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Steve Jobs: The Modern Henry Ford

Updated on May 29, 2012

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Two visionaries, both innovators, both with limitations.
Two visionaries, both innovators, both with limitations.

Innovator vs. Inventor

Henry Ford was the innovator that gave us the automobile. He didn't invent it. He improved on it so that it was a viable product. Prior to the production of his Model A car, cars where viewed as passing fads. Now Henry Ford is recognized as the father of the modern car.

Steve Jobs is to Smartphones, tablets & MP3 Players as Henry Ford is to cars. Heck, if you want, you could even include him with computers (although I do not since the Windows OS runs over 90% of personal computers while Linux holds the majority as the backbone server operating system). Jobs did not invent the smartphone or the mp3 player. Both were around before he started to innovate. Still, I remember hearing my dad say to me, "MP3 players are a fad. They wont be around long." In my dad's defense, he was looking at the offerings pre-ipod. But then the iPod came and all of the sudden MP3 player was replaced with iPod. The amazing user interface that just kept improving, combined with amazing advertising, combined with a cross platform functionality, combined with a single music store and of course an awesome price meant that mp3 players were hear to stay and the iPod was the poster child of them. Then Jobs announced the iPhone. I will be honest, I didn't see the need for a smartphone at the time of this announcement. In fact, I accidentally won an original iPhone and sold it because I couldn't be bothered to care about something like that. In my defense, my previous experience of smartphones was Plam and Blackberry products. I thought this was just more of the same. I didn't open up the iPhone I got because it was worth more unopened. Well, the iPhone started a new wave. The user interface was amazing. Not long after the iPad was introduced and a whole new market was opened up. But Jobs didn't invent the tablet, he just provided the vision that was needed to make it more viable. So Steve Jobs is the 21st century Henry Ford. But there is more.

The Model T Line.
The Model T Line.
The iPhone line from the Original iPhone through to the iPhone 4S.
The iPhone line from the Original iPhone through to the iPhone 4S.

Strategy Change Perhaps?

Now that Steve Jobs has passed away, Apple has a unique opportunity to change their strategy just slightly. Instead of being committed to a unending legal battle, Apple could focus on making devices that fit the varied demands of the market. Jobs was a visionary yes, but sometimes his vision hamstrung the company he saved.

In the mean time, Android is taking amazing bounds forward. Amazon is utilizing Android to leverage a class of devices that could seriously take on the iPad and Microsoft is creating a new computer operating system that translates into a tablet that is not just a mobile operating system, but the real deal.

Honestly, while Apple may by one of the most valuable companies out there and while Apple may be an innovating company, it does not mean Apple can maintain that ideal image. Only if Apple refocuses its energies will it keep that ideal that Steve Jobs manage to create. Steve Jobs gave Apple the new life it needed to survive. He also held the company back from achieving its true potential. So, here is to the Henry Ford of the 21st century. His passing was sad, but perhaps by his coming AND his going the world is made better..

Keyboard has been on the iPhone wishlist for years.
Keyboard has been on the iPhone wishlist for years.
So has expandable memory.
So has expandable memory.

"Any color you want... long as it is black." Those were the words of Henry Ford. You see, Ford had discovered that the fasted drying paint he could use on his famous and popular Model T was black. It was also cheaper to mass produce black cars only. So that is what he did. He made a killing. I knew a man who has since passed away who worked in New Jersey on the first paved automobile highway in that state. After the highway was done, he got paid and he promptly got himself a Model T Ford and became the first man to get a speeding ticket on that first highway. Till the day he died he was a speed demon (I know, I think I have some gray hairs from his driving still!). Still, my point is that Ford made the Model T and icon. But when demand showed that there were was a desire for other car colors and even other types of cars, Ford stuck to his guns and refused to make a different color or type of car. It wasn't until a few decades later that Ford allowed anything to be produced that was not some variant of black. By this time, other companies had sprung up who made different color options.

Steve Jobs was a little similar in this way. Not in color choices. Also, he understood the idea of limiting something so people would want it and then give it to them. But rather than focus on color, rather we will focus on technology. You see, Jobs was focused on making the best product he could, at least in his mind what he considered the best. So the iPhone was extremely well designed. It was a game changer. But Apple made a mistake. They limited the iPhone to one carrier in most countries. What is more, there were things missing. In a time when most "dumb phones" could send and receive picture messages the iPhone could not. It wasn't until 3 years later that the phone was able to do that. 4 years later it was offered on more than a single carrier. But these long time coming adaptations were at least fixed eventually. What was Jobs "any color you want as long as its black," was things like external memory, removable batteries, larger screens and physical keyboards. Jobs just could not see past what his limited vision of what a smartphone should be. In the mean time, a rival operating system cropped up that took on these limitations and those that Apple and Jobs was slow to respond to. Android in just a few short years not only overtook Apple's market share, but also took the market share for other companies that were slow to adapt to the changing market such as Blackberry, Palm and Microsoft. From its inception Android offered removable batteries, expandable memory, picture messaging, multiple screen sizes, physical keyboards and multiple carriers. While the user interface was not the best at the start, Android evolved into a unique operating system that as of Q3 2011 has taken the majority at 43% while Apple holds 28%.

Like Ford's limitations he imposed on his company, Jobs' limitations have allowed the Android tortoise take the lead on the Apple hare. What is more, Jobs somehow viewed Android as something stolen. Instead of Apple using its amazing resources to improve iOS and combat this threat, Jobs committed these resources in a huge legal pissing match in an attempt to take down Android.


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    • Diane Lockridge profile image

      Diane Lockridge 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      My husband has been recently intrigued by both Ford and Jobs, so I was interested to read your hub. Great stuff!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      Very interesting comparison - both men have definitely made their mark in history!