The various reflections concerning the passing of Steve Jobs cover all the things that he created. But did he create new items or just enable them in their time to be?
One phrase that has been used to describe a type of invention is “Steam Engine Time”. James Watt is credited with inventing the steam engine that kicked off the industrial revolution. But he just added some modifications to something several people were already working on. It was time for various technologies to line up that led to the creation of the steam engine. “Steam Engine Time” means that if Mr. Watt hadn’t done it then someone else would have done it at that time.
Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, he really just applied some manufacturing and business models on something that was already being worked on by many others. The Wright brothers didn’t invent the airplane, they had a modification to the control system. If they didn’t do it powered flight would still have happened, the technologies were coming together where it was time for it to happen. An even bigger example, who invented television? That is a result of intersecting technologies that we can’t even hang a name on it.
Similarly Jobs didn’t invent the portable music player, mobile phone, or hand-held PC. He took advantage of the intersection of technologies that resulted in market changing products. The technologies leading up to the successful products were not ready before the iX products. Believe me, I had an Apple Newton and it deserved to die.
To some extent the iX products are “Steam Engine Time” products. The technologies of smaller computers, mobile bandwidth, touch screen, etc. meant that some type of product would have happened. Like Ford, Jobs just did it better.
Since I work in analytics let’s talk about some “Steam Engine Time” characteristics in that market. Webtrends was one of the early market leaders with a log analyzer. This grew out of different methods of parsing server logs used in the early 90s. But even in the mid-90s when the web started to become common there were several companies with solutions. Web technologies and the need to measure what your customers were doing in this new medium drove a Steam Engine Time in web analytics.
The initial growth of the web was driven by the change from mainframes to desktop PCs. What was once the domain of computer geeks in the back room was now a consumer product. Analytics grew beyond measuring log files to see if your server mainframe was being overloaded to finding out what the consumers at the far end were doing. Like the Apple Newton some of those early analytics products weren’t really ready.
Now the technologies that drove web growth are changing, in part due to Steve Jobs. It is no longer sufficient to just measure what the desktop PC is doing just as it was no longer sufficient to just measure mainframe servers after PCs. Mobile hand-held devices are the intersection of supporting technologies finally reaching a functional stage. As PCs drove adoption of web sites, having your connection with you all the time drives more social engagement. The current set of changes, sometimes called the splinternet, is not a break up of technologies but an intersection of technologies in a new Steam Engine Time. Rather than splinter your measurements you need to combine them as the technologies are being combined.
Webtrends is leading the way with innovative ways to measure mobile, social, and even measure desktop PC based web interaction better. We think we do it better but like the invention of television it’s hard to name the one person who did what. But we have a good claim to inventing web analytics and continually improving it.