that, “Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”

    Lanier’s depiction, “What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated.” is old media’s, TV/radio/print, model for revenue; accumulating and then selling an audience to propagandists/advertisers.

  22. I’ll never purchase an apple product if there is a reasonable alternative. I’m not a gamer, but my Windows Vista, XP and all the Windows before that have never given me any trouble. Apple’s reputation has become almost a myth and has achieve cult status mainly because it has kept the price of it’s products high so that few can afford them.

    Bill Gates put Windows computers in schools and libraries and kept the price low enough that individuals of modest means could purchase them. Because of him, PCs and technology spread around the world much faster than it would have if apple with its high prices had been the only choice. I am convinced we would be much farther behind and less productive if we had had to depend on expensive and elitist apples.

  23. I almost purchased an old MacBook from a reseller I found on the internet for a couple of hundred bucks, but……I wanted new and shiny, and bought myself a birthday present in the guise of MacBook Air. I don’t know Jobs, but I like this machine. I had used Windows for many many years, and I always thought it had so many security flaws it wasn’t even funny…constant patches, etc.

    I was hacked on Windows, too.

    True, the machine was a tad pricey, but I bought the base model because I am pretty basic with computer applications, so that made sense. Maybe Apple is a bit elitist, but i don’t consider myself one.

    I felt some twinges of guilt knowing what was coming out of Foxconn reports of suicides, as I regard slave labor as an abomination, and Jobs definitely went that route, but Jobs wasn’t alone in this. What being sold in USA, from shirts, to shoes, to frozen chicken, isn’t being produced from miserable slaves doing hard work for little pay?

  24. Hi James,
    I was just wondering if you could elaborate on the “abominable state of Windows”. As someone else mentioned, Windows 7 is far more stable and secure than the older versions from the 90’s. It is arguably more secure than OS X. There have just been more hackers targeting the PC in the past. So I would like to know where you’re coming from.

  25. No word yet on if “the Chairman” of Apple, Steve Jobs, has anything to say about this. “Free markets” and “private enterprise” at their best:

    One wonders if Santa Clara County (San Fran Bay area) would be as diligent or as quick to solve a rape case or random murder. Or even your average domestic abuse case. Funny how under certain circumstances things seem to get done awfully quickly and “red tape”/paperwork for things like warrants etc. are suddenly either unnecessary or 1/1000th as difficult to obtain.

  26. The lack of a delete key is so stupid, it means Jobs is not very bright. On top of that, he placed the upper-case lock key so close to the “A” key (to its left, of course) so that one naturally hits it often by mistake and then will sometimes need to erase backward a whole string of capital letters by using the backspace key. It’s infuriating, but Steve Jobs doesn’t care — Apple’s system for feedback from customers is almost as poor as is Microsoft’s. Steve Jobs might be more intelligent than Bill Gates, but that’s faint praise.

  27. I am so confused. I am typing this on a MacBook Pro 13 inch and it has a key named Delete on the keyboard, on the upper right hand side. So does my 15 inch MacBook Pro. So did my Power Book G4, as did the G3. Am I not getting what the problem is?

    OSX is not unix or Linux. It is an out growth of Next, which is based on BSD.

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