Why I am grateful to Apple and Steve Jobs (a developer’s perspective)

I fell in love with computers at 14.  My dad had taken me to the local community center.  They had a “computer initiation” class on a bulky Commodore CBM system.  Some people proudly brought their own Sinclair ZX-81 along.  I had never imagined that anything like that was possible.

Soon I had my own computer, a TI-99/4A, and I taught myself to program in BASIC, then in Assembler.  I mostly made games and traded them on tapes, by mail, with the TI99 club.  I have been programming and tinkering with computers since then, at work and at home.

There was a lot of excitement about computers, countless user groups and programming magazines.  The first word processor, the first spreadsheet, the first CAD program, the first graphical interface were all invented.  New software and hardware companies would pop up like mushrooms.  There was an incredible sense of opportunity and of endless possibilities.

After that?  Not so exciting stuff.  We got laptops, then netbooks, cheaper and crappier every year.  Bloated and buggy operating systems.  Browser wars.  Viruses. Enterprise applications that, even in 2011, would be better suited to a green 80×24 terminal. Write-once, run-ugly-anywhere software. Crash-prone smartphones so difficult to use that only computer geeks and corporate email addicts could be bothered.

The only bright spot? The Internet and web applications made computers even more useful, and brought some excitement back.

Most innovation happened in the browser, because regular users were wary of installing any third-party software.  With byzantine installation procedures, compatibility issues and rampant malware, I can’t blame them.

Then came the iPhone and the iPad.  Developers could again craft innovative software and put it directly in front of millions of users.  And a networked, pocket computer packed with sensors sure opens the door for plenty of innovation!

Customers now try and buy many apps because it is so simple and because they are reassured that it is safe.  Indie developers do not have to worry about distribution, billing, payment processing or returns, they can focus on what they do best: design and coding.

Apple has led the way and raised the bar for the whole industry.  Google and Microsoft have had to come up with their own platforms.  There is now a healthy competition that was sorely missing during the previous decade(s).

But most of all, Apple has restored a sense of wonder for what computers (in the form of smartphones and tablets) can do.  It has brought back the excitement and the endless possibilities that motivated so many software developers like me thirty years ago.

Thank you Apple, and thank you Steve for that.

[image: Jonathan Mak]

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