Sunday, October 21, 2007

Apple, Jobs developing new, human side?

Ever since the return of Steve Jobs, Apple hasn't been about faces. Withe the exception of Apple's media events where Jobs, Phil Schiller, the occasional product manager or VP would take the stage, Apple's people have been mostly hiding in shadows.

When you interact with Apple's web page, you don't interact with people. You read news items or carefully crafted PR, search databases, buy with 1-Click™, or, at best, interact with other users in the support forums. It's all cool and impersonal.

Even video introductions for products show screencasts, and feature professional voice actors.

Under Jobs' tenure, "About" boxes of Apple's software products stopped listing the names of individuals (perhaps for fear of making the jobs of headhunters too easy). Even O'Reilly's Learning Cocoa book was, somewhat ridiculously, written by "Apple Computer, Inc." Not by people.

But that trend has been changing lately. First, there was the iPhone guy. Then Steve Jobs started to blog. And now we have the Leopard guy.


Jobs has "blogged" on the following occasions so far: when he delivered his open letter to record industry executives; when he addressed criticism by environmentalists and envisioned a greener Apple; when he announced a rebate for early iPhone customers; and finally, when promising an iPhone SDK (no link available, the announcement is simply a text-only item in Apple's Hot News section).

The first "blog post" is unique in that Jobs expresses a personal opinion and attempts to influence decisions by executives of an industry by summoning the power of media. It isn't something a company or a CEO does routinely, it certainly isn't business as usual, thus its unusual format is understandable and warranted.

However, the other items could easily be replaced by traditional Apple press releases. They do not really contain anything special that would necessitate their unorthodox format. There doesn't seem to be anything inherently suggesting a need for personal communication from Steve Jobs in those messages. Yet Jobs has chosen to present them as personally signed pieces of communication.

Again, why?

Similarly, the two new faces Apple has attributed to its iPhone and Leopard products (without names, though) mark a strange departure. None of the demos we see from these two guys would suffer one small bit, none would be any less informative or useful if we saw no faces, only narrated screencasts and close-up shots.

Yet Apple has decided to add those faces.


Is it just some PR stunt that Apple's advisers have come up with?

Or is Apple maybe concerned that it's growing too big and scary? Is it adding a human touch in order to counterbalance a (perceived or real) mean streak in its operations? The buy-me-twice ringtones, the options scandal, the monopoly accusations?

Or is Steve Jobs simply growing more vain, mellow or sentimental with age? Does he maybe think more and more about his image, his perception – maybe his legacy?

By the way. Did you notice how that Leopard guy really looks and sounds like Steve Jobs doing a keynote? By the time he talks about Quick Look, his voice could be mistaken for Steve's. He could be nicknamed Steve Lite. It's almost spooky.

Maybe this is what Jobs means when he keeps talking about Apple's DNA.

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