COUNTING THE WAYS
There's a terrific article in Wired today by Leander Kahney titled "Why I love Apple" that's a must-read for anyone that has even remotely been smitten by a special touch on a product. I've referred to them in previous posts as companies and products that "Thrill".
I cite it here not just because I can share this "love" for Apple, many of it's products and their special touches (I do), but because it indirectly touches on Steve Jobs' obsession with detail (more on that later).
As TUAW (the unofficial Apple weblog) describes the Wired article,
"Leander points to the elegant way that Apple's Mail.app handles dates in columns that are resized. The date formatting changes so that the date is still readable within the column, just another example of Apple's attention to detail."
Before you say "Wow, that's geeky!", and/or "so what?", here's what Leander said next that hopefully resonates with mainstream users of products everywhere:
"Part of the magic of this discovery was the serendipity. If it had been a "feature" -- a behavior purposely brought to my attention by Apple -- I would have shrugged and said, "so what?" But because I discovered it by accident, it struck me as artisan touch; a craftsman's attention to detail."
Although many companies have long incorporated "magical" features like this in their products and services, Apple is relatively unique amongst technology companies for doing this more consistently than most.
And it's thanks in no small parts to Steve Jobs.
Leander's article reminded me of a Steve Jobs anecdote that high-lights the serendipitous nature of Steve Jobs' special attention to detail, mostly to the benefit of mainstream PC users worldwide today, be they Windows or Mac users
The anecdote is part of a Commencement address by Steve Jobs at Stanford University last June.
In it, Steve describes a serendipitous event that occurred when he dropped out of Reed College. Here's an excerpted version:
"I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit...
"The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting...."
"...much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example: Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country..."
"Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.
It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them.
If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do."
I loved this story when i first read it last year. So much so that I saved the whole speech, which is very much worth reading in it's entirety.
And in many ways, it's a large part of why otherwise sane and mostly objective grown-ups discuss questions like "Why I love Apple" in public.