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Steve Jobs Told Us What We Wanted

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"It's not the consumers' job to know what they want" -- Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs didn't make his billions shorting stocks, feeding off the taxpayers or simply being around when a rich relative died. The college dropout from California mixed technology with popular culture and brilliant marketing to make handsome products that I and millions others didn't know we wanted -- but had to have. I've bought enough of them to gild at least one bathroom fixture on Jobs' estate. Steve, it was my pleasure.

I also own 50 shares of Apple stock, something I should disclose right off.

Having started out in the PC world, I did come to know what I didn't want: a house full of complicated electronics requiring a night course to operate. When something went wrong with the innards, I'd have to hire someone who charged by the hour to solve the problem, and the hours piled up.

If I tried to deal with PC support on the phone, the techies would ask inscrutable questions. When I answered "What?", they might emit a geeky sigh (which seemed to say, "I can see you're a nice person, but gosh"). Some may have deemed me unworthy of that divinely conceived device, packed with amazing capabilities that I'd never figure out. Here's the final straw that sent me into the arms of Apple:

I had an expensive PC laptop that went haywire after about 10 months. To resolve the problem, I had to: spend three hours on the phone, being transferred from call centers in Asia to Europe and back again; write down long case numbers and repeat them to each new support person; deal with contradictory information; and try to understand people who barely spoke English.

I finally lost my temper and was sent to an American who stuck with me as we tried to identify the "issue." I ended up driving the laptop to some computer fix-it shop, which took a week to replace the hard drive. The operating system software was reinstalled, but not before a struggle (more call centers) over whether I had to pay Microsoft for it and, if so, how much. The computer had come with Windows installed, so there were no CDs.

When there's a problem with my iPhone, iMac, MacBook or MacBook Air (no iPad), I go to the Apple store, and a "genius" takes over. When one of my Apples had faulty hardware, the drive was replaced overnight and for no charge. (It took a while to stop feeling that, if I wanted any help, I had to ingratiate myself with a guy at the repair shop for whom I was obviously low-priority.)

Apple has long worked under the solid assumption that consumers would pay more for sleek design, higher quality and superior service. Nothing it makes looks like it fell from a flying saucer.

Throughout his long treatment for pancreatic cancer, Jobs said he'd leave the chief executive post when he could no longer handle it. That time has apparently come.

Few companies are as associated with their founder as is this one, and Apple's stock price swooned (alas) on news of Jobs' departure. Whatever happens to Jobs at this point -- and I hope he lives a long, long time -- Apple the company goes on.

I probably won't sell my Apple stock as long as the folks in the store keep telling me there are no dumb questions. Perhaps they don't really believe that. Perhaps they think I'm completely dumb and therefore have the lowest of expectations.

If that's the case, I don't care. Thank you, Steve Jobs, for letting me know what I want.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

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