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FT names Apple's Steve Jobs person of the year, we agree

by Scott Bicheno on 24 December 2010, 11:22

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

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Business newspaper the FT has declared Apple's Steve Jobs its ‘Person of the Year'. The other prominent winner of that accolade this year was Mark Zuckerberg, crowned by Time magazine.

It's worth stressing that both publications traditionally pick politicians, or other people perceived to have had the greatest impact on the world in that year, so there is unanimity on the importance of technology in 2010.

Time was criticized for the apparently ‘safe' choice of Zuckerberg, when the popular choice was Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange, and the FT could well be subject to the same criticism. So I thought I'd put down my thoughts on why I've got no problem with Jobs being chosen over the other two.

A good measure of the relative importance of anything is the strength of feeling it evokes - hence the ground-rule to avoid religion and politics in polite conversation. In the agnostic world of technology, the closest thing we have to religion is Apple, and it's also the most emotive subject.

Stephen Fry, a prominent tech preacher, was moved to comment on the religious fervour generated by Apple soon after the launch of the iPad. "The tribalism, fanaticism, fury, joy and intensity of hatred, veneration, anger, love and contempt with which Apple and its products are regarded by some must, for those who are on neither side of the sectarian divide themselves, pass all understanding," he blogged.

I consider myself on neither side of the sectarian divide, and have been bemused by the vehemence of arguments, over the years, from people whose opinions I respect, that Apple is the only true OS and that to worship false idols is heresy. Having said that, I have never owned an Apple product, implying I do have some strong feeling on the matter.

This started as a combination of simple indifference and value-consciousness; a Dell PC or a Sandisk MP3 player perform essentially the same function as their Apple equivalents and cost a fraction of the price. I must admit, I did also find the smugness of Apple's marketing, and the concurrent superciliousness of Apple owners - who appeared to actually pity me for not having seen the light - further off-putting

But as Apple has grown ever more popular with the iPhone and iPad, the decision not to own an Apple product has become a more deliberate and pragmatic one. To me it seems that you can't now just dabble in Apple. Whichever product you own, an iTunes account is inevitable and an App Store account is not far short of that. Apple has always used unique software, but this is different.

My worry is that as soon as I start making purchases on iTunes or the App Store, I'm then going to be obliged to stick with Apple products for ever, or write-off my investment in all the products I've purchased through Apple's - admittedly excellent - e-commerce platforms. I would rather keep my options open, and don't find Apple products so compelling that I'm prepared to surrender my autonomy.

But my decision as a consumer in no way diminishes my admiration for Apple as a business journalist. The numbers alone are scary, and Apple has been the second largest company in the world, by market cap, for most of this year. But what forms the foundation of this financial success is what Apple - led and personified by Steve Jobs - does uniquely well: design and market technology products.