By MG Siegler
Steve Jobs was the ultimate showman. As such, it should be no surprise that he realized the power of following up a great performance with an encore. But unlike many musicians who treat encores as a given add-on for each show, Jobs seemed to recognize that encores are much more powerful if they’re used judiciously. The Steve Jobs encore was the “One more thing…” He didn’t use it all the time, and because of that, when he did, it would whip the audience into a frenzy.
Following his passing, the question now turns to what Jobs was working on in his final days. Surely, the master showman has something to present us with even though he’s no longer around to show it off, right? After he stepped down as CEO in August, I made the case that his final “One more thing…” was actually Apple itself. That his last great product was actually a self-sustaining company that could continue to pump out innovation even after he’s gone. Hopefully that will be the case. But it’s sure starting to look like he may have had a few tangible “One last thing…” products up his sleeve as well.
In the weeks following his death, reports have been popping up that he was working on a few new things, perhaps even up to the day before his passing on October 5. One of these projects is said to be the iPhone 5 (or whatever it will be called). This isn’t the iPhone 4S, but rather a completely redesigned version of the phone. If you believe the report by CNet’s Brooke Crothers, Jobs was not very involved in the 4S itself because he was focusing his time on the 5. Crothers goes so far as to say this was Jobs’ “last big project”.
Considering the iPhone is Apple’s key product now (at least in terms of revenue), certainly one final version revamped by Jobs himself would be a worthy final project. But Jobs clearly loved to transform different industries with his new innovations. The iPhone 5 probably doesn’t fit that bill — he already disrupted that industry. Further, other reports now suggest Jobs had his hands in other things in his final months.
Jobs’ upcoming biography is the source for a lot of this new information. Even though the book won’t be out until Monday, several tidbits have leaked out over the past few days. Consider that sentence a verbose SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!
Another potential “One more thing…” for Jobs is apparently digital textbooks for the iPad. “Mr. Jobs’s biographer Walter Isaacson says in the book that Mr. Jobs viewed textbooks as the next business he wanted to transform,” Damon Darlin and Nick Wingfield reveal on The New York Times’ Bit blog. Jobs apparently went as far as having meetings with publishers about partnering with Apple to make this happen. And he was thinking about ways of circumventing state certification requirements (a tricky issue in the textbook market).
Revolutionizing textbooks may seem a bit ho-hum by Jobs’ standards, but it’s pretty clear that Jobs was passionate about the U.S. education system, and felt this country was falling behind. While digital textbooks may not have the sex appeal of the iPad itself, something of that nature could ultimately prove to be the most disruptive in the long run.
And then there’s the big one.
For years, there have been rumors of Apple (AAPL) working on a television. Not the current Apple TV, mind you — an actual television set. Once the Apple tablet became a reality with the iPad unveiling in 2010, the Apple television took over as the new mythical invention that everyone loves to contemplate. I’m guilty of this as well. A number of times, I’ve laid out why I think the television space is the next major market Apple will go after. Why? Simple. It’s extremely ripe for disruption.
But others have long disagreed. Most skeptics point to the fact that the television hardware market is rife with issues like very low margins, long product cycles, tough distribution, and an all-powerful industry (cable) that essentially makes the hardware their bitch. There are many good points being made. Of course, many of these things were previously said about the mobile phone industry, and even the PC industry before that. And most of these things are exactly what make the market so ready for disruption.
It would be a challenge, no doubt. But it’s the type of challenge that Apple under Jobs seemed to live for. And conquering such challenges is exactly why Apple has thrived.
So it’s not surprising for me to hear that Apple does indeed have plans in the television space. “The new biography on Steve Jobs has a major product reveal: Apple may drop a full-fledged television,” Hayley Tsukayama reports for The Washington Post. She calls this “Jobs’s final plan” — funny how many of these there seem to be, no?
Here’s the key part:
“He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant,” Isaacson wrote.
Isaacson continued: “‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’”
“I finally cracked it.” No four words have ever made me more excited.
Apparently, the biography doesn’t dive into any further details about the project. Quite frankly, while the fact that Apple is working in the space isn’t surprising, it is surprising that Jobs would say anything about it. Almost nothing has leaked out of the company with regard to the project. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever heard thrown around is a reference to a project codenamed “Sphere”. That’s it.
Considering how big the market is, and the amount of disruption that the television has brought not just to technology but various fields like entertainment and information, an Apple television would certainly seem to be a fitting last “One more thing…” for Jobs. Television is a core technology that touches billions, but it really hasn’t been fundamentally rethought in decades. Sure, the picture has gotten better and the content more expansive, but we’re now forced to interact with it through crappy cable boxes and remotes that I would call Fisher Price-esque — except that it would be a huge insult to Fisher Price.
So that’s what I’m hoping for from Jobs’ final “One more thing…” A new iPhone is and will be awesome. Re-imagined textbooks sound great and potentially very important. But I want Apple in my living room disrupting the stale status quo. There’s a reason that Apple refers to the current Apple TV as a “hobby” — it’s just a foot in the door to ensure that it doesn’t close as they work on something much bigger. The real product will see Jobs transform another massive industry — only this time he’ll do it posthumously.
One final rabbit out of one final hat from the master showman.