How Steve Jobs ‘out-Japanned’ Japan

Apple Online Store“The better part of a month has gone by, and most pundits have already weighed in on this year’s CES — the global gadget extravaganza that makes Las Vegas the gravitational center of the geek universe every January,” Jeff Yang writes for The San Francisco Gate. “The consensus? Meh.

“That’s because the cacophony and crowds and celebrity sightings… couldn’t disguise the fact that Apple, the new king of the tech hill, had once again refused to participate in a gathering dominated by old-guard standouts like Sony,” Yang writes. “Not that the lack of an official presence prevented Apple’s fingerprints from being found nearly everywhere at CES. iPhone and iPad accessories were the only things more ubiquitous than celebrity-branded headsets, and most of the show’s plethora of new services and devices desperately touted their compatibility with iOS apps and hardware.”

Yang writes, “In short, despite CES’s parade of CEO keynotes and bold-faced name guests, the man who did the most to shape the show was the one who wasn’t there at all… Jobs’s immersion in Zen and passion for design almost certainly exposed him to the concept of ma, a central pillar of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Like many idioms relating to the intimate aspects of how a culture sees the world, it’s nearly impossible to accurately explain — it’s variously translated as ‘void,’ ‘space'” or ‘interval’ — but it essentially describes how emptiness interacts with form, and how absence shapes substance. If someone were to ask you what makes a ring a meaningful object — the circle of metal it consists of, or the emptiness that that metal encompasses? — and you were to respond ‘both,’ you’ve gotten as close to ma as the clumsy instrument of English allows.”

Yang writes, “While Jobs has never invoked the term in public — one of the aspects of his genius is the ability to keep even his most esoteric assertions in the realm of the instantly accessible — ma is at the core of the Jobsian way. And Jobs’ single-minded adherence to this idiosyncratically Japanese principle is, ironically, what has allowed Apple to compete with and beat Japan’s technology titans.”

There’s much more in the full article – recommended – here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. Outjapanned Japan? Does the writer of that article know anything about Japanese electronics at all? They are *nothing* like Apple’s. They were the ones who started with the *FEATURES FEATURES OH LOOK WHAT I CAN DO* craze, but their software is HORRIBLE (anyone who has ever used PS3’s interface, especially the shitty browser knows that*).

    THAT is why the iPhone is selling like hot cakes on Japan. Because even the Japanese prefer a phone that works and doesn’t stab you on the eyes rather than a swiss army knife with instructions encrypted on an ancient alien language.

    *I love my PS3, but seriously, Sony?

  2. @lukeskymac

    That’s the point of the article. The Japanese have lost their way. Jobs understands their “Way” and he does it better than they do.

    Sony now makes the kind of overcomplicated products you describe, but they didn’t always.

  3. @Manbearpig

    My point is that, at least in consumer electronics, they never adhered to “their way” (I assume you are talking about zen stuff). They became famous for cutting edge tech, not user-friendliness…

    … Unless they did that a LONG time ago…

  4. @Macromancer
    When you say “one of the legends” name one that’s equal. I have noticed other journalists and analysts also pulls silly qualifiers like ‘the greatest CEO of modern business.’ What does it mean, there were better CEOs of more accomplishments (both as game changers and as successful businessmen) in the past eras?

  5. @Macromancer

    What’s equally puzzling is how bad the browser performance is. On my 10 megabit wifi it is painfully slow… even my 1st gen iPod touch loads pages faster!

    Or how you can’t listen to music while on the Playstation Store, or while you are tweaking settings…
    Or how there is no option to keep songs from repeating once they reach the end of a playlist/album…

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.