One Year After The Death Of Steve Jobs, and Things Are Getting Clearer…

It’s been a year after Steve Job’s Death, and things seem to be going gangbusters. With a collection of releases coming around in the fall, it seemed that everyone was waiting with baited breath at what Apple would come out with.

Leaks happened, of course. the iPhone 5 would be a bit taller, but no fatter. Same with the iPod Touch. The MacBook line would be fattened with Retina Displays. Some lines would be a bit delayed, but that meant they’d all have the most up-to-date inputs and chipsets. Plus, everything would be coming out at one time – the Apple line of computers/phones/music players would be all new in time for Christmas.

Of course, chinks were beginning to show up.

First, of course, were the delays. This almost didn’t happen before, but people didn’t question things. After all, better to get things right than to rush things.

Then came the issue with the Retina MacBook Pro being so tightly packed that one couldn’t repair it if it were to get into trouble. There was a bit of problem with a certain standard of replaceability of the parts, but the company seemed to skip past that problem.

Then…came the iPhone 5, with the iMaps program. A program with a reputation of being an absolute disaster – not fully undeserved, but not nearly as bad as people were ready to believe.

The thing is, there was insane greatness in the program. Whereas most maps (including Google) used multiple scales that one could notice whenever one pinched the map for a much tighter or wider view (try it. Go from a town view to a street view in a second on your smartphone – or the opposite direction. You’ll see either a fuzzy map that gets slowly better as the map gets downloaded, or the lines get VERY SMALL until a new map comes in with the streets either disappeared or resized to fit in with the scale.

With Apple iMaps, the roads rescale themselves as the scale changes. You can go from State to Region to Town to Block view and you’ll see roads pop into view, names fade in and fade out, and details come in as you get closer. The changes are pretty much seamless, with roads popping in when they fit – the more minor the road, the later they pop in and the later still they take up more than a line’s worth of space on the map. No fuzzy lines when you go from far to close, and no micro-roading when you go from close to far.

However, nobody noticed this insane greatness because everyone noticed the lack of detail, various inaccuracies in roads, the ugly way the 3D view handled bridges and isolated tall buildings, and just generally the fact that they went from the hyper-detail of Google Maps to the general detail of Just Another Map Program. That it was put out by Apple itself turned the release into an absolute disaster.

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Of course, this wasn’t something that never happened before.

Two years before there was the iPhone 4, which promised new advances in technology and a sharp look to boot. The highlight was, of course, the two antennas on the outside of the phone, making for better reception and making the antennas part of the structure (and the insides a bit more spacious).

Soon after the phone got out into the public sphere, there was a major problem discovered: One could kill off reception by placing a finger at a certain point where the two antennas sit by each other but don’t touch.

We heard about it for a while. Apple gave out free bumpers so as to protect the antennae from the touch that would kill off reception. They also fixed the antenna display on the screen so that it showed a more linear (and larger) measure of reception. And in the end, I purchased my iPhone 4 with a joke about two million first adapters.

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So what’s different between then and now?

Steve Jobs.

He was around during the iPhone Antenna issue. He had given the reasons for the antenna setup, why they were moved outside the phone instead of keeping them inside, and how it helped the phone with both reception and in creating space within the phone. In short, he gave the reasons why, and people learned to accept it.

Were he around during the recent iMaps issue, he would have pointed out how the lines in the maps changed and expanded as you got closer to them. He would have shown you how details got better as you got closer, and how the 3d was supposed to work. He may have even come upon something that looked stupid, at which he would have uttered an apology for the faux pas, thereby laying in the expectation of an insanely great work that was still in progress.

Two years. Two different outcomes. One person – once around, now missing.

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There’s another way to look at it – one which should be familiar to the reader once it’s stated:

The Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field is no longer in effect.

It’s not so much that we can now crap “crap” (although for many, my brother Matt included, that is EXACTLY and SOLELY what it means). It means that one guy’s view of things Apple is no longer affecting how the rest of the world views things Apple. We’re now making our decisions on what we see, not on what Steve Jobs tells us to see (or imagine).

It also means that Apple is now just another company. A company that’s rich and fat with intellectual property that allows it to sue half the electronics world, but just another company nevertheless.

And the LAST time it was just another company it almost went under. Indeed, it was a wild gamble that brought Jobs back into the company, after him failing at his own computer company and having had some success making 3D cartoons. A gamble that worked for a long time…

Thing is, we’re back to those days.

Say what you will about the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field, but it put a sheen around the company – a sheen that Apple would come to live up to. When Steve Jobs wanted perfection, he would get it – and all imperfections ended up referring to the perfection Steve wanted and knew would come about.

The iPhone 4 would become the iPhone 4S, with the antenna issue fixed in a way that worked better than anyone else could have conceived. Maybe iMaps will come out the same way (like I said, there IS insane greatness in there, you just have to look), but now it will just be iMaps trying to become Google Maps, not iMaps reaching for perfection.

And that’s the bad side of the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field disappearing: We no longer  have an idea of what could be, just what is and its flaws. We don’t see the smooth translation between scenes, we just see that it’s so far from Google maps that it hurts to look at it.

No “what could (and should) be.” Just what is, and why it shouldn’t have been.

And it’s a loss.

Requiem For the Chicago Reader

For me the story goes back to the mid-nineties. Yes, I know the actual story goes back to 1971, but the mid-nineties is where I first saw the paper – all four sections in proud newsprint.

As it happened, that was when the megabookstores (Borders and Barnes & Noble) were moving into Chicago and taking up massive spots in the middle of town, causing independent bookstores to close down all around them. And the Reader was busy reporting on every move made by both the megastores and the independents.

(They would end up getting ripped later on for ignoring the death of the record/CD store during the 2000s, but that’s another story.)

When I moved into town I started picking up The Reader whenever I made it into town (which was quite frequent once I discovered the poetry scene going on around me). I didn’t necessarily focus on the front page story (more likely I was to hunt down the comics up and down the cavernous classifieds section), but I often read it since it was often interesting.

By this time the internet was beginning to flex its muscles. Music stores started closing down all around, starting with the Chain stores and eventually hitting up the independents. Bookstores were feeling it as well, as Amazon.com made it easy to order whatever books you wanted, both cheaper and without sales tax (thereby thumbing it to two “the mans” at the same time, never mind that a new, bigger, more powerful “the man” was rising up). And Craigslist was starting to hit at the true profit-center of the newspaper – Classifieds.

At first, there was massive talk about the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times putting out daily microtabloids (Red Eye and Red Storm, respectively). The Sun-Times had the better microtabloid, but they gave up on that war, leaving the Tribune to continue giving the paper out for free.

Then the two major papers started bleeding red ink. Turns out both of them were under severe mismanagement during the ten years before they both declared bankruptcy, and plummeting classified sales were one of the drivers towards the bankruptcy and shrinkage of the papers.

This happened alongside the collapse of the daily newspaper throughout the United States. Papers grew slimmer, smaller, tackier, less well colored and less and less read.

Then it started affecting the Reader. At first, it was a drop-off from four sections to three, with a select shrinkage in the posting of in-town happenings (Poetry/Spoken Word listings were amongst the first to be dropped off the printed page). Then came the sale to a weeklies conglomerate – at the peak price, it turns out (the silent partner was finally right). Then all the in-depth reporters that were digging up stuff on Chicago on a regular basis were cast out from the paper. Finally, it was turned into a magazine-like format in one section, with the main paper on one side and the music section on the other.

Most recently, the paper was sold to the Chicago Sun-Times conglomerate. That news was confirmed by two things:

  1. The Sun Times box at a bottom corner of the Main part of the paper.
  2. “Kicking Ass Since 1971” on the masthead.

Most telling is the “Kicking Ass Since 1971,” since it makes obvious what most of us have known: The Chicago Reader can no longer kick ass. Sure it can try to do some journalism, but its shrunken size betrays the weakened state the paper is in.

Sure, it’s nice to have an article on squirrels and everything about them, but there is something about a paper that was able to independently expose the dirty underbelly of Chicago. I’m not sure it can do that anymore, though I’m sure it will try.

Maybe we’ll know they’re back when they no longer need to talk about how they’ve been “Kicking Ass Since 1971.”