Thursday 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs leaves behind the Mac, and his 'touch'




Steve Jobs - farewell.

A few hours ago, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, ex-CEO, and creator of the Apple Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad - devices that sold in the hundreds of millions - left us. His devices and ideas forever changed the way the common man uses a computing device often even to make a living.

There are several tributes celebrating the life of this extraordinary man - at All Things D, GigaOM, Macworld, and even a live webcast at live.twit.tv.

I'd like to reminisce on how the Apple and Mac affected us in India over the years.

When the first Apple Mac was available, it sold in India for about 4-5 times (right, US $ price multiplied by 4 or 5) due to the combination of some ridiculous taxation, and human greed.

Two of these - Mac SE and Apple II - along with Imagewriter and Laserwriter printers and software like MacDraw, Aldus Pagemaker, and others, costed over Rs 6 lakhs in 1986. But with just these two machines, we designed and executed the entire Discovery of India Exposition at Nehru Centre in 1989 - it stands to this day.

In the early nineties while the PC struggled to show graphic images, and play sound smoothly, the Mac shone in these areas. Almost all ad agencies in Mumbai had Mac computers, and even a job description called 'Mac operator'. When one needed an artwork changed, one had to have a 'Mac operator' or you couldn't. For the world's easiest to use computer I've always found this queer.

Avid Media Composer was the first widespread editing system on a computer - an NLE on a Mac. In the early nineties Avids first replaced Steenbecks and Acmades for feature film editing, and then went on to become the main editing platform even for ad film and TV work. Replacing 'cut to cut' systems like the RM 440 and RM 450. Renu Saluja was probably one of the first editors to embrace this new way of working while many held on to their Steenbecks.

After Avid, Media 100, Cosa After Effects, and many other software made an editor's life easier, and edits looked better. All of these only ran on the Mac. The DVision and Premiere briefly threatened the Mac and many in India especially those who sold alternative editing systems like edit* spread the word that "Apple company is closing down".

Steve Jobs had then just left Apple and started another computer company - NeXT. The first NeXT computer was an innovation. Black and cube shaped with an optical drive. CMC at Cuffe Parade had one, and they ran some animation and CGI software on it. We did a spinning Earth animation for the Nehru Planetarium. Watching that on a 20 inch colour monitor was a dream. We drank to celebrate that day.

In the mid nineties with built-in ABVB boards that the PowerPC 9500 Mac could handle, Avid got more affordable and my friend Adi Pocha bought one. It was a beige Mac with a very fast CD-ROM drive, 56 MB of RAM, when most PCs were 4 or 8 MB. And a whopping 18 GB hard disk space. This was Avid Media Composer on a Mac in 1996. Anand, Peter, and me worked on hundreds of commercials TV shows (Sorry meri Lorry, Suno suno tring tring tring, etc) in the next 5 years or so.

Avid briefly announced that the Mac version would not be supported and then back tracked and made new Mac versions. Truevision, ABVB, and then Meridian versions of Avid Media Composer with a variety of names MC400, MC800, MC1000, MC 9000, Film Composer. And a variety of 'resolutions' AVR3, AVR6, AVR 75 and even 77 which gave way to ratios - 1:5, 1:10 and finally 1:1.

Avid managed through all this confusion, to protect their market share, mostly on Macs. Discreet edit* briefly threatened Avid as it was PC-based hence India-friendly, but Discreet pulled the plug on that.

In 2000, in an Avid dominated universe of editing systems, Apple shipped Final Cut Pro. Apple's own editing software. With no easy way to interface the new Firewire based DV cameras, FCP quickly caught on. For me, it was a life saver. I was stuck in Dubai shooting with a DV camera with nothing but Meridien Avids on rent at US$ 350 per hour. 

A friendly Mac dealer gave me an FCP 1.0 box, and another friendly ad agency artist let me use his Mac (then a G3) at night to edit my capsules for CNN and Sony. For nights on end I used this new easy to use software. My livelihood depended on it then, so cribbing about bugs and how different it was from Avid was not an option. $350 per hour for Avid, or free for FCP, the choice was easy.

But even in the early 2000s editors like me couldn't afford to own an editing system. An Avid in 2000 cost more than an apartment at Andheri West. So I bought an apartment instead. Many years later, a kind Mac reseller (called PCS) gifted me a used 'buy-back' PowerPC 9500/132 as the Mac was known then. It barely ran FCP, but enough for me to explore it thoroughly and help many a Mac reseller support an FCP system.

The iPod was introduced by Apple in 2000, the first music player by a computer company. In India it was a disaster. Slow internet, no iTunes store, Firewire port so only Mac connectivity -  and a very small Apple Mac population did the iPod in, for India. A dealer once told me that Apple gave a prize to anyone who in 2001 could sell 30 iPods in one month. Today most Apple retailers even in India probably sell that many in a day or even an hour on weekends.

FCP on a Mac was the first editing system that practically anyone could own. My friend Abhinay bought a system in 2002. Using this, his company RDP produced over a hundred TV commercials, many of which were edited by me - first on a G3, then G4, the G5. As Apple made machines that were affordable and even replaceable every 2-3 years. 

In later years the price of Apple systems dropped significantly in India as Apple india participated in their sale. Anyone could own and Apple, so everyone who could afford it, did. And since anyone could own an editing system because of FCP, many movies looked like anyone could have made them.

2007 saw the iPhone, again not very popular in India at first as it was locked and not sold here. I got one because someone I knew had one but didn't like it so sold it to me cheap. In later years I got the next models as well.

Eventually I got an editing system in the shape of an iMac, another Apple computer that was affordable. Then a Powerbook, a MacBook Pro, another iMac, yet another MacBook Pro and another iMac.

In Apr 2010 on a trip to the US just in time for the iPad's release, I had a niece book me one which I got the day it was released. It was shipped while I was still in India so my nephew simply couldn't resist just looking longingly at the box. I let him open it before I got there, and he promptly jumped into his car and got himself one.

Such became the power of Apple's product that people just longed to own them. Apple stores, all over the world, added to this 'hook' that customers experienced. If you walked into an Apple Store, touched, felt, used a machine. You just bought it. Or at least some software, accessories, something.

With no formal management training, no market surveys, no product testing in the marketplace, none of the 'safe' methods of making and selling products - Steve Jobs still managed to turn Apple around. From bankruptcy in 1996 to more money than many countries in 2011. 

Wherever Apple goes from here - and there is reason to believe that it will continue to do well - one thing is for sure. Even in faraway India, Apple managed to touch the lives of many tens of thousands of creative professionals - editors, photographers, sound recordists and engineers, graphic artists, CGI artists, architects, bridge builders and space engineer… the list goes on. And for many millions of common people who own an iPod, an iPod touch, a iPhone or an iPad. Apple is part of their daily lives.

Alvidaa Steve Jobs. Friend, wherever you are, you and our creations will touch and be touched by people and be remembered for many decades. We are fortunate to have lived in your times.