The excellent personal tech columnist Walter Mossberg discusses the marketing genius exhibited by Steve Jobs (who just announced his retirement) throughout his career (see video below). About Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s introduction of the Apple II, he says,
They popularized the idea of the personal computer. (…)
But after bringing the personal computer into the mainstream, he changed it all up, and brought out the Mac; didn’t invent the basic technologies in that either. They were developed at Xerox, but Xerox had no ability to market them. So he brought out a computer that had a mouse, that didn’t have command lines, that had icons, and drop-down menus, that we actually think nothing of today. It was ridiculed; it was laughed at. Now every computer runs that way. (…)
Then he did the iPod: again, not the first music player, just the first one you would ever want to buy.
Mossberg underlines a crucial step in the production process, and one that is too often dismissed by people who deride “mere” marketing and product development, and extol only the development of the raw technology underlying products. Consumer goods only starts to make our lives better when final goods entrepreneurs assemble higher order goods so as to produce a package appealing enough to actually get onto our desktops and in our pockets, and demonstrate through achieving profits that the final product is considered more valuable by consumers than the alternate uses of the factors that went into it.
Apple-haters love to point out that Apple is able to charge a premium for the “fashion statement” of using Apple products. I think the appropriate response to that is a Rothbardian, “so, what?” There is also a personal technology item called “clothing” which protects us from the elements. And some purveyors of this “clothing” technology are also able to charge a fashion premium. Are they to be derided as well?
And yes, society would have been better off if Apple, and everybody else, did not have recourse to intellectual property. But given the legal framework we have, we are far better off than we otherwise would have been without the restless energy, improving ardor, and anticipative insight of (to use the Misesian term) “promoter-entrepreneurs” like Steve Jobs.
I would say that Steve Jobs is absolutely, unquestionably, a historical figure who will be studied, not only in business schools, but elsewhere. I think we have lived through, in the last 30 years, an era like the era at the beginning of the auto industry, or the railroads, or the oil industry, or even earlier parts of the industrial revolution. It has its outstanding historical figures, and Steve Jobs is not the only one. But he is one of the two or three leading historical figures of the tech revolution.
Hopefully some day a Misesian scholar will write a modern-day follow-up to Orison Swett Marden’s How They Succeeded, and include a chapter on the extraordinary career of Steve Jobs.