Steve Jobs transformed the credit card industry. That's my argument, and I'm going to stick with it. True, if you look hard enough, and judging from all of the tweets, Facebook status updates, trade magazine articles, newspaper stories and television pieces in the last 48 hours, you could probably reasonably make the argument that the late founder of Apple had a profound effect on tube socks and dental hygiene.
Luckily, I don't have to flex my creative muscles too hard to think about how Steve Jobs changed credit cards. While the inventor's relationship to the plastic in our wallet isn't as obvious as how he changed computers, telephones and music, it really isn't as far a leap as you'd think to get from Apple to American Express.
So now that I've piqued your curiosity, here are three reasons that when we think of credit cards, we should think about Jobs.
1. Steve Jobs changed how we handle money
Mobile banking may not yet be the rage among consumers, but it is rapidly growing. Jobs didn't invent mobile banking, but once the iPhone came around, it was apparent that a cellphone wasn't just a cellphone but a camera, a GPS locator, a jukebox, and a place to play Angry Birds. You can get apps to help you avoid speed traps and to offer up recipes for dinner. Thanks to Steve Jobs, for almost anything you can think of, "there's an app for that!"
And, yes, there are apps to help you spend money - and save money. You can snap a photo of a paycheck and make a deposit to your checking account without leaving your cellphone. And the day isn't that far off when it'll be commonplace to wave a cellphone in front of a scanner and receive an instant discount, instead of swiping a credit card through a machine and fumbling for loose coupons in our pockets.
Jobs also has helped many an entrepreneur by paving the way for all the credit card apps that allow people to make sales on the fly at trade shows, country fairs and kiosks around the country. With at least a couple dozen apps coming out in recent years, a business person can make a sale and take a credit card payment through a cell phone, simplifying the transaction and avoiding the need to handle cash or wait for checks to clear.
2. Steve Jobs changed how we see technology
If the way Jobs thought was the way everyone thinks, we wouldn't have a show on cable called "Hoarders." There are plenty of people out there who like to hang onto what they own, which is perfectly understandable. Some people wear their shoes until the seams start to come apart. They drive their cars until they can drive no more. They still play 8-track tapes.
But Jobs made technology friendly and accessible. This encouraged us to trade in our old toys for brand new ones and many people listened. When Jobs debuted the iPod in 2001, millions of us, no doubt, unloaded our CDs and DVDs on eBay, or used them as coasters, or simply let them collect dust in a now-obsolete CD rack.
Or make that 200 million people. One has to think that somewhere out there, a hacker became slack-jawed and had to wipe some spittle off his chin when, earlier this year to an audience in San Francisco, Jobs said that iTunes, the famed media player computer program, had 200 million accounts with credit cards and may well be "the largest database of customer accounts in the world."
3. More computer per credit card
It's true that Apple products aren't cheap, and there are surely millions of people around the world who can't afford or justify spending the money on Apple's products. Still, think of everyone who does have a computer. According to census figures, 76.7 percent of American households owned a computer back in 2009. In 1995 - just to grab a number from back in the Stone Age of the Internet - it was a mere 37 percent.
More Americans have bought computers as they've become cheaper. I was speaking recently to an early adopter - well, my dad - and he noted that when he once bought an extra 16 KB (kilobytes) of memory "to boost my 1982 Apple II+ from 48 to 64 KB, it cost over $100 for that extra 16 KB. Now my Apple iPad has 16 GB (gigabytes), a million times more memory."
And my father added that for a million times more memory, "I am almost positive that it didn't cost $100 million."
In other words, thanks in large measure to the late Steve Jobs, we can put a lot more computer on our credit cards.