I recently finished reading biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It's a great book that shows Jobs not only from his side but also as perceived by his friends and enemies. After reading the book, I can certainly say that Steve Jobs was a complicated person. I can't say that I can admire him but there are definitely traits in him that appeal to me.
I consider myself a geek. I like technology. I like taking it apart, whether it's upgrading a part in my computer or studying the source of an open source project. By this account, Apple products should not appeal to me. After all, you can't even replace the battery in most of its devices. And yet I own an iPhone, an iPod and MacBook Air (I do also have a Linux desktop). I have these Apple devices because I love their design. I love how they look -- the body, the interface, the little click the magnetic plug of the charger makes as it latches onto my MacBook. When I talk to other geeks about Apple, some mock me for indulging in this "trivial" stuff. They think that people should not care about this fluff and should only care about how many GHz or GB the machine has. Or at least geeks shouldn't. They say that Apple is not a technology company, it's an industrial design company, making it sound like an insult. And yet many of these geeks admire cars like Mercedes, BMW or Ferrari. And while they appreciate the horsepower of the engine or quality workmanship, they love to talk and adore the car's design. A car is a piece of technology. Why is it ok for geeks to admire its design but not the design of a notebook or a phone?
And so I admire Steve Jobs for getting it that hi-tech should be beautiful and not just functional. And I also admire his desire to have everything work by having everything be integrated. Who doesn't like it when "it just works". But what I don't agree with is his assertion that it can only be achieved with a closed system. In fact he demonstrated that it doesn't have to be. Because Jobs would insist that Apple focus on only a few things at a time, they avoided making anything that would not be "absolutely great". For example, under his watch Apple was not in the printer business. And yet printers work pretty well with Macs. Third party printers connect via open interfaces (USB, LPD, IPP) and work just fine with PCs and Macs (unfortunately not Linux). Another example is iPhone. When it launched, Apple did not the capacity do its own maps. So while it developed the app, it used Google's data to power it. That was only possible because Google's maps were open.
So I hope many companies will copy Apple and pay more attention to design, simplicity and focus, but not embrace its close-system philosophy. I hope companies will embrace standards, open formats and open source. But I hope they will do so without sacrificing the ease of use and the "just works" philosophy. I truly believe they are not mutually exclusive.