Immediately after Steve Jobs passed away last week, a number of business and technology publications released downloadable special editions dedicated to the life and career of Apple’s founder and former CEO—predecessors to the upcoming authorized biography that’s been bumped up to a late October, 2011 release. The special editions could each be understood as miniature books or partial magazines, though they’re mostly just collections of magazine-style articles that were previously issued by the publications in past issues. “Mostly” is the key word, however, as one publication transcended the rest with new content, and another did a particularly good job of aggregating decades of past content.
We downloaded four of these publications in iPad-readable formats so that we could give you a sense of what’s inside; our main goal was to help you decide whether any or all are worthy of purchasing considering how many stories about Jobs are available for free. Read on for all the details.
Recently reborn with a widely praised redesign and improved editorial focus, Bloomberg Businessweek scrapped its regular weekly issue in favor of a special edition called “Steve Jobs 1955-2011,” which is available as a $3 download inside its free iOS application. The issue opens with a striking a black and white cover picture of Apple’s CEO in his later years, and after a brief explanatory video as to the issue’s creation, provides you with access to a collection of 10 articles that are easily perused using blue tabs at the top of the screen.
What’s Great: The Businessweek+ interface is the best of this bunch, and the content is very strong, too. Each article begins with at least one photograph, more often a collection, some of which are incredibly poignant and mixed with thoughtful captions. Once you’ve looked through the photos on the first page, you scroll through additional pages of three-column text if you’re holding the iPad in landscape mode, or a single column of text in portrait mode. Even when the content is unavoidably duplicative of what’s available elsewhere, the articles offer details that only the hardest-core Jobs fans would already know: discussions of influences such as the physician Arnold Ehret and Polaroid’s Dr. Edwin Land, choice quotes from past Jobs biographers, and even interesting insights regarding his relationships with John Sculley, Ross Perot, and others.
Just one sample: “I asked him if he would sign my Apple Extended Keyboard,” recalled venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson. “He burst out: ‘This keyboard represents everything about Apple that I hate… I’m changing the world, one keyboard at a time.” What’s surprising: Jurvetson’s story took place in the mid-1990s while Jobs was still with NeXT. In addition to the text, three different downloadable audio clips provide nearly a full hour of additional content, including Jobs’s famous commencement speech at Stanford, a 38-minute segment discussing his life and the assembly of the issue, and a 10-minute interview with Eric Schmidt. There’s a ton here for the $3 asking price, and for that, you actually get a one-month subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek+.
What’s So-So: If you’ve read past Jobs biographies or really followed the man’s history, only the little nuggets will really appeal to you; unsurprisingly, the broad stories have already been told again and again. Additionally, the text-heavy layouts could really have benefitted from more intermediary photography and interactive content, particularly in a section called “More Stories About Steve: The Quotes,” which includes a number of references to products and people that could have been illustrated as well as “The Glossary,” a sometimes cheeky collection of Apple terms. And the photos could really have stood to be as large as Time’s.
What’s Bad: Our only real gripe is that this special issue is over so soon and doesn’t go even deeper. Until the official biography comes out, this is the first place we’d start if you’re looking for interesting insights into Steve Jobs life and career. The price is right, and the little pieces of new information here are intriguing. iLounge Rating: A-.
Sold as a Kindle eBook, Fortune’s All About Steve: The Story of Steve Jobs and Apple, From the Pages of Fortune ($8.79) is the most expensive of the downloads here, and as it’s not in app form, it falls somewhat short in the frills department. Like a black and white book with only the rare color image—even then, just a handful of cover images from past issues of Fortune—it forces you to do a lot of page-turning to move through the contents. But there’s actually a lot here to read: 17 past Fortune articles from a dozen different writers, plus a very brief foreword from Fortune’s managing editor.
What’s Great: The sheer quantity of information here, written in the 1980’s, 1990s, 2000’s and the past year, provides a fascinatingly broad look at what business writers have said about Jobs and Apple over the decades. A 1983 article called “Apple’s Bid to Stay in the Big Time” discusses Apple’s Lisa computer contemporaneously, noting that “the MacIntosh” was coming “later this year,” while a 2008 interview with eight of Jobs’ friends provides some genuinely interesting insights on the man from people who have rarely been quoted on him: Jimmy Iovine, Andrea Jung, and Andy Grove. Truly insider-level boardroom and other corporate-level discussions dating back to Jobs’ ouster from Apple continue to inform even the newer articles; Fortune notes with authority that Jobs “personally took charge of Apple’s response to the recent Locationgate, for example, granting interviews to several news outlets to answer accusations,” and discusses how, in May of 2011, he was working to institutionalize his personality traits into processes Apple could draw upon going forward. It’s interesting that Fortune’s articles offer more insight than Time’s, despite official Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson’s involvement with the latter publication.
What’s So-So: If you’ve been reading Fortune or had access to its past archives, you’ve probably already seen everything here: apart from the foreword, everything else was published months or years ago. The eBook is also assembled in a somewhat jarring manner, with a strong initial section—“What Makes Steve Tick”—comprised of four 2008-2011 articles, all very modern—right before a chronological look at his career that suddenly jumps three decades backwards in time. We wound up reading the book’s articles out of order because the temporal shift was so abrupt.
What’s Bad: By comparison with a well-developed app such as Bloomberg Businessweek+ or Time, each of which has user interface and photographic advantages, there’s little to like about the eBook format used here. Navigating through the book is a comparative chore, and between the lack of photos and heavy reliance on all but entirely unformatted text, All About Steve isn’t as enjoyable to read as it could have been—or should have been for the price. But there’s enough worthwhile content here to justify a purchase, particularly if you’re mostly interested in Jobs’ business experiences. iLounge Rating: B.
Of all the publications here, Time Magazine’s October 17, 2011 $5 “Commemorative Issue” initially appears to have the least to offer. It features a photograph of young Steve Jobs sitting in the lotus position with the original Macintosh—the same image that will be on the back cover of his authorized biography, written by Time contributor and former editor Walter Isaacson. There are only five Jobs-related articles in the issue, which is otherwise a standard edition of Time, and one of the articles is very short—two pictures and less than two pages of large text. That said, there are some gems inside the issue.
What’s Great: A photo essay by Diana Walker, In a Private Light, includes full-screen pictures and details on Jobs that aren’t new but generally have been lost to history. One image reveals Jobs’ home office circa 2004, complete with a giant Cinema Display and a miniature Power Mac computer on his desk; another shows Jobs in behind-the-scenes preparations for a keynote speech. A timeline of notable moments in Jobs’ career does a much better job of putting past magazine covers and products in sequence than Fortune’s scant imagery. The photos throughout this issue are a major plus.
What’s So-So: A retrospective of Jobs’ life, “The Inventor of the Future,” is dotted with a few interesting Jobs quotes from past issues of Time—a bit on the original iMac is particularly interesting—but otherwise feels like any of the free summary articles you can find online. Similarly, Walter Isaacson’s “American Icon,” a preview of his upcoming Jobs autobiography, offers only a couple of actual behind-the-scenes details regarding Jobs. Even those have already been excerpted and printed elsewhere.
What’s Bad: “Apple’s Greatest Hits and Misses” appears to have been put together by someone with little appreciation for the company’s back catalog of products—two of the “misses” include Apple’s iPod earphones and the MacBook Air, which is described as “no match for the MacBook Pro.” While this article’s a particularly lightweight and poor fit for the rest of the retrospective, the bigger issue is that there’s just too little here. But not for some of the original photography, it wouldn’t even be worth purchasing unless you were already getting it as an existing Time subscriber. We’re hoping for greater things from Isaacson’s book. iLounge Rating: B-.
Wired Magazine’s special $3 issue is called “Steve Jobs Revolutionary,” and opens with a dark image in which the side profile of Jobs’ face emerges from an otherwise black box. Featuring several stories by Steven Levy with contributions from other writers, Wired’s edition merely contains six articles that were published from 1996 through 2010, plus a very brief, unsigned Editor’s Note and a longer, obituary-style look back at his life by Levy. Apart from the cover image, Steve Jobs Revolutionary is bereft of photos, just one of the ways in which this publication falls short of its rivals.
What’s Great: A behind-the-scenes discussion of the original iPhone and Motorola’s ill-fated ROKR phone is as interesting today as it was when originally published in early 2008, complete with insights from inside both Apple and Cingular/AT&T. Similarly, Apple fans will enjoy Steven Levy’s article on the origins of the iPod, discussing Jon Rubenstein’s and Tony Fadell’s roles in the project, as well as quotes from Jobs. Within that article, Levy’s firsthand discussion of Bill Gates’ initial encounter with the 2001 iPod is priceless: “Gates went into a zone that recalls those science fiction films where a space alien, confronted with a novel object… [sucks] directly into his brain all possible information about it.” Even if you’ve read this before, it really comes alive today.
What’s So-So: Most of the content has less to do with Jobs than with his products. The most recent article, Tabula Rasa, is a stale April, 2010 discussion of the original iPad with only a single several-year-old quote from Jobs to add modest perspective. There’s virtually no value in reprinting the 1997 article called “101 Ways to Save Apple” in an issue supposedly about Jobs, save to lend some perspective regarding the disaster he had to clean up there. And the issue’s one major interview with Jobs comes from a Gary Wolf sit-down conducted with the then-NeXT CEO in 1995, published in early 1996. The good news is that the interview is extended and insightful in a way that very few have been since he subsequently returned to Apple, but still, that was over 15 years ago.
What’s Bad: Younger than the other publications here, Wired starts its coverage of Jobs and Apple in 1996, losing out on the detailed discussions of his original stint at Apple—save for the largely rehashed discussion in Levy’s obituary. Wired also has the least and worst photographic content of any of the publications, falling short of even Fortune’s Kindle eBook, and the content feels more like a rushed-together collection of articles relating to Jobs’s work than anything else. It’s tied with Bloomberg Businessweek+ as the cheapest download in the bunch, but it’s also the easiest to skip. iLounge Rating: C.