#tarteauxpomme: the patience of jobs

the self-styled saviour of Apple Inc. (“Saving the company from the problems he caused?” Discuss) is rapidly becoming the company’s biggest liability – and that’s saying something given the recent problems with the 27″ iMac’s yellow screens, the MacBook’s ropey chargers and the scandals over the handling of the iPhone 4 ‘lost’ prototype and now its post-release signal problems.

when he’s not organising his polo neck sweaters into one pile of dark black and another of slightly darker black, it seems ‘big Stee’, as no-one but me yet calls him, likes to stay up late and personally answer emails from customers (and journalists) whilst high, or drunk, or stupid.

after the last embarrassing exchange with Gawker Media’s Ryan Tate in which Jobs waxed dictatorial about “freedom from porn”, it seems no-one has sat the chief down and recommended he spend his evenings doing something else like building models of giant $100 bills out of mulched $100 bills or repeatedly super-cleaning his crap white trainers with Cif and a toothbrush.

no, alas, another such conversation, this time with a disgruntled iPhone 4 customer, has hit the headlines, and Steve has once again emerged looking close-minded, out of touch and borderline insane. the guy told him that he is an avid Apple fan and has bought “just about every Apple product from the last 20 years” – exactly the kind of customer Jobs would want to keep sweet, right? – but is frustrated by the signal problems he is experiencing with his iPhone 4 and the lack of clarity over whether a fix is on its way.

Jobs’ response to this reasonable complaint from his core demographic?

“You’re getting all worked up over a few rumors. Calm down.”

the guy replied to point out to King Steve that rumours were not the issue, but the really poor reception he was getting on his iPhone 4 and that, given the circumstances, “calm down” could be taken as a rather dismissive and patronising response. Steve’s ‘apology’ read:

“You are most likely in an area with very low signal strength.”

coming back to him a third time to point out that he lives in an area rated ‘Excellent to good’ by AT&T and that he has successfully used iPhones since they came out with at least three times more signal reliability than he is currently getting, this unreasonably patient individual got this nugget of practical and informative advice from the Jobster:

“Hold tight”

there are exactly zero companies on earth who would describe that conversation as a wise move for a CEO and one can only wonder what would happen to an Apple Genius or Store Assistant who told a customer to calm down and just ‘hold tight’ after they complained that their £500 phone doesn’t work. luckily, Apple is less a company and more a cult, whose products sell out even before they work properly, so I imagine they’ll get away with it. for all the worries I have about Apple’s vision for controlling the App Store and perceived commitment to dictating more and more of their users’ experience, it is Jobs himself that troubles me most. he is, at best, one of the most arrogant men in the world and also one of the most deluded. at worst he is a filthy-rich, power-mad, would-be dictator who seems to think he can dismiss his customers’ concerns with contempt worthy of a C16th European monarch.

the Old Testament’s Book of Job presents a tale about an ordinary man who falls victim to a torrent of ill fortune, seemingly at God’s hands. thinking it unfair that as a pious individual he should suffer such a fate, he takes his complaint to the top, and demands an audience with, and an answer of, the divine. the phrase ‘the patience of Job’ is often used in a way that implies that he suffered his trials with saintly grace and faith, but the story actually tells otherwise. Job is enraged and scandalised by what happens to him, curses the day he was born (which, given the norms of the culture that produced the myth, is essentially an act of blasphemy) and, more so, demands God to appear in court and provide him with an explanation.

the Hebrew text of the story is one of the most complex in the Christian or Jewish canon, and notoriously difficult to understand and translate. given what we can accurately decipher, there are two basic ways of interpreting God’s response to Job’s audacious challenge. the point is either that God appears in a whirlwind in order to terrify Job back into submission and roasts him for the impertinence of his whining about his trivial problems to the creator of all life, demonstrating that human experience is ultimately insignificant in comparison to the work of God… or… that Job’s courage, outrage and challenge is infinitely more upright and insightful than the advice of his ‘friends’ – who insist throughout that his misfortune must really be his own fault – and that while God is the creator and sustainer of the world, directing its every event (like exactly what happens to individuals) is not part of the remit.

as far as i’m concerned, one interpretation is disturbingly fascistic, and the other is instructively provocative. i know which i find inspiring, but i wonder which would strike Steve more meaningfully? it seems to me that Mr Jobs would like to think of himself as a radical and a challenger of norms. however, his character seems to have a totalitarian aspect which regularly bubbles up.

Apple built (and rebuilt) its reputation on the back of a strong design ethic, a meticulous attention to detail and user experience and a certain sense of providing a radical option – the hammer that breaks Big Brother’s all-controlling telescreen in Ridley Scott’s classic Apple advert. the problem is that while questions continue to be raised about their commitment to quality control, Jobs (and thus Apple) seems to be becoming more and more the Big Brother figure he/it used to want his/its customers to hate.

perhaps it is now time for Steve to step aside. after all, his fanaticism and ‘people skills’ took Apple from the verge of greatness to near collapse once before, or has he forced everyone in the company to forget that?

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  • Comments (5)
  1. Turns out that those quotes were all made up. Ouch.

  2. Sorry, J, I only remembered this comment a second ago. Better late than never, I guess:

    I’d say that some user from BGR is way less reliable than Apple’s official statement. I mean, I guess it could be some cover-up of uncharacteristic lunacy by Jobs, but I’d place a significant wager on the headers being, as they easily are, faked by the BGR user. Of course, even if they’re not faked it doesn’t necessarily follow that it was Jobs doing the replying.

    The misreporting of which emails were sent by which person doesn’t really lend credibility to their argument, either. It makes what was said appear far less ridiculous.

  3. Hmm, it’s one of those has Apple got more to lose or BGR more to gain type scenarios. I’d be more inclined to believe Apple’s story if ‘big Ste’ didn’t have a track record.

    I am more and more convinced that there is a dark vision at the heart of Apple, which may or may not begin and end with Jobs. Time for a new CEO – I’d vote for Jony Ive.

  4. If there is to be a change of CEO, and that’ll only happen when Steve says it’s going to happen, then I’d like to see Ive. When you look at the things his vision has given to apple over the last decade, it is hard to argue with that side of things. Whether he is interested in being a CEO is another thing.

    As long as he keeps knocking out products like the iPhone, iPod and iMac, I’m not too bothered. Might be somebody like Shiller or Cook.

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