[Article first published as Remembering Steve Jobs, 1955-2011 on Blogcritics.]
In my scribblings over the years, I’ve occasionally taken the pen to Apple on certain topics, namely mobile wars and the iPhone. Make no mistake, though I do from time to time disagree with Apple’s tactics and philosophies, you’ll notice that I never once said that they made devices that were ever less than excellent. And that’s no accident.
Yesterday Steve Jobs, one of the founders and former CEO of Apple passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. With his notorious micromanaging and perfectionist personality, his name was synonymous with “Apple,” as people were unable to see the iconic fruit logo without seeing him. It was after all his vision and strategies that put the company on the map as one of the leaders in technology and innovation, and changed the way we live our lives.
Throughout his life, Mr. Jobs’ philosophy was one of achieving one’s dreams – regardless of how ridiculous or far-reaching they seemed at the time. The kind of ambitions that would invite accusations of insanity if it were any one of us. But fortunately for him, and us, he had the tenacity, need for perfection, outright skill and passion for tech and design to make them all happen. Even as a youth growing up in Cupertino, California, this held true. As a teenager, he had the nerve to call William Hewlett (yes, of Hewlett-Packard) and ask him for computer chips and parts he wanted to use for a school project. Hewlett was convinced, and ended up delivering with the parts Jobs needed, and was impressed enough to offer him a summer job along with them.
That summer job at HP led to a job at Atari in its formative stages, as well as a membership in the Homebrew Computer Club in the late 1970’s. This was a collection of computer hobbyists, engineers and other folks who saw infinite promise in the realm of personal computing. This club had members the likes of George Morrow, Jerry Lawson, and of course, Steve Wozniak. The Woz designed a few computer systems just for fun, but Jobs was the one that recognized the potential of his projects – not only for business, but for something that could be used by the masses, not just nerds tinkering with chips. After calling all of Wozniak’s family and friends to help, shall we say, he was guided to the right decision, Wozniak ended up leaving HP even though his tinkering was originally just for fun, and Apple Computer was born. Par for the course – Jobs had gotten his way, as he always did, and always would.
Even back then he had a near-supernatural ability to see not only what was coming next, but more specifically what was important. Shown again later in his career in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1985, he said that “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people–as remarkable as the telephone.” 1985. Back when a gigabyte was a thing unheard of, the internet didn’t exactly exist, and modem speeds were measured in baud and heard in decibels.
Then came the Apple II, and eventually development of the Lisa, where his time at Xerox PARC would help him drive a system using graphical windows, “files” and “folders,” and a mouse-controlled interface. As he found the Lisa project team wasn’t ready for that or his demanding management style, he moved over to the Macintosh team. Energized by his passion and style, they took those technology principles and ran with them. As Jobs told Steven Levy in 1983, while the Lisa team did want to make something great, “the Mac people want to do something insanely great.” So came the Mac personal computer in 1984, heralded, ironically, by their “1984” Super Bowl Ad. But it didn’t sell as well as they anticipated, and Jobs brought in Pepsi’s John Sculley to run the show. Sculley almost immediately fired Jobs from his own company.
In retrospect, getting fired might have been the best thing that could happen to Jobs. It allowed him to begin working with George Lucas at a small computer graphics studio called Pixar, leading them to develop successful animated films, ultimately selling to Disney for a shade over $7 billion. Returning to Apple after Pixar was sold, Jobs took the helm at Apple again with a slightly different philosophy. Jobs believed in the merging of art and science to create products that stood out from the rest that consumers craved. With this philosophy he started what would be over a decade of innovative design for consumer goods for Apple, starting with the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and finally the iPad in 2010. Of course that is to say nothing of the iTunes service and their massive App Store. Apple has since been one of the top companies in personal computing, and has the same influence, if not more, than IBM and Microsoft on the way we live and do business today.
His fans regard him as nothing short of a God – as a central figure in their lives whom they’ve never even met. As irritating as it can get sometimes as I hang out in the Android camp, it’s a testament to the mark Jobs has left on the world – creating products that people – not just tech nerds but civilians – wanted, no matter what… even if they might not have known they wanted it to begin with. He created the market for modern portable music devices. He created the smartphone market. And most recently, the American tablet craze is all thanks to him. His works not only affected his fans, but fostered fierce competition and helped spur innovation from other companies, in the hopes of matching or beating his product offerings. Touch technology might not have been as ubiquitous as it is today without Apple’s iPhone fueling competition in mobile communications.
No one was really trying to make ultra light notebooks until Apple’s MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Countless technologies exist that may not have been invented by Apple, but have the hand of Jobs somewhere in the initial inspiration for those designs. And that’s not even getting into entertainment and everything that evolved from Pixar and movies like Toy Story. He helped build the computing industry and would be a face on the Mt. Rushmore of technology if such a thing ever existed, along with faces like Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee. As personal computing evolved, so did business and enterprise IT. And on a personal level, the industry he helped create along with other tech giants gave me a hobby as well as a career. And all along the way we were all inspired, even if only from time to time, to “think different.”
So for everything, thanks Steve.