Resnikoff’s Parting Shot: Hope for a Recovery

Sure, all of the endless Apple worshipping gets exhausting.

And the over-adulation of Steve Jobs tends to overshadow the accomplishments of other critical figures like Tony Fadell and Steve Wozniak.  Still, there is absolutely no mistaking the profound and far-reaching impact that Steve Jobs has exerted on digital media, music, and the broader world of computing.  This is a pioneer whose influence will be discussed in 2029, 2109, and potentially centuries beyond.

In the present, very few corporations have such an iconic leader, one whose influence is so strong, so effective, and so inextricably linked to the identity of the company.  But the absence of Jobs – on leave or otherwise – not only changes Apple, it changes the music industry and the trajectory of technological development moving forward.  His absence in this exciting, formative phase of the music industry would be tragic, and utterly depressing.

Just consider the massive role that Jobs has played in the brief history of digital music so far, perhaps a ten-year window.  Apple has been a critical player in a massive disruption, one that has given music fans total portability, total freedom, and completely different methods for enjoying and discovering music.  Seems conventional today, though in the fall of 2001, the concept of carrying hundreds (now thousands) of songs on a portable player was mostly foreign to music fans.

Since that date, the iPod – and its corresponding iTunes ally – have been fixtures on the scene.  Could you imagine life without them?  No, not very easily – in fact, it is just as difficult to imagine future products without Steve Jobs.  In its infancy, the digital music industry has been guided by the Jobs hallmarks of simplicity, elegance, and fashion.

Now, the early chapters are already receding, and Apple – guided by Jobs – is helping to write new ones.  Instead of a dedicated iPod, Apple is throwing more of its know-how behind the iPhone.  Sure, the capacity maxes out at 16GB, instead of 160GB, yet the sophisticated smartphone is now grabbing more attention as a broader solution.  Suddenly, cramming all of that stuff into one device is starting to make sense – not perfectly, but enough to draw legions of followers and a typical surge of excitement.

And what about the stand-alone iPod?  In its sixth generation, the iPod has been polished and perfected, though year-over-year sales are declining.  Part of the problem is saturation – no one needs three iPods – and another part comes from softer consumer spending in the current climate.  But the more important reason is that portable media is evolving beyond the music-only solution.

The iPhone has its flaws, that is certain, yet the device is only in its second generation.  What will it look like when it hits its sixth?  This is a trajectory that will look so different without Jobs – perhaps profoundly so.

And then what?  What supersedes the iPhone, a-la-carte downloads, iTunes collections?  The possibilities are endless, and the simple act of listening to music is likely to undergo profound shifts over the coming years and decades.  This is a process that Jobs can guide, simplify, and define, in ways that the industry would not on its own.  Subtract Jobs from the process, and everyone loses – artists, consumers, and even Apple competitors.

Paul Resnikoff, Publisher.