Shortly after stepping down as CEO of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56. Today we honor our favorite turtleneck wearing tech guru with a brief look back at his amazing career and five industries that will never be the same.
Steve Jobs did not invent the Macintosh. A guy named Jeff Raskin was largely responsible for the initial concept, specifications and even the name of the first widely successful personal computer with a GUI. For the project, Raskin hand-picked a small team of people who would become legends in the industry, names like Bill Atkinson and Guy Kawasaki.
So where does Jobs fit in? How can we say that he revolutionized personal computing? It’s simple: Jobs was the boss. When he saw the Macintosh project he realized its mass potential, but he disagreed with Raskin over a lot of the fundamentals. This led to Raskin leaving in 1981 and Jobs appointing someone else to lead the project, someone who could take Raskin’s vision and make it more like Jobs’ vision (one of Jobs’ many gifts is getting his way no matter the cost).
Just as important were the events leading up to this point. Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976 with the Apple I, built largely by another Steve: The Woz. Once again, Jobs wasn’t necessarily the driving technological mind behind the technology, just someone very gifted in knowing what would sell and how to get it there.
Jobs’ visit to Xerox in 1979 led to his fascination with GUIs, which completely changed the direction of Apple and led to the development of the Lisa and subsequently the Mac.
Wozniak, Xerox, Raskin, the ideas and even the work often came from other minds, but Jobs was the one pulling the strings turning ideas into products that people wanted to buy.
By 1985, Jobs resigned from Apple completely. His power and influence over the Macintosh project came late in the game and only lasted until just after the launch. A simple analysis might lead you to believe Jobs had little to do with the success of the Macintosh, but if you really dig into the story you can see that Jobs is the key player that makes projects work. This is a career-long pattern that we can see in several other places.
Steve Jobs did not invent computer animation. In fact, Jobs likely knew less about animation than any other venture he invested in. However, once again, we see someone with a gift for knowing what the world wants before they know it themselves.
Jobs saw in Pixar a mass amount of potential. In 1986, while George Lucas was recovering from an expensive divorce and waning Star Wars income, Jobs swooped in and purchased the highly talented team of individuals from Lucasfilm for the amazing price of $5 million. He later sold the company to Disney for $7.4 billion.
In 1986, I’m not entirely sure anyone knew what to do with Pixar. Oddly enough, they began pursuing expensive proprietary hardware sales. When this failed miserably, Jobs cut his losses and sold the hardware division in 1990. Once again we see Jobs decisively shifting gears when the game calls for it. By 1991, Pixar had made a stunning $26 million deal with Disney to create three feature-length films.
The rest is history. Pixar took computer animation from a niche to a multi-billion dollar industry that has unintentionally smashed hand-drawn animation.
The Pixar Story is a fascinating documentary covering the specific events in this transformation. If you’re at all interested in either Jobs or Pixar, I highly recommend that you give it a look.
Steve Jobs did not invent digital Music or MP3 players. In fact, even the original iPod was largely developed through outside contracts.
However, Jobs was largely behind Apple’s push to “go digital.” Digital was the direction of the new world and who better than Apple to ride that wave to success?
It was decided that music was an obvious target. Both the hardware and the software in the industry was horrible from a design and usability perspective. Jobs oversaw the project and gave Jon Rubinstein the green light to put together a team of people, including the now legendary Jonathan Ive.
As previously mentioned, Apple didn’t even do all the work in-house. Jobs contracted out for the iPod interface but still stayed very close to the project and personally guided a company called “Pixo” in this venture.
As a key step in the iPod’s success, Apple preceded its October of 2001 release with the free application iTunes in January. This is a classic example of Apple’s strategy to prime the market for a release of a major product. First, they got people addicted to the wonders of digital music with a free product, then they followed it up with the must-have magic box that allowed them to bring their newfound musical freedom everywhere.
Today, the term “iPod” is synonymous with “MP3 Player” and around 300,000,000 iPods have been purchased. iTunes went on to redefine digital content distribution, expanding beyond music and shaking the worlds of movies, television and books.
Phones and Mobile Computing
Steve Jobs did not invent mobile computing, cell phones or even touchscreen smartphones. However, he did play a large role in changing these products forever. In fact, they were transformed by a single product: the iPhone. Before we discuss the iPhone directly, let’s talk about its predecessor.
For some reason, it’s common lore that the Newton was a Steve Jobs pet project. However, the Newton project was driven by CEO John Sculley in the late 80’s after Jobs had been ousted from Apple.
When Jobs returned to Apple in the late 90’s, he was the one who killed the Newton. Far from being the father of the Newton, he was the force behind its death! As an interesting sidebar, two of the people from the Newton project left Apple and started Pixo, the company that Steve Jobs hired to develop the iPod interface.
The Newton was without a doubt, before its time. The Newton had all kinds of potential and tons of cool onboard technology, but the market simply wasn’t there, so Jobs ditched it.
So here we have Steve Jobs eliminating a long-running touchscreen personal computing and communication device. Then in 2005, Jobs began appointing people at Apple to investigate touchscreen technology. This of course led to the development of a long-running touchscreen personal computing and communication device. Sound familiar? The key difference is that one device ultimately failed and the other was released to a frantic market that couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. Once again, Jobs was working his magic.
We all expected a great telephone with iTunes-like ability, but what we got was a personal computing device that literally changed the way we access and use the Internet. It’s nearly impossible to find a smartphone design today that hasn’t merely served to build on the archetype that the iPhone established.
The iPhone evolved and added third party applications, thereby starting the “app” craze that is currently in full swing. It also led to the development of the iPad, yet another device that was by no means the first of its kind but has ultimately defined a genre and created a thriving market that had previously drawn little interest.
Does Jobs Deserve Any Credit?
Computers, animation, music, movies, phones, the mobile web, tablets, yesterday someone suggested to me that Jobs deserved very little credit for changing these industries. In the sense that this person meant, he was right. Jobs didn’t really invent anything that we know him for. He never really took a completely original concept and personally brought it into existence and popularity purely through his own blood, sweat and tears. This picture of innovation is a novel one, but it doesn’t describe one of our generation’s most successful visionaries in the least.
Instead, Steve Jobs was a man with arguably more unique talents. People with ideas are a dime a dozen and the nerds to build the ideas are graduating with fancy degrees faster than we can find jobs for them. However, people that can truly take an honest look into an industry and identify what it’s lacking and what customers would truly go crazy for, then make that vision a reality, are a rare breed. Jobs performed this task better than anyone else I can name.
Everyone knew computers were the future. Steve Jobs put them in people’s living rooms. Everyone knew computer graphics were amazing, Jobs guided the people who made them the standard for animated films. Everyone knew that the world was going digital, Steve Jobs realized that the music industry’s answer to this trend was coming up short and needed to be rethought. Everyone already had a cell phone with a web browser, Steve Jobs oversaw a project that brought the two together like never before.
Looking at any one of these stories, you could say that Jobs was merely in the right place at the right time. However, together they reveal a pattern and indeed tell a story. Pointless and unquestioning Apple worship aside, forgetting all the legend and lore surrounding Jobs, a simple look at the facts and how many industry-rocking projects he can stamp his name on reveal that the man is no fortunate receiver of profound luck, he was truly an incredibly talented individual with a propensity to revolutionize that which he touched
Fortunately, one of Jobs’ most valuable skills was surrounding himself with remarkable people. As I outlined in a recent article, as we reach the end of Jobs’ involvement in Apple, we can all rest assured in the knowledge that he has put in place a great collection of people that have very much been at the heart of Apple’s recent successes.
All of us at AppStorm bid Mr. Jobs a very fond farewell and wish those close to him the very best.
Thumbnail image by Matthew Yohe