By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
Many years ago, while attending business school, I used to look up to Bill Gates (Co-founder of Microsoft) as a visionary and successful entrepreneur. His 1995 book entitled, The Road Ahead was a glimpse into the future of computers and technology. Gates spoke of the growth of the Internet, smart appliances, ebooks and other future concepts. Make no mistake, Bill Gates is a genius, and built Microsoft into the company it is today.
But as much of a visionary as Gates was — he never created the future products he spoke of, but instead capitalized on them. He will never personally be credited with changing the way we do things, or for creating products that would define how we interact with technology (even MS Windows was based on the Macintosh). For this we must look to Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder and CEO of Apple.
Jobs, the individual who brought the world the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad died on October 5th following a battle with Pancreatic Cancer. He was just 56 years old.
Long before these products revolutionized their respective industries, Jobs, along with his friend Steve Wozniak were credited with creating the personal computer industry with the Apple I computer in 1975.
It was the beginning of what would be a series of revolutionary products and product designs that would change the world we live in. Jobs was a perfectionist, and had an amazing ability for knowing what consumers wanted before they knew themselves. He brought simplicity and technical elegance to the masses by focusing his attention to detail on the user experience.
As expressed by an early Apple employee in Walter Isaacson’s biography entitled Steve Jobs, “Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way, too.” Jobs appreciated beauty and would become obsessed with product design. He would force his designers to make change after change until it was perfect.
An early motto of the company was, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, a quote from the famous artist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci. Simplicity, along with beauty and reliability would eventually come to define the Apple experience.
Some argue that Jobs was a visionary, while others claimed that he did not come up with ideas as much as he “knew great ideas when he saw them”.
A classic example of this was in 1978, when Jobs and several Apple Computer employees visited the research and development offices of Xerox company, where they were shown stunning developments such the graphical user interface (GUI), computer mouse and more. Although Xerox was not yet commercializing the technology, Jobs immediately saw its potential and instructed his team to develop similar technologies for the Apple Macintosh. Apple took these ideas and developed what we see and simply take for granted on any computer today.
Jobs could be ruthless as he demanded greatness from his employees and often criticized and shouted at those who did not meet his huge expectations. But as Isaacson would go onto say, “even though Jobs’ style could be demoralizing, it could also be oddly inspiring. It infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.” His behaviour and inability to censor himself would eventually lead to his very public ousting from Apple Computer in 1985, by John Sculley, who Jobs had brought in as CEO in 1983.
Jobs would go on to found NeXT computer company and become CEO of Pixar Animation Studios — the small computer animation company which would become famous for its movies like Toy Story 1-3, Cars and Finding Nemo. Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion.
In 1996 Apple bought NeXT, bringing Jobs back to Apple as its interim CEO from 1997 to 2000, when he would become permanent CEO. This was the beginning of Jobs’ and Apple Computers’ comeback, and rise to become the most valuable company in the world by 2011.
With Jobs back at the helm, Apple would not only release some of the most successful products in history, but would redefine entire industries and the digital age, including music (iTunes, iPod), mobile phones (iPhone), and tablet computing (iPad).
The company changed its name from Apple Computer to just Apple in 2007, to reflect the company’s new focus from just computers to consumer electronics. Downloading Apps, music, movies, TV shows and books were all streamlined into a simple, seamless process through iTunes, making Apple a lot of money.
Six weeks before his death, Jobs announced to the world that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, but would remain as Chairman. Following previous health-related leave of absences, he had told shareholders that if there ever came a time when his health might interfere with his ability run Apple, he would step down — he announced that time had come.
Shareholders, and Apple fans alike worried that Jobs might not return this time. On October 5, 2011 their worst fears were confirmed.
Whether we see Steve Jobs as a creative genius, an innovator or as someone with a skill to improve upon other people’s ideas and make them better, it is hard to argue with the results.
To be sure, Jobs did not invent the digital music player — but he certainly made it better with the iPod. And Jobs did not invent the smartphone, but the iPhone has certainly become one of the most popular smartphones on the planet, and Jobs did not create the tablet computer (tablet PC’s have existed for over a decade), but Apple was the first company to make a tablet that people wanted to use.
One of his greatest gifts was seeing all of the details for what they were — part of the user’s experience and something they would have to live with everyday — and he wanted that experience to be the best it could be.
Steve Jobs will not be remembered for being a jerk, or a ruthless boss, or for getting run out of his own company. He will be remembered for creating products that impacted our everyday lives, and for defining the way we purchase, and listen to music, download movies and even read books.
Jobs changed the way we consume digital media.
It could be argued that Steve Jobs was this generation’s Thomas Edison. The grandchildren of today’s youth will learn about Steve Jobs in their history classes, just as we learned about Edison, the Wright brothers or Alexander Graham Bell.
But, however you see Jobs’ accomplishments, perhaps Apple’s new CEO said it best in a letter to Apple employees, “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being.”
Something few of us can argue with.