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New Delhi, October 6, 2011
It's a well-worn cliché to speak of the end of an era when someone well known has passed away.
Today, however, it does feel like something has changed forever in the world of tech.
The brilliance and clarity of vision, the courage of conviction, the fiery intolerance for imperfection. I really don't see another individual impacting technology in anywhere near the same way, in our era, as Steven Paul Jobs did.
He wasn't just the guy who made the world's coolest gadgets. Oh, well, that too. I don't know of any other company for whose products buyers queue up for three days, ahead of launch.
Steve Jobs created markets and product categories. He changed how we consume information and entertainment. He redefined leadership.
I can't think of another person whom I have been so proud to have merely met, once, for a few minutes, or sat through as many as two of his "oh, and one more thing" launches. When he pulled that first iPod out of his jeans pocket, we all stood up, and I didn't even notice when my new notebook slid from my lap and cracked its display. It was a small price to pay to be a part of a piece of history, to experience the famous Jobs near-field distortion.
"The Force is strong with him", an elderly, pony-tailed journo sitting next to me said, perhaps to console me.
There's so much about Steve Jobs that marks him out from the many tech visionaries that dot Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. His never-say-die reinvention of himself and the companies he started, repeatedly turning adversity into advantage, described most famously in his Stanford address. His candor about shamelessly stealing the best ideas he came across, and then turning them into life-changing gadgets. His violent intolerance for "good enough", making life hell for his design and execution teams, but turning out extraordinary products.
Can you think of another person who would have had the vision to take his company into uncharted waters like a mobile phone with no keypad, which no market research had showed any demand for, and then change the world with that? Or who'd have the courage to bet upon and live with one, just one, model to take on the world's phone vendors... and then to edge them out, with the world's most brilliant, and most profitable smart phone? Or have the vision and execution to back great design with the amazing apps and accessories ecosystem that led to the re-invention of the tablet?
This is a eulogy from a non-fanboy, and indeed something of an Apple critic. Though my first computer was an Apple IIc and my home is today dotted with iPads and iPods, I am no fan of Apple's closed-garden approach, its secrecy and indeed its arrogance, or its historical lack of interest in India.
I know that all of these largely derive from Steve Jobs, despite his old ties with India, which famously made a big impression on him as he backpacked through it (or when he went for his meals to a Hare Krishna temple in California).
But we lived with all that that, and still bought Apple products. The secrecy and arrogance were an inseparable, even necessary part of the picture of Steve Jobs and Apple, especially if you go by results: stunning, life-changing lifestyle devices.
With every chapter that ends, there is a new beginning.
Of course the world, and Apple, will produce more outstanding, life-changing products. But yes, something has changed in the world of tech today, leaving (for Star Wars fans) not just a disturbance, but also a major discontinuity, in the Force.
Prasanto Kumar Roy, 43, is a noted technology journalist and analyst. He is Chief Editor of Cybermedia's infotech and telecom publications and CIOL.com, a tech portal. An alumnus of St. Stephen's College, Delhi, he is deeply interested in mobile technology, and is a keen evangelist and writer on green tech. He travels widely and lectures on technology and media issues.