Steve Jobs told us what we needed before we knew

‘Jobs exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity’

Thu, Oct 13th 2011, 09:14 Last updated on 13/10/11

Steve Jobs saw the future and led the world to it. He moved technology from garages to pockets, took entertainment from discs to bytes and turned gadgets into extensions of the people who use them.

Jobs, who founded and ran Apple, told us what we needed before we wanted it.

“To some people, this is like Elvis Presley or John Lennon. It’s a change in our times. It’s the end of an era,” said Scott Robbins, 34, a barber and an Apple fan. “It’s like the end of the innovators.”

Apple announced his death without giving a specific cause. He died peacefully on Wednesday last week, according to a statement from family members who were present. He was 56.

“Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” Apple’s board said in a statement. “The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

President Barack Obama said in a statement that Jobs “exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity.”

“Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world and talented enough to do it,” he said.

Jobs had battled cancer in 2004 and underwent a liver transplant in 2009 after taking a leave of absence for unspecified health problems. He took another leave of absence in January – his third since his health problems began – and resigned in August. Jobs became Apple’s chairman and handed the CEO job over to his hand-picked successor, Tim Cook.

“Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor,” Cook wrote in an e-mail to Apple’s employees. “Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”

The news Apple fans and shareholders had been dreading came the day after Apple unveiled its latest iPhone, a device that got a lukewarm reception. Perhaps, there would have been more excitement had Jobs been well enough to show it off with his trademark theatrics.

Jobs started Apple with a high school friend in a Silicon Valley garage in 1976, was forced out a decade later and returned in 1997 to rescue the company. During his second stint, it grew into the most valuable technology company in the world with a market value of $351 billion. Almost all that wealth has been created since Jobs’ return.

Cultivating Apple’s countercultural sensibility and a minimalist design ethic, Jobs rolled out one sensational product after another, even in the face of the late-2000s recession and his own failing health.

He helped change computers from a geeky hobbyist’s obsession to a necessity of modern life at work and home, and in the process he upended not just personal technology but the cell phone and music industries.

For transformation of American industry, he has few rivals. He has long been linked to his personal computer-age contemporary, Bill Gates, and has drawn comparisons to other creative geniuses such as Walt Disney.

Perhaps most influentially, Jobs in 2001 launched the iPod, which offered “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Over the next 10 years, its white earphones and thumb-dial control seemed to become more ubiquitous than the wristwatch.

In 2007 came the touch-screen iPhone, joined a year later by Apple’s App Store, where developers could sell iPhone “apps” which made the phone a device not just for making calls but also for managing money, editing photos, playing games and social networking. And in 2010, Jobs introduced the iPad, a tablet-sized, all-touch computer that took off even though market analysts said no one really needed one.

Under Jobs, the company cloaked itself in secrecy to build frenzied anticipation for each of its new products. Jobs himself had a wizardly sense of what his customers wanted, and where demand didn’t exist, he leveraged a cult-like following to create it.

When he spoke at Apple presentations, almost always in faded blue jeans, sneakers and a black mock turtleneck, legions of Apple acolytes listened to every word. He often boasted about Apple successes, then coyly added a coda – “one more thing” – before introducing its latest ambitious idea.

Jobs’ personal ethos – a natural food lover who embraced Buddhism and New Age philosophy – was closely linked to the public persona he shaped for Apple. Apple itself became a statement against the commoditisation of technology – a cynical view, to be sure, from a company whose computers can cost three or more times as much as those of its rivals.

For technology lovers, buying Apple products has meant gaining entrance to an exclusive club. At the top was a complicated and contradictory figure who was endlessly fascinating – even to his detractors, of which Jobs had many. Jobs was a hero to techno-geeks and a villain to partners he bullied and to workers whose projects he unceremoniously killed or claimed as his own.

Unauthorised biographer Alan Deutschman described him as “deeply moody and maddeningly erratic.” In his personal life, Jobs denied for two years that he was the father of Lisa, the baby born to his long time girlfriend Chrisann Brennan in 1978.

Few seemed immune to Jobs’ charisma and will. He could adeptly convince those in his presence of just about anything – even if they disagreed again when he left the room and his magic wore off.

Jobs, the perfectionist, demanded greatness from everyone at Apple.