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Steven Levy on Steve Jobs and the G4 Cube

Steven Levy, writing for Wired:

In any case, the G4 Cube failed to push buttons on the computer-buying public. Jobs told me it would sell millions. But Apple sold fewer than 150,000 units. The apotheosis of Apple design was also the apex of Apple hubris. Listening to the tape, I was struck by how much Jobs had been drunk on the elixir of aesthetics. “Do you really want to put a hole in this thing and put a button there?” Jobs asked me, justifying the lack of a power switch. “Look at the energy we put into this slot drive so you wouldn’t have a tray, and you want to ruin that and put a button in?”

But here is something else about Jobs and the Cube that speaks not of failure but why he was a successful leader. Once it was clear that his Cube was a brick, he was quick to cut his losses and move on.

In a 2017 talk at Oxford, Apple CEO Tim Cook talked about the G4 Cube, which he described as “a spectacular commercial failure, from the first day, almost.” But Jobs’ reaction to the bad sales figures showed how quickly, when it became necessary, he could abandon even a product dear to his heart. “Steve, of everyone I’ve known in life,” Cook said at Oxford, “could be the most avid proponent of some position, and within minutes or days, if new information came out, you would think that he never ever thought that before.”

The Cube was a worthy failure, deserving of our utmost praise in hindsight. Powerful computers needed to get smaller, quieter, and more attractive. The Cube pushed the state of the art forward.

But the more important lesson embedded in this story has nothing to do with the Cube specifically and everything to do with Jobs’s truly extraordinary ability to change his mind. Strong opinions loosely held — no one’s opinions were stronger, no one’s more loosely held.

Why not pull a Steve Jobs on the App Store? Cut the commission rate to 85/15 across the board and act like it’s innovative and something only Apple could or would do. Open up the Netflix rule to all developers — maintain the rule that if your app charges money as an in-app purchase, you must use Apple’s in-app payment system — but let any and all apps choose to do what Netflix does if they want to opt out of that, and sign up customers on their own outside the app. Just make all of this antitrust stuff disappear before it even starts by eliminating the complaints about money and maintaining what matters more to Apple: independence and control.

Friday, 24 July 2020