This column usually doesn’t cover the people behind the creation of the gadgets and gizmos that we love, but for this week, there will be an exception. Steve Jobs, a man known for founding Apple Computer Inc. (since changed to Apple Inc.), and later steering it to success with the introduction of many innovative products, died Wednesday in Palo Alto, California, at the age of 56. Mr. Jobs’ death concludes a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the reason for his resignation as CEO of Apple last month. Apple confirmed the news via a press release, as well as on its website, dedicating their entire home page to his visage. As a tribute, I would like to use this week’s column to focus on the life and legacy of one of the most influential and charismatic characters in Silicon Valley.
Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955. Jobs showed an interest in the up-and-coming world of personal computers, often attending lectures at Hewlett-Packard, where he met Steve Wozniak. Jobs and Wozniak would later start Apple Computer Inc. together in Jobs’ garage. After spending one semester at Reed College and dropping out, Jobs turned his attention to the Homebrew Computer Club, where he and Wozniak attempted to impress other members with their creations. After positive reactions, Jobs convinced Wozniak of the potential commercial value of their hobby.
Soon after the founding of Apple Computer Inc. in 1976, and the development of moderately successful personal computers like the Apple II, the company saw success with the Apple Macintosh. The Macintosh was the first successful personal computer that contained many innovative features, such a mouse and graphical user interface, which represented common commands as images rather than text. Although consumer tastes have largely shifted to the more popular Microsoft Windows-based computers, the Macintosh was seen as a turning point for the computing world.
Internal disagreements with executives at Apple caused Jobs to resign from the company in 1985. He went on to invest in what would become Pixar as well as to start NeXT, a high-end computer manufacturer for the higher education and business markets. Meanwhile at Apple, the company’s early growth gave way to struggles in the early ‘90s against the looming threat of competitors, particularly Microsoft. Without Jobs, Apple’s product line became fragmented, leaving the company marketing many products that ultimately failed commercially, including Macintosh Performa, the Pippin game console, the eWorld online service, and the Newton personal digital assistant.
By the mid-’90s, Apple was said to be in financial trouble, and larger companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems had expressed interest in purchasing it. Jobs was also struggling with NeXT, with products like the NeXTcube computer and the NeXTSTEP operating failing to capture the attention of consumers. Apple bought NeXT in 1996, and Jobs assumed the position of interim CEO of Apple in 1997, over a decade after he first left. Eventually, he was assigned to keep the position permanently.
With Jobs back at the helm of Apple, he killed a number of poorly received products and announced that the company would enter into a five-year partnership with longtime rival Microsoft. Apple began to flourish once again, with the next year bringing the introduction of the iMac. The success was largely due to Jobs’ influence, who emphasized simplicity in the design of the computer, as well as making it available in a multitude of bright and friendly colors. This straightforward marketing allowed the idea of a personal computer to become mainstream, altering the computer industry once again.
Jobs became well known for delivering keynote presentations at special events held to introduce new Apple products, appearing dressed in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans. In Jobs’ time as CEO, he oversaw the introduction and eventual success of products such as the iPod music player in 2001. Standing on stage, Jobs touted the size of the player (as small as a deck of cards) and storage capacity (enough to hold 1,000 songs). Many pundits in the industry doubted the success of the device and of digital music in general. However, the introduction of the iTunes Music Store led to the growth of the digital music player market, making the iPod one of the most successful consumer products of all time.
Following the success of the iPod, Apple began to take interest in the emerging mobile phone market. At its 2007 introduction, the iPhone showcased features that were uncommon in mobile phones at the time, including a multi-touch screen, a full web browser, a virtual keyboard, and a slim form factor. The revolutionary mobile device soon became the standard for the growing category of smartphones.
Despite the success of his company, Jobs was coping with medical problems that arose in 2004 with the diagnosis of a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. With time, Jobs’ condition worsened, resulting in his decision to delegate portions of his keynotes to other speakers, and eventually rendering him unable to present the company’s new products at all. In January 2009, Jobs took a medical leave of absence from the company to undergo a liver transplant. His prognosis was described as “excellent,” and he returned the following June. However, Jobs took another leave of absence in January 2011 and resigned from his role as CEO in August, being replaced by former COO Tim Cook.
The reaction to the announcement of Mr. Jobs’ death was overwhelming. The flags at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters were flying half-mast on Wednesday evening. Mac fanatics were spotted leaving flowers and holding candlelight vigils at Apple retail locations. Many took to Facebook and Twitter to express their condolences. He’s been called a “genius” by his supporters and has inspired many to take an interest in the emerging field of technology. Despite the loss, Apple will continue to innovate and build upon Jobs’ legacy, as well as expand the empire he created. Jobs is survived by his family, including Laurene Powell Jobs, his wife of 20 years, their three children, and a daughter from a previous relationship.
Image Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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