Steve Jobs

My iPhone slid out of my shirt pocket a few months ago and fell straight onto concrete. I was luckier than some: the only damage was a shattered back panel. I slapped a strip of black gaffers tape over it to keep it intact. I knew that I could take it to any Apple Store and have the back replaced for just $29, but I carried it around like that anyway.

I figured it was my punishment for not taking care of my toys.

I finally went into a Store today to get it fixed.

I went to Apple.com and reserved a time for my visit. When I arrived, I was greeted at the entrance. The place was packed, even though it was the middle of a random Wednesday afternoon. People were playing with every demo unit on display.

For all of the crowding, this mall Apple Store was still a pleasant place to be. It was clean and well-lit, and the staff were all clean, kind, and patient.

I made my way to the Genius Bar at the back. I was greeted a second time by an employee whose job was simply to act as a welcomer, concierge, and facilitator. He invited me to take a seat while I waited for my appointment. I was early.

I sat in a large area reserved for one-on-one training. A dozen or more people were learning how to use their Apple hardware. Some, I reckoned, were doing things with computers that they’ve never done before.

Me, I took out my iPad. I was on the store’s open WiFi in an instant. I wrote a few emails.

Five minutes before my scheduled time, a Genius walked up to where I was sitting. The broken glass was a simple problem and he explained that they could fix it up in just ten or fifteen minutes. He tapped away at an iPhone that had been equipped as a logging system for work orders and then he walked away with my phone.

I looked around. I saw a man carrying in an iMac wrapped in a towel, the way you’d carry a sick and beloved dog into the vet.

I saw a child who couldn’t have been more than four years old playing with an iMac that had been set up at a table low enough for four-year-old children to sit at. She was playing a word game of some sort. Presently, a parent came by and handed the girl what I presumed to be the child’s own white iPad 2, fresh from servicing. I sure didn’t think that this 30-ish woman had put Dora stickers on her own iPad.

The child stopped just short of hugging the iPad like a doll, but she was clearly very pleased to have it back again. She held it and woke it up and tapped through to her favorite apps. Satisfied — and at the urging of her mother — she then tucked it under her arm in a maternal way and held her mother’s hand as they walked out.

I spied another store employee with a full-sleeve tattoo in progress. Her forearm was complete but a koi that splashed down from her elbow had only been outlined. The traditional staff uniform is a tee shirt (in the color du jour). Staffers are welcome to throw something on underneath it. She obviously felt comfortable enough in this environment to show off her tattoos.

Another Apple employee approached me, with my repaired phone. I hadn’t budged from that table since I walked in and sat down. $29 plus tax for the repair. His iPhone card scanner didn’t work for some reason but he didn’t let his annoyance show. After two swipes, he apologized sheepishly and led me to the store’s POS terminal. Zip, tap, a few pleasantries, and it was all taken care of.

Let me extract elements from that story:

1) Staff acknowledging people as human beings, and with courtesy.

2) A pleasant, beautiful space to be in, even if the store wasn’t a “landmark” property.

3) People learning things.

4) People who don’t simply own and tolerate their computers, but who feel a real emotional connection to them.

5) People who live lives that are a bit out of the mainstream, in a space where they feel comfortable being who they are.

6) Kids who see the most advanced technology in the world as just another window through which they perceive the world.

7) The worst thing that can happen in a relationship between a manufacturer and a customer — a broken product — being handled quickly, courteously, efficiently…and affordably.

Steve Jobs was correctly known as the most productively hands-on CEO in technology or maybe even any other industry. The Apple Stores were a particular obsession. If you walked in and discovered that the table of hard drives had become a table of headphones and the hard drives were now on the third shelf of the first bank of product shelves, it was probably because of something Steve decided earlier in the week.

Steve is dead. But you walk into an Apple Store and you see all the reasons why he was such a phenomenal CEO, and why so many people feel the way I do tonight.

113 replies
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  1. Liam
    Liam says:

    I had my MacBook repaired at an apple store in England about a month ago. A wet Tuesday afternoon and the place was full of people. A table full of over 60s using the iPad, a bunch of kids playing music on iMacs. It was amazing. Mr Jobs created something remarkable.

  2. viskar, Norway
    viskar, Norway says:

    Thanks, Andy, for capturing the real-life impact of the Man behind and in front of the Company in such a great way. Your essay is both dignifying and moving in its description of the extraordinary products and customer experience that Steve worked so hard to hammer into the minds of his organization and the public. A worthy tribute.

  3. Mike Hodos
    Mike Hodos says:

    I have been reading tributes all morning and wonder how I will go to work. I never met Steve Jobs, but I have been an Apple user since 1983 and always felt part of that group of “the rest of us,” that Steve made computers for.

    Andy, your tribute also made me weep, but it’s the first one to also make me smile. Thank you.

  4. Andy
    Andy says:

    I learned of Steve’s death at 1am this morning, some 12 hours later (I’m in Sweden) I’d finally come to terms with it.

    Reading your touching tribute, whilst Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” is playing on my iMac, brought me straight back to the sadness and despair I felt this morning.

    Right now the tears are streaming down my face. I don’t think I’ve cried since my dog died over 20 years ago.

    Thank you Andy, very moving, very touching, very honest. Exactly what I needed to read.

    And thank you Steve, the world feels different now.

  5. Jeff Lunt
    Jeff Lunt says:

    I’m truly moved. I’m not the kind of person who feels loss very often at the death of a public figure, but just thinking about Steve since last night I realize how many ways his vision has touched my life, from his leadership and vision, to the way he translated that into things that many of us used everyday. I don’t think anyone else has put more of a human touch on technology than Steve.

    He will be deeply missed.

  6. Sean
    Sean says:

    I am also a very happy Apple customer. My ipad 2 took a small fall to the sidewalk. Screen was cracked totally, but it still worked. I had the same experience as the author of this article….they replaced my Ipad 2 no questions asked since I only had it for less then 2 months. Fantastic customer service.

  7. Danstan Bagenda
    Danstan Bagenda says:

    Thanks Andy, here I am as a Ugandan living in Uganda feeling so sad and lonely after my wife called me, as I waited in my 3 year old’s school pick up zone, to let me know about Steve Jobs. She knew I would be devastated. For whatever reason I decided to log in to your website – Why?, I do not know? I am glad I did…You have made the news easier to take in.. I hope that my daughter & son will one day be able to capture the essence of those things you so well captured above.. Using technology as the conduit, Steve taught us about the possibility of a different way to live life… a way that brings out the best of all of us… It did not matter that we are American, Chinese, Italian, Brazilian, African,etc….We all had the same reaction…. Thanks Steve..

  8. Andy Reinstein
    Andy Reinstein says:

    Andy, thank you, I knew that something by you would be beautifully balanced !

    On TWIT during the Apple Event the other night, there was much conjecture as to the significance of the S in 4S. I would like to think “S” was an homage to Steve, who they knew had very little time.

  9. Russe11
    Russe11 says:

    Andy,

    Ever since first reading your back page column in MacWorld in the late 80s (when print technology magazines were all the rage), I’ve admired your writing ability, wit and knowledge in this shared area of interest. You were very informative in my pursuit of a combined career in technology and journalism.

    While I was surfing on my iMac last night and saw the news that Steve Jobs had died, I was sad and had the same word pop into my head that everyone else did: Visionary.

    He was Walt Disney and Willie Wonka combined – and that blend of a real and imagined persona fits, I think.

    Immediately after, I thought “What will Andy Ihnatko write about this man he’s followed for nearly three decades?”, knowing full well that it would be appropriate and poignant.

    Apple’s fortunes will rise and fall in the years to come, as it fulfills Steve’s legacy. Some releases will be blockbusters, while some will be less than stellar – but we’ll continue to see Steve’s imprint in them.

    And I will continue to enjoy reading your reactions to all of them.

  10. Tony
    Tony says:

    I installed Doom on my wife’s HP win XP laptop today when it had eventually updated itself, I am writing this on my iPad and really understand what Steve was trying to do, where he was leading us.
    Funny how messing with windows clarifies the Apple Way.
    Thanks for your words Andy…

  11. whodathunkit
    whodathunkit says:

    How is it possible to feel as though you’ve lost a friend upon the passing of a man you’d never met and had no expectation of meeting?
    And yet, that is exactly how I feel today.

  12. Kristin Lynch
    Kristin Lynch says:

    Great post, Andy. Thank you for putting into words the sentiment so many of us feel about the Apple experience.

    Each time I’ve visited the Apple Store, I’ve been amazed at how busy it is for a random weekday. In spite of the crowd, everyone seems happy to be there, and there’s a collective confidence that each visit will be worthwhile – whether you’re there to make a purchase, get your hands on a new gadget, learn something new, or have an item repaired.

    Apple Store employees are well-informed, down-to-Earth, professional, and eager to help. You never just get a ‘um, I don’t know that’. You’re greeted upon arrival and helped in the most efficient manner from start to finish. Apple Store employees don’t hover or discourage you from trying a gadget, and they don’t try to push you into a sale.

    From the design to technology to service, Apple has always focused first on the user experience. Such a simple concept, yet so uncommon.

  13. Randy Wapperom
    Randy Wapperom says:

    Andy, everything I wanted to say about your post, others before me have said. I have been wanting to buy my first iMac for a long time, but finances have gotten in my way. Now, with Steve gone, I want one even more. I have an iPod, an iPad and soon to be iPhone 4S. But I need to complete the cycle. This way I, every time I look at an Apple logo on my phone, tablet, computer. I can see Steve. And I can smile. In regards to your post, and all the comment, all I can add is ditto.

  14. Donald Lorentz
    Donald Lorentz says:

    Yep, that’s been my experience, right down to the detail of the little girl and her mom. Ya nailed it.

  15. Lynne Culp
    Lynne Culp says:

    Simple, elegant tribute. So fitting for the man who made Apple what it was and what we hope it will continue to be.

  16. zgryfx
    zgryfx says:

    I realize you are writing a tribute to Steve Jobs’ memory, but I just wanted to point out that you could have just bought a replacement back cover from dealextreme for $8 (free shipping) and fixed the back panel yourself. That way you would learn something new and have money left over to treat yourself to dinner.

    I’m all for being treated in a polite courteous manner, but I don’t buy into the near mysticism that surrounds the Apple experience. I own several Apple products, and to me, they’re tools that assist me in getting things done. While I take care of them, I don’t have names for them, just like I don’t have names for my flashlight, my calculator or my camera.

  17. Ihnatko
    Ihnatko says:

    @zgryfx – I could have done that…but it would have been a crappily-made knockoff. I also don’t know if this back panel would have interfered with the camera or flash…many of these cheap replacements make it impossible to take good photos. It cost me an extra $20 to get a factory-replaced part that won’t affect the value of the phone if I should choose to sell it when it comes time for an upgrade.

    You’re absolutely correct about Apple zealotry. There’s no place for it and I wish I were wealthy enough to pay extra just to have the right brands and logos on the things I own. But most people aren’t attracted by the Apple logo…they’re attracted by the way these damned things work.

  18. Shiva
    Shiva says:

    Thanks! What a wonderful story, and rightly so, there are millions such regardless of which country, and which city you are in. The most remarkable thing is how the culture of Apple, the desire … nay the need to constantly seek perfection is set at the most grassroots level

    Whether it’s an apple engineer in Palo Alto or a customer rep in a mall in Bangalore, they all truly care for their job, and that is Steve legacy.

    A couple of months ago, my iPad’s warranty had expired, and had physical damage during my trip to India. I walked into an Apple store, and was told that a replacement would cost $400, and that they would replace it for free that time (the rep told me they do that for customer they have sold a certain volume to , once in the lifetime – not sure how true that is). He went out of his way, to make sure I was happy, and guess what? Why would I think twice about buying another Apple product again? (not that I don’t vehemently despise some things that the do)

  19. Rip Ragged
    Rip Ragged says:

    @ zgryfx

    I do shop for brand names and I’m unashamed of that fact. When I buy a television, it’s a Sony because I still have the first Sony TV I ever bought running in my garage. It has run constantly and beautifully for 26 years. As I’ve upgraded, I’ve bought three others, the last of which is still running in my living room. Not one has ever cause a problem. Much like my 24 years using Apple products.

    All my other favorite brands have proven to be reliable providers of what I want. Levi’s jeans, Best Foods mayonnaise, Reebok sneakers.

    If I don’t have a brand for a given product, it’s because I haven’t discovered reliable quality, yet. Like with printers. I have yet to find a printer that melds seamlessly with my Macs.

    Brand loyalty isn’t the result of cultish slobbering idiots. It comes from certainty of a positive experience weighed against the possibility of a Dell running Vista.

    Steve Jobs understood that. We can only hope he passed that understanding on to Apple before he left.

  20. Glenn Wilson
    Glenn Wilson says:

    Sitting on my balcony reading this on a beautiful afternoon in Sydney. It’s magic hour and the weather is perfect. I’m on my iPad, my 3 year old daughter is snuggled into my side swiping through photos on my iPhone. How many images and movies I now have because of these little devices. More to the point, movies and images of the things that are the most important to me. I can relate to every word you have written and have had similar experiences myself. I knew you would write something awesome Andy. I’ve been irrationally sad about Steve. Thanks for making me feel ok about that.

  21. Simon Willis
    Simon Willis says:

    I am amazed that you’ve written so much drivel that has appealed to so many. Astonishing amount of twaddle.

  22. jcjanssen
    jcjanssen says:

    Thanks Andy. Fantastic piece of writing there. It shows that Steve’s spirit is around still – just go to any Apple Store!

    Thanks Again!

    @jcjanssen (Twitter)

  23. Paul Richards
    Paul Richards says:

    Terrific personal story Andy. I listen to every episode of MacBreak Weekly and always appreciate your commentary for the same unique perspective. Keep up the great work.

  24. John Farnsworth
    John Farnsworth says:

    Andy, you almost made me cry. I’ve had Apples and Macs since the beginning so Steve’s influence in my life has been major. I will miss him.

  25. Popeye
    Popeye says:

    I had an iMac a few years back. Works like a charm until it breaks, and then all you have is a fancy brick and no recourse.

    During it’s 3 year lifespan (the last one spent on life support) I had to take it to the shop 5 or 6 times. Each time the staff didn’t do anything to fix it because it wasn’t covered under the warranty but still charged me about $100 just to have a look at it. So I got me a 3 year Apple care plan – had to eat ramen for a couple of months after that. Did it make matters better? No. They still refused to fix it, but still wanted $100 per peek.

    Most expensive experiment I’ve ever performed.

  26. Michael lacy
    Michael lacy says:

    Well done.

    For a few years I have noted the contra nature of the Apple store environment in comparison to most other businesses. Our local store is not large, yet often even during the week there are in excess of 20 staffers actually on the floor. My local bank has 20 teller stations ( BOA ), yet almost always has only two tellers. The local Kohls store is a vast thing, yet often there are only 3 or 4 workers on the floor, including the one checker. Job’s understood that good customer service and a good customer experience is part of the Apple brand. He was one of the few that did, especially when most corporations make profit by slashing employees.

    Your piece was spot on and touching.
    Thanks…

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