Sir Alan Sugar has made few serious mistakes in his successful career but the Amstrad Emailer must be one of the biggest. Previously Sugar had pioneered the "consumerization" of techy products and his Company was just about the first to offer a home Computer in the UK which actually had a plug pre-fitted to it. He became obsessed with the concept of offering a simple anybody-can-use-it home computer and email system but made a desperate misjudgement with the Emailer from the moment it was launched in 2000 by trying too hard to make it simple and ironically making it far too complex. The Manual with the first one ran to 150 pages and later manuals bore the legend "You have no chance of operating this item without reading the instructions".
No, Sir Alan is not my Techno hero.
Just 3 years before the Emailer was launched, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the Company he co-founded but had been ousted from ten years previously. In the 90's Apple had made a lot of bad decisions and whilst it still had a lot of ardent followers in the niche of graphic design had become a very minor player in the Technology field against the mighty and all-powerful Microsoft. Then Steve Jobs returned.
And look what happened last week:
Yes, Apple have overtaken Microsoft in capital size.
Absolutely key to this amazing achievement was his early appointment of a young chap from Chingford as Vice President of Industrial Design, Jonathan Ive. This diffident and retiring genius of design, nurtured and supported by Jobs, was behind the iMac, the Powerbook, the iPod, the iPhone and most recently the iPad. Not a bad CV by anyone's standards.
Whilst Microsoft were stuck on a one-trick Operating System pony and seeing their Cash Cows like Word and Excel undermined by the the drift to Google's tempting cloud-computing, Jobs and Ive set about reinventing Apple as one of the most dominant communication Companies in the World.
Jonathan Ives brought colour and style to Apple's Computer offerings with the distinctiveness and freshness of the iMac but the real flair for packaging technology came with the move to music players in October 2001 with the iPod. This just over a year after the very first Amstrad Emailer hit an unsuspecting market.
The very essence of the iPod's success was minimalism, the simplification of design down to its very essence and almost automatically producing a design icon as a result. Just look at the simple "wheel" control which does everything you need! Minimalism must be combined with ruthless functionality and ease of use, and this is where Apple's products have scored so highly...they do not need 150 page manuals, in fact they hardly require any instruction at all because they are so intuitive.
The logical move up to the iPhone just 3 short years ago drop-kicked Apple into the top 3 Mobile Phone Companies in the World within 12 months. As a "late adopter" I have tried several alternative smart phones over the last two years and all have come with long-winded manuals and have taken hours of setting up - the iPhone was such a revelation to me in the way everything, every tiny detail, has been carefully thought through and made to look almost effortless. It is by far the best technical product I've ever owned and I can't wait to get my hands on an iPad.
So Ive & Jobs, you are my techno heroes. Congratulations on doing a brilliant job.
Sir Alan? You're fired.