Apple’s Announcement: The B-side of Steve Jobs

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The best thing to come out of Apple’s announcement today is an end to endless cycle of speculation about when The Beatles would come to iTunes. Rumors on the subject have been turning up prior to Apple events going all the way back to the launch of the music store in 2003, and while The Beatles are the most well-known musical group in modern history, they are just one band, after all.

Admittedly, the announcement is big news for Apple Inc. The library is a guaranteed money-maker, and songs are available as individual purchases, possibly Apple’s greatest accomplishment regarding the whole deal. But it made a mistake in the way it went about promoting the news, and the Apple faithful and tech elite are expressing the disappointment resulting from that mistake across the web.

There’s one person who unquestionably thinks The Beatles’ arrival on iTunes merits as much fanfare as it got: Steve Jobs. At the launch of the iPhone in January, 2007, the album shown to the world when demonstrating music on the revolutionary new device was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At the time, not only had The Beatles rebuffed Apple’s overtures for the iTunes Music Store, but litigation between Apple and Apple Corps over names and logos was still ongoing. Has any other individual or organization at odds with Apple been treated so well? Turning one of the most popular web sites in the world into a teaser for The Beatles is just a continuation of the fanboy relationship Jobs has with the band.

If that seems like a small thing, it isn’t. The larger point coming out of today’s announcement is how Steve Jobs sometimes treats Apple: like he owns it. On more than one occasion, Jobs has turned Apple’s website into a kind of personal blog. A few years ago he was ranting about music DRM, and more recently about Flash. In both situations it was more than a rant, too. Decisions were made that directly impacted consumers. With music DRM, Apple’s long fight over song pricing ensured iTunes Store customers got DRM-free music long after other competitors. With Flash, Apple customers don’t get the same experience on websites with iOS devices that Android users do.

Though perhaps personally motivated, it doesn’t mean either decision was necessarily a bad one. Bad would be the Cube. When it was launched in 2000, Steve Jobs called it “the coolest computer ever.” In 2001, Apple VP Phil Schiller was stuck with announcing its discontinuation. The Cube put too high a price tag on form over function, and it wasn’t the last time Steve Jobs would make that mistake. The iPhone 4 has problems that echo the same hierarchy of values.

If it seems unfair to blame Jobs for these missteps, he certainly gets enough credit for the company’s successes. He’s regularly named the most successful, important CEO in business today, and it’s true. That’s why Steve Jobs gets to use Apple’s website to promote a band that means a lot less to those born after 1970 than the release of iOS 4.2 would today, annoying as that might be. Will he be more hands-off in the future as a result of the negative fallout from today’s announcement? Likely not. Should he be? Apple’s track record says probably not. What do you think?

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