In the year since Steve Jobs died, he has taken on a mythical role for people who write about Apple that's very similar to the way conservative pundits invoke the late President Ronald Reagan: a mythical do-no-wrong hero would would have kept us out of the latest mishap. Just like Reagan wouldn't have picked those RNC speakers or embraced the Tea Party or made those remarks about the 47 percent, Jobs would have prevented all of Apple's recent failures. Take Tim Cook's apology for Apple Maps this morning, or the whole Maps debacle for that matter. Following the somewhat embarrassing scandal, Cook admitted Apple messed up. But, Apple doesn't do things wrong and it certainly never apologizes, at least it never would have under Steve Jobs. Cue the What Would Jobs Do posts. "If Steve Jobs were alive, there is no way an app as poor as Maps would have been released in the first place," wrote Michael Convente at Tech Pnosker. "The point is, the product is quite obviously flawed. It's so flawed that one can't believe Steve Jobs wouldn't have killed it before it reached stores," added Seeking Alpha's Paulo Santos. And the Jobs sentimentality goes on and on and on.
This isn't a unique to Maps phenomenon. We invoked Jobs ourselves this morning when were writing about the state of advertising on the iPhone. Here are some other examples:
- Siri. "It's hard to imagine that he would have approved its release in a final product," wrote Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz, who has a rundown of a bunch of other things Jobs would have hated like the bigger iPhone screen and the iPad 3's heavier design with worse battery life.
- Podcasts app. "I hate to be one of those guys that says Steve Jobs would have never let this happen, but, seriously, if Steve Jobs was alive this could never happen," from Business Insider's Jay Yarow.
- Apple TV. "Hate the New Apple TV UI? So Did Steve Jobs," was the headline of a PC Magazine post.
These two men are these institutions's Jesus figures, who the believers use as a way to legitimize their religion, even when that religion does something unholy. Pundits therefore use them as a way to excuse the institution for the current establishment's faults, so as not to tarnish the reputation of that with which they associate. It's a distancing tactic. So, as Mitt Romney's popularity sinks below George W. Bush's and he falls behind in the polls after a series of gaffes, other Republicans can say: Hey, this isn't what we're about. The same goes for the Apple fanboy crowd. Having crafted an entire identity around Apple and its incredible design, and products, and popularity, they can't have an issue like this ruin that reputation. So, instead of defecting from the cult, they find a way to admit its failings, without looking like a hypocrit.
And since these figures can't speak for themselves, it's pretty much a fool-proof defense tactic. People have even used it to make the exact opposite points: Don't Kid Yourself, Steve Jobs Would Have Released Apple Maps and iOS 6 vs. Steve Jobs Would Have Never Released iOS 6 Like This. Yet, both of them are the same amount right, because it is a hypothetical that can't have a definitive truth because the person in question is dead.
But, no matter how much these people talk about what Jobs or Reagan would have done, the reality is neither of them are running their respective shows. No matter what Jobs would or wouldn't have done, Apple put out Maps and users don't like it. We should judge the company and its products for what they are. Not according to what some idealized figure may or may not have done.