Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

I've read previously that the can opener was invented twenty-odd years before the can.  Quite a feat and very prescient.  It sounds unlikely, but the story has a certain persistence about it that makes it crop up time and again.  If true, someone was very good at predicting future developments.  Either that or there was this device and a surplus of fruit kicking around that didn't have a purpose so someone decided to create something that could use them both.

There's been a couple of reports floating around the web this week regarding the late, great Steve Jobs that also seem to precede events, like the invention of the can.  One relates to a cassette recording of an interview with Jobs, circa 1983 before he got the heave ho from Apple for not having the same vision as the rest of the board.  In the interview Jobs talks about a future where people would carry computers around like books, connected by wireless to larger databases.  He also rabbited on about music being stored on computers and the demise of bricks and mortar music shops.  All nonsense, of course, and  it should now be clear why the Apple board wanted shot of the man.  He was clearly loopy!

Another report is about a more recent alleged musing by Jobs, from just before he died (so far I haven't seen any reports of Jobs musing after he died, but don't hold your breath).  It's well known that  he was dismissive of a smaller sized iPad as he apparently believed it would be unusable.  I've found that position to be a bit strange in the past, given that he didn't stop the release of the iPod Touch which is essentially a very small iPad.  Anyway, with the imminent release of the iPad mini - I'm not going to forecast a date this time, it's very obvious that Apple are monitoring my predictions and changing the dates just to make me look less than efficient - Apple have released copies of emails that suggest Steve was coming around to the idea.  The email I saw wasn't actually from Steve, or to him either as far as I could tell, but was between two people who weren't and aren't Steve Jobs.  Anyway, the one writing the email says Steve had seemed to be more supportive of the idea than previously.  Actually it's possible that the opinion is absolutely correct while allowing Jobs to still be firmly against the whole concept as he really didn't like the idea initially, so any move away from wholesale denial could be seen as being more supportive. In fact I may send an email to someone I know - anyone I know - suggesting Steve didn't actually like the idea and release that on the net, just to prove a point.

But the significant parts of these alleged musings are the back stories.  The second one is so obvious, it makes me cringe.  Apple are about to launch the iPad mini (or nano possibly) and there is this statement by Jobs a couple of years ago saying that a 7 inch iPad isn't a good idea.  Since then there's been a raft of 7 inch tablets released that are eating into the Apple market, most notably the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7.  Apple are left launching a device that Steve Jobs didn't think they should launch.  So they are releasing emails between themselves that indicate that Jobs was warming to the idea - if only he'd lived a bit longer he could have joined in the email trail and lent a bit of love.  Anyway, it doesn't matter, an iPad mini, if priced correctly, will sell like hot cakes for the very good reason that Steve was wrong.  Apple were wrong to ignore him in the eighties, but they don't need to keep on beating themselves up for that.  Launch the bloody device, why don't they?

But he was a prophet, surely?  Well I think it fair to say he had vision.  I was around and using computers in 1983 (well, by computers I'm talking about the Sinclair/Timex ZX81 and Spectrum machines) but I had the benefit of a similar exposure to glimpsing the future as Steve would have.  Because two years earlier a BBC production released a radio show that became a cult  book, a TV series and many years later, a film.  I suspect Steve Jobs would have been aware of the book if not the radio series.  For the two of you still furrowing your brows I'm talking about 'The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy'.  You know the one, written by the genius Douglas Adams who, like Steve Jobs, died way too young.  In the Hitchhikers - Douglas shortened it to H2G2 - it featured an electronic book that contained all the information anyone hitch-hiking their way around the galaxy needed.  Crucially the guide wasn't always accurate, in fact it was often downright inaccurate but that was seen as one of its redeeming features and is very reflective of the internet today.  If Steve Jobs hadn't clocked H2G2 then I'd be very surprised.  But I'm not being critical here - I was aware of H2G2, like tens of thousands of others, and I didn't start a journey that would ultimately result in an iPad.  Jobs did.

So, the can opener came before the can, H2G2 came before the iPad and the iPad mini almost certainly will have arrived before Steve Jobs became more supportive of the idea (although that one is going to be harder to prove, so I won't bother).  It's just the one about chickens and eggs that remains to be solved.  Any takers?


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