Friday, October 28, 2011

October Observations: Steve Jobs Invented Desktop Publishing…and Photo Books too?

also published in The Hard Copy Observer, October 2011

by Jim Lyons

[October 28, 2011] Recently, The Lyra Insider blog included a brief reflection on Steve Jobs and his impact on the printing and imaging business (see “The Onion Brings Printer Biz into Steve Jobs Resignation Story”). Now, further reflections on his contributions and quirks following his death on October 5 seem appropriate, especially in light of all the attention following the publication of Jobs’ new biography. Some personal and second-hand memories bring his passion and understanding to light in a very industry-specific way.

According to the new authorized biography, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, the legendary and recently deceased Apple CEO can take credit for revolutionizing six or maybe seven industries (the “maybe” being retail). Included on the list, as mentioned during Isaacson’s October 23 appearance on the American television show 60 Minutes and in the early pages of the book, which was released Monday, October 24, is digital publishing. While as a printing insider, I might refine that to desktop publishing (and in fact thought that was what I first heard during the live viewing of the show), that difference really might just come down to semantics. Along with the other industries on the list, like music, animated movies, and personal computers, desktop publishing is probably too fine a cut. After all, “DTP” as we called it back then really did ripple through and help change the whole of digital publishing and along the way, helped make the Macintosh a virtual standard in that industry.

The desktop publishing revolution goes back 25 years now (see “The Greatest Printer Story Ever Told”), and Steve Jobs’ influence during those heady early days was clear. Launching the original solution, which included the Apple Macintosh, Apple LaserWriter printer with Adobe Postscript, and Aldus PageMaker, Jobs along with his lieutenant John Scull (not to be confused with then-future-CEO John Sculley) were tireless lobbyists for DTP and its ability to transform publishing workflows. In the process, Jobs and Scully probably saved Apple and helped create a larger industry with beneficiaries like HP and Microsoft taking the solution (or perhaps a lower-end version of it) to the masses.

Following his passing, much has been made of Jobs and his “standing at the crossroads” of technology and the liberal arts, and the DTP revolution speaks volumes to that. This movement required an understanding of the full complement of technology required—the classic example (beyond the obvious Macintosh and laser printing) being Adobe PostScript’s scalable type, along with the sensitivity to style and design that was a Jobs trademark. (His passion for typography also comes out in his famous Stanford commencement speech and his discussion of early training in fonts and typefaces.) Then came Jobs’ skill as a marketer, with the strong positive push that got the world excited about the power and economies offered by DTP beginning in 1986…and his frequent trashing of HP as offering a second-rate solution.

Photobooks remain a popular feature of iPhoto ten years after its intro
A more recent Jobs innovation involves the Macintosh and Apple’s iPhoto application, originally introduced just as digital photography was hitting its inflection point a little less than ten years ago. This initiative was part of another marketing push by Apple, which was looking to define another “killer app” (PageMaker may have been one of the first) and in the process help sell more Macintosh computers, which Apple did. As part of the value proposition, iPhoto could help you organize your digital photos and create on-screen slide shows, plus the software included the ability for users to order a photobook—a professionally bound, hard-copy volume that would be produced off-site and shipped in a few days to the user. The photobook was a big part of the marketing campaign (including television commercials) that brought joy to anyone from the hard copy business that happened to notice them (me, for one). Apple continues with iPhoto today, and version 11 still prominently features this photobook capability. Similar to DTP, others have followed suit, with photobooks being one of the bright spots in digital photo printing and retailing (see “Observations: End of Summer 2011—Getting Those Memories Organized via Photobooks”).

The more interesting, Jobs side of the story comes in, though, when he personally got involved with a photobook quality issue, in the case of a very prominent customer complaint, in 2002, as remembered by Bill McGlynn, who is a former HP senior vice president and was head of the Graphics Arts group for HP’s Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) at the time, a group which included the then-recently acquired Indigo digital typesetter product line. (McGlynn is now president of Memjet Home & Office.) The Apple CEO, with his characteristic passion for design and quality, got right into the middle of a quality issue. McGlynn remembers the 2002 conference call he was summoned to, along with his boss, Vyomesh Joshi, who remains head of IPG.

According to McGlynn, “Apple’s supplier for the photobooks was MyPublisher, who used our (recently acquired) Indigo presses for their production. None other than Paul McCartney, yes, that Paul McCartney, had ordered 100 photobooks commemorating his 2002 U.S. tour. As he went through the stacks of books, individually adding his thanks and a signature, personalizing each book as a memento for crew and others who had made the tour possible, Sir Paul noticed inconsistent color and let Jobs know about it.”

“We had a magenta color shift issue at the time, especially on the older (TurboStream) machines, and Jobs wanted to know how we planned to fix it,” McGlynn continues. He remembers, “Steve even warned us, as he was in his car, returning from a dental appointment while taking the call, that he was likely to be in an even more cantankerous mood than normal.” McGlynn remembers an irate but passionate Jobs, and in the end, MyPublisher got a new (HP Indigo 3000) machine, McCartney got replacement books, and another Jobs story was born.

Apple Cards is a new Apple created iPhone app that features hard copy - in this case greeting cards
How much Jobs had to do with the very latest Apple print-prominent solution, he firm’s “Cards” app announced with the iPhone 4S on October 4, is not clear, but Jobs’ secretive side was evident with respect to our query made to HP regarding which presses are being used to print the cards. The app itself, only available recently, is a very “light” app so far, offering 20 or so card styles in a limited number of categories. Users have the ability to send a physical greeting card, customized and mailed conventionally (from Apple’s publishing vendor), to the recipient of their choice (see “Life Imitates Art”). When we asked about Apple’s choice of print vendor (and HP’s digital presses) this time, a current HP vice president became a bit flustered, commenting on how secretive Apple can be, but he assured us, with a virtual wink at least, that “the finest quality digital press available” was behind Apple’s latest hard-copy initiative.
Is the HP Indigo press still behind Apples latest hard copy initiation, Cards?

So from DTP to iPhoto to Cards (and we shouldn’t forget AirPrint), the Jobs legacy lives on with Apple and the firm’s all-important role in the printing and imaging industry. For this and everything else, RIP Steven Paul Jobs.