John Gruber argues against Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion (itself derived from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography) that Jobs was more of a “tweaker” than a true inventor.
I’d still argue that Gladwell’s thoughts on this are interesting and worth thinking about. But Gruber is right to note that the issue is anything but black and white.
If you think about it, has anyone in the past 50 years been a true inventor by Gladwell’s stringent definition? I know the answer is “yes”, but it’s hard to think of people.
One name that comes to mind is Dean Kamen with the Segway. But you could argue that was just a “tweaking” of the scooter, I suppose. Plus, despite the initial hype, that device has changed the world far less than a dozen other things Jobs did.
What about the portable digital music player itself, which Gruber agrees is probably the closest thing to a “tweak” product that Jobs did?
If Wikipedia is to be believed, a British scientist named Kane Kramer invented it in 1979 with a device called the IXI.(Incidentally, Apple ended up hiring Kramer as a consultant and used him in an iPod patent legal case decades later.) But couldn’t you argue that such a product is really just a “tweak” of existing portable music players?
The first actual portable MP3 player was made by a company called Audio Highway in 1996. But couldn’t you just argue that it was just a “tweak” of the portable CD player, which itself was just a tweak of the cassette-based Walkman? They’re all the same basic idea, it’s the format for the music that changed.
And aren’t all of those just “tweaks” of any home audio playback equipment? Most work the same way, it’s just the portability that’s different.
Etc. Etc. Etc.