I’m not really certain as to when or how it happened. Maybe it’s because they emerged during my youth. Or perhaps it was because, due to some shrewd thinking on their part, they were more prevalent in schools and libraries. Somewhere, somehow, I got hooked on Apple. I not only wanted to use their products but also help create and sell them. The connection has been something that has contributed tremendously to my personal interests, my career, and lifestyle.
I still remember clearly the months on end wait to receive our Apple IIe from 47th Street Photo in New York. I am fortunate to have a Dad who has always been an early adopter and we ordered an Apple IIe soon after it was launched in 1983. This would be our family’s first home computer but it would definitely not be the last.
I would spend hours upon hours tinkering away with the Apple IIe. Playing games but also trying to figure out how the games were made and how the machine could do such amazing things. It wasn’t long before my parents enrolled me in computer courses. Eventually I started to help teach the class and began to help with computers throughout my elementary and middle schools. I even made friends with the local Apple retailer and would regularly stop by to check things out and chit chat. Every few years our household would add a new machine, leading to a fun progression of products including an Apple //c + and the “amazing” Apple //GS (the autographed “Woz” edition!)
It wasn’t too long before my early adopter dad was getting ready to jump into pocket computing. A physician by trade, he wanted to create an electronic application for the management of patients and prescriptions. Reasonable idea, except he wanted to do it on a small electronic device. In the early 90s this idea was a bit of leap from reality. When Apple launched the Newton platform my Dad saw a path and I joined him to help develop an application we called MedScribe. As we soon discovered, application development as a side-gig on a nascent platform is not an easy thing and the project stretched out over several years.
During my sophomore year in college I was hired as an Apple Student Representative. From this starting point, I applied for an Internship at Apple. They told me that every year they received 5,000 applicants and would accept 100. When I was selected, I was absolutely ecstatic. I would be working in the Newton Group helping to develop the market for Newton by supporting developers. My dream job and I was still in college!
When I arrived in Silicon Valley for the first time on a warm Saturday afternoon in late May 1995, I felt euphoric. After I picked up my Apple-supplied rental car there was little doubt as to my first destination: 1 Infinite Loop. I drove to Apple’s campus and walked through the infamous “Icon Garden” which featured larger-than-life versions of the icons in the OS. I gazed into the windows of the lobby and the Apple Company Store. It was an amazing feeling to dream of doing something for over 10 years and finally be at the doorstep.
My time at Apple was wonderful. The ill-fated Newton team had high spirits and was committed to changing the future. The collective focus was Newton 2.0 which would be an incredible improvement to the operating system that would hopefully jump-start the platform. As I look at the new iOS 5 I can say with certainty we weren’t off the mark – just ahead of our time.
One of the most amazing things about working at Apple was the culture and general air of friendliness. I quickly made friends and was allowed to join the beta test team to help test and find bugs in the new software. It was also exciting to deal with Apple customers as they were always so enthusiastic about the company and products. I felt that the things we were working on were amazing, and they connected with customers on an emotional level. That provided me with a sense of fulfillment that I now know is critical with any job. Working at Apple’s campus in Cupertino was a real pleasure. The cafeteria was amazing (I still enjoy meeting my Apple friends there for lunch), and several times a week I would play basketball with colleagues like computing legend Steve Capps. It felt like a special place and I felt lucky to be there.
I managed to stretch my Internship into a year-long stint. As the Newton Group came under increased scrutiny and the future became increasingly uncertain I left Apple (for Intel) with very mixed emotions. Of course one of Steve Jobs’ first moves upon returning to Apple was to kill Newton to focus on core products – but the vision remained intact.
Over the years I continued to amass a great collection of Apple products. One of the more interesting products I have owned is the 20th Anniversary Mac that came out in a limited run of 12,000 machines in May of 1997. It featured craftsmanship, components, design, and materials that were far ahead of its time. This was one of the first products I had seen that delivered an experience across touchpoints. The packaging was gorgeous, it came with leather covers for the manuals, a matching pen set, and multimedia content to show off its capabilities. Owning this product showed me what a true product experience should be. Over a decade later most top tier electronics companies – like Jawbone or Vizio – realize that a complete experience, materials, and finish are all things that matter to consumers and result in higher sales.
I was happy and successful at Intel but missed the certain connection I had with my work when I was at Apple. I wanted to find again the sense of fulfillment that comes from working on amazing products and getting people excited.
This search led me to the design industry and frog– both of which owe a debt to Steve Jobs for their existence – as he hired Hartmut Esslinger and his growing firm to create the infamous “Snow White” design language for Apple in the 80s. This work catapulted frog and the idea that design not only mattered – but could be outsourced.
I recently joined Fjord to help establish our San Francisco presence. At Fjord I feel fortunate to be in a position to help our clients create exciting new products and services, grow market share, and form an emotional connection with their users. As I think about our leading design principle of Elegant Simplicity, I can’t help but acknowledge the impact Steve Jobs has had on making companies care about design – and showing that there is a way to create a product experience that people don’t even know they want until they see it.
Looking back and considering how Apple has impacted my life, I know that I am here at Fjord today and passionate about what we do in no small part due to my lifelong experiences with Apple and its products. I have come from tinkering with an Apple IIe to working in the Newton Group to joining Fjord where what we do every day has been at least in some small way influenced by Steve Jobs and Apple.
As I sit down to read my kids a story from an iPad tonight, I definitely realize that more than any product experience, Apple has provided me with experiences that impact how I live, work and play – a lifelong experience. Thanks Steve.