Steve Jobs is not an idiot

I keep thinking back to 1989. Apple had just introduced the Macintosh II. This was way back in System 6.x days. A long, long time ago. But why did that year matter? Well, Apple was way way way ahead of the rest of the industry. I remember being in a computer science class back then where they forced us all to use DOS. In the journalism department we had just gotten brand new Mac IIcx’s. I think that’s one reason I went into journalism rather than trying to please my dad and become an engineer or a computer scientist.

Anyway, back then I thought Apple was going to take over the world. Apple’s equipment was just so brilliantly designed. They had the best printer, the best network, the best GUI, the best applications. Remember, back then Microsoft’s apps on Macs were WAY ahead of Microsoft’s apps on DOS and Windows was still a joke.

So why didn’t Apple win?

Well, go back to Rich Cameron’s classroom and look again. He wrote a ton of Hypercard applications for his journalism classes. That’s how we learned how to cover press conferences and all sorts of other things. Many of his tests were done in Hypercard too.

But Apple didn’t realize the power of developers. They ignored Hypercard. Never really improved it. Never gave developers really great tools. I remember meeting software developers who worked on Apple applications and they were always complaining about how hard they were to use, or how many rules they had to follow to make sure their apps were “Apple compliant.”

Many people think Apple didn’t win because Apple didn’t go Microsoft’s route of licensing the OS to clone manufacturers. I’m not so sure about that.

Look at what Microsoft did for developers between 1990 and 1995 and you’ll see that THAT was a huge reason that Microsoft became dominant with Windows 95. I remember when Visual Basic came out that lots of Apple developers would look over at it and say “that’s what Hypercard should have become.”

In 1989 Apple was in charge. By 1995 Apple was a second rate company and by 1999 people were thinking that Apple was going to disappear. Of course we all know the rest of the story, right? Steve Jobs.

So, why do I say that Steve Jobs is not an idiot?

Because he’s had to learn the lesson of 1989. Give developers tools to build apps easily and extend your product or else they, and the market, will go somewhere else.

Anyway, right now Apple is acting a lot like Apple did in 1989. Apple is miles ahead with its iPhone. It’s pretty. The folks I’ve talked to who’ve had their hands on one say it pushes the experience of using a cell phone ahead a mile and is way ahead of, say, my little Nokia N95 that’s sitting next to me right now.

But, why is Steve Jobs telling iPhone developers to pound sand? Dave Winer posits that Apple isn’t opening up the iPhone because they don’t have to.

Oh, but 1989 reminds us that chosing to remain non-friendly to developers will work for a while, but long term will doom you to second rate status.

Steve Jobs isn’t an idiot.

So, what do I think will happen? Oh, I can see the Steve Jobs keynote in 2008 right now. “We’ve sold eight million iPhones, more than we expected” and “remember how I said iPhone apps needed to be done with JavaScript and HTML? Well, we heard from all of you that you wanted to play games on so we added Flash. And we’ve been working on our own iPhone applications for more than a year now and we’re sharing the developer tools we use internally.”

Go back to 1989. What if Apple HAD invested in developer tools? What if Apple, instead of Microsoft, had released Visual Basic? What if Apple, instead of Microsoft, had taken the “consumer coolness” that they had in the Apple II line and made it so that a geek working inside some big company could make a business justification to use Macs instead of Windows machines? (Hint: a big part of that is how easy it is to make business applications).

Maybe Apple is happy with its 5% market share, but I doubt it. Steve Jobs is not an idiot.

Watch him open up the iPhone next year. Until then at least Dori Smith should have a job (she’s one of the world’s experts on JavaScript and is out looking).

Or, do you think Apple will keep the iPhone closed and tell developers to pound sand forever?

Steve Jobs is not an idiot.

(Via Scobleizer - Tech Geek Blogger.)