Like many who had the pleasure of interacting with the genius that was Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs, I have been reflecting recently concerning his incredible impact on our lives. Indeed his impact on every aspect of our lives including GPS is almost beyond description.
For example, our warfighters are increasingly using iPads and iPhones in theater for multiple functions, including some dedicated and warfighter-developed GPS applications that far outshine any GPS application provided by the government. When will we learn that we must provide our warfighters what they need or they will go elsewhere to find it because lives are at stake? Today many of our warriors are developing their own applications on their individual iPads and iPhones, exactly as Steve Jobs intended.
NeXT, PIXAR, and USG
My first interaction with Steve was after he had been summarily fired from Apple (the company he cofounded) in 1985 and began a new computer company called NeXT. All I can really say in this venue about that initial interaction is that the U.S. military bought a great many NeXTstation integrated/networked computers, and many of them are in still use today. Indeed, in many circles Steve Jobs credited the U.S. government (USG) with helping NeXT computer get its start. The hardware was definitely better than anything else on the market at the time, but the selling point was the incredibly powerful and user-friendly interface and software, known as NeXTSTEP, which proved to be an early version of the next step in the sequence leading to the modern-day Mac operating system that hundreds of millions of us use today.
To put the power of the NeXT computer and Steve Jobs’ genius in the right context, think PIXAR Animation Studios. PIXAR was another of Steve’s successful collaborations (Steve was co-founder and CEO) when computer-intensive animation required powerful computers that artists as well as business people could understand and use — user-friendly, in other words — and few computers or software applications in the mid-1980s were up to the task. The U.S. government was not into animation but was into high-fidelity simulations and knew an excellent product when they saw it, hence the early supporting partnership. Those little black cubes were among the most powerful and user-friendly computers of their era, and many are still churning away today in settings befitting their hue.
This comes to mind because recently I visited a secure government facility where NeXT computers and NeXTSTEP software are still being utilized, and the users think they have no equal. I have no idea what version of the operating system they are using, but regardless, this is quite a testament to the genius and foresight of Steve Jobs and the company that helped save Apple when Apple bought NeXT and Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996. The rest, as they say, is history.
Every time I use a new application on my iPhone, iTouch, iPad, or iMac, I think about the clueless CEO of one of the world’s major phone companies who was interviewed about his views concerning the iPhone just before it was released. He foolishly said and probably really believed, “We are not worried about Apple and the iPhone, because they are not a recognized phone company.” Obviously underestimating the brilliance of Steve Jobs caught a great many companies and CEOs by surprise. As I wrote concerning a PC World magazine article listing the world’s best products a few years ago, “If Apple had a product in the category, it was always number one, without fail.” I know of no other company that can make that claim.
“How has Apple managed to stay so successful over 35 years? …no one can dispute that the company is the dominant American corporate brand, period. The hard numbers prove this, with Apple’s market capitalization recently surpassing Exxon-Mobile, making it the most valuable company in the world. Of course, the news always breathlessly captures Apple’s characteristics: Legendary CEO. Masterful marketing. Amazing stagecraft. Sexy products. Industry renegades. Tradition breakers. Cult-like devotion.”
Even as I totally agree with this description of the Steve Jobs-led-Apple, I feel there is a glaring omission. Apple gives the consumer what they want and need, and they do it in such an intuitive way that consumers have come to expect only the best as well as the next great product from Apple. The fact that companies worldwide then attempt to emulate the latest Apple product or service is ample evidence that this is a working and successful strategy for Apple. Remember: “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”
GPS on a Train
I was thinking about this recently during the 30-plus-minute train ride from the greater Portland Airport to the Oregon Convention Center where I had the pleasure of attending ION GNSS 2011 September 17-23 (Institute of Navigation, Global Navigation Satellite Systems). During that train ride I was monitoring my GPS application on my iPhone and iPad, comparing the two and trying to determine the closet stop to my hotel. I originally thought my fellow passengers might consider my activities strange or excessive, being as I was on a train, until I noticed that actually most of the people in my train car were monitoring their travel with iPhones, iPads, or smartphones. A young couple across from me wanted to know what GPS application I was using. So even on a train I experienced the extra and sometimes comforting situational awareness that GPS can provide. I knew that on a long straight stretch we once hit a top speed of 68 miles per hour, the entire trip was going to take ~35 minutes, and I was sure I exited at the nearest stop to my hotel and then found my way there on foot without any wrong turns. So, you see, a GPS application on an iPhone or an iPad while traveling on a train does make sense, because when tunnels and buildings obstruct the sky view you still have Wi-Fi, telephone (3G), and SkyHook wireless applications to keep you oriented, and in a strange location it will give you peace of mind. That is indeed priceless, and I think Steve Jobs knew that. He thought about what was needed and what could be. He made our lives better.
So when I think of Steve Jobs I will always remember the outside-the-box thinker that was never afraid to take on any challenge and who usually won simply because he gave us what we needed, sometimes even before we knew it.
ION and CGSIC
This was the second year for ION GNSS in Portland, Oregon and as with most ION events it was better this year than last. More than 1400 attended this year, which is a ten percent increase over last year and in this economic environment that is quite a feat and speaks well of the value that ION events bring to companies bottom lines. There were also more exhibitors this year; so many it was difficult to get by and visit them all because the paper presentations were so interesting.
The whole international GNSS event actually began on September 19 with the 51st Civil GPS Service Interface Committee (CGSIC) meeting held in conjunction with ION GNSS. This is always a great venue for an exchange of ideas and an opportunity for the various federal and state agencies that deal with GNSS on a daily basis to present their latest projects and innovations. It is always an uplifting session for me because it demonstrates that even federal and state bureaucracies’ can be innovative when the people involved are passionate about what they do. If you ever have an opportunity to attend the CGSIC sessions I highly recommend them.
You can become a member of the CGSIC, it is totally free of charge, by visiting the NAVCEN website registration page. In fact many people will erroneously but understandably tell you the CG stands for US Coast Guard because as a Service they are so heavily involved in the CGSIC. The NAVCEN CO (Commanding Officer) manages the committee, maintains membership roles, coordinates committee meetings, represents the committee chair at GPS related meetings, and coordinates responses to submitted issues, however the CG still stands for Civil GPS. However, just a reminder if you do have a question about the civil GPS signal or experience interference or outages then the place to call is the NAVCEN or U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center at (703) 313-5900, or visit the very informative NAVCEN website.
As much as I would like to highlight individual papers at ION GNSS, it is impossible. There are hundreds of papers and presenters, and whether or not you find them interesting depends on your area of interest, but I can say there is something for everyone. Name a GNSS topic and there is most likely a paper being presented at ION GNSS that addresses your specific interest in a cutting-edge manner.
The exhibitors and their products were as always very informative, and I will be highlighting a few of those in the months to come. As a former marketing executive, I can tell you that if you have a cutting-edge GNSS product, hardware or software, and you aren’t exhibiting at ION GNSS, then you are missing the boat.
As usual this event is extremely well organized, and it runs like clockwork. My hat is off to ION President Dr. Todd Walter and Executive Director, Lisa Beaty along with her fine staff, for another outstanding and informative GNSS event.
For the past year almost every meeting of GPS professionals has been dominated by the LightSquared (LSQ) fiasco; ION GNSS and CGSIC were no exceptions. The best-attended meetings at both events concerned the current status of the LSQ fiasco. There were LSQ updates from the Pentagon, the 50SW, SMC, and finally there was a forum with an invited LSQ executive moderated by Tom Stansell titled: “Can LightSquared and GPS Coexist? Current Status and Ongoing Activities.” An excellent question that, in my opinion, was answered firmly and clearly in the negative. In my opinion, shared by many, the first three presentations, including the presentation by the LSQ exec, were of dubious value and only the Trimble, Garmin, and John Deere presentations addressed the actual issues. My hat is off to Tom Stansell and ION for making the effort, and to the extent that a great many people are now more informed about the LSQ fiasco the session was a success, and it was the best attended individual session, standing room only, of the entire ION event.
My Favorite and Most Unique Presentation
My favorite and most entertaining presentation was by none other than Alan Cameron, the editor-in-chief of GPS World magazine. Alan’s presentation, “Out in Front: C’mon, People Now” was, now don’t be shocked, on the LightSquared fiasco, and was presented to the music and words of Sonny and Cher. The highlight, however, was when Alan actually sang the chorus and the audience joined in. Leave it to Alan to do the unexpected. Most importantly, he more than made his point. This whole fiasco long along ceased to be about the laws of physics, no matter how hard LightSquared tries to change them. It is now unfortunately a sad tale full of sound and fury but not much else. It is all about politics, an embarrassed administration that attempts to tamper with congressional testimony, and a clueless FCC chairman trying to save face, his job, or both.
GPS World Dinner
To wrap up the conference’s after hours activities on Thursday night, GPS World magazine held its annual GPS gala and exclusive dinner. The GPS literati, dare I say cognoscenti, were present in all their finery, yours truly included, and a good time was had by all. Of course the LightSquared fiasco was again the main topic of discussion, and where I actually heard LightSquared used as a verb. As in, “You’ve been LightSquared!” A vision of a common fastening device comes to mind. It’s amazing but not even a couple glasses of vino rosso make that bitter LSQ pill any easier to swallow. Fortunately, the camaraderie and food were excellent as always. And once again there was record attendance.
Personally, I can’t wait until we do this all again next year in Nashville, Tennessee. I hope to see you there September 17-21, 2012, at the Nashville Convention Center.
Until next time, happy navigating!