Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, passed away on October 5th, 2011. He was 56. It's said that Jobs died of complications from pancreatic cancer, a disease he had wrestled with since 2004.
How do you remember someone like Steve Jobs?
You could recount his life. Imagine how Apple would have been shut down had he not returned to save the company. Tell the tales of terrified employees who suffered under his demanding standards. List the many hit products Apple has made under his run. Compare him to past giants of innovation like Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Marvel at how his competitors have been forced to step up just to keep up with. Appreciate how Apple devices have brought technology closer into our lives.
How will you remember someone like Steve Jobs?
Let's start with the story. Like any good story, our hero had a humble beginning. Jobs was given up for adoption at birth. In 1972, Jobs enrolled into college and dropped out after only one semester. But he continued dropping into classes, while sleeping on the floor in friends' rooms, returning used Coke bottles for money to eat, and having one good meal a week at the local Hare Krishna temple.
Jobs later said that "It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting."
It was during those years that Steve (Jobs) met Steve (Wozniak). Jobs was the consummate salesman, and Wozniak was a brilliant engineer who single-handedly designed the hardware, circuit board and operating system for the Apple I. In 1976, the pair (together with Ronald Wayne) co-founded Apple. In 1980, the young company went public, and at the time generated more capital than any IPO had since 1956.
In 1985, Jobs fell. After an internal power struggle, he was relieved of his duties at Apple, and instead of staying on as a figurehead; Jobs left the company he had co-founded. Andy Hertzfeld, a key member of the Mac team, drove to Jobs' house two days after the official announcement, and found that "Steve was inconsolable, and more depressed than I had ever seen him before."
This was Jobs' time in the wilderness, and according to some, these humbling moments took some of the edge off of Jobs' infamous temperament. He founded NeXT, another computer company, after leaving Apple. But the NeXT computers were prohibitively expensive, and sales never took off. Poor performance forced NeXT to withdraw from the hardware business in 1993 and fire more than half its workforce.
Around the same time, Pixar, a company Jobs had bought in 1986 for US$10 million, suffered substantial layoffs, and was losing so much money that Jobs considered selling it. In late 1993, Disney, which had signed a three-movie deal with Pixar, slammed an early draft of the first movie Toy Story as "disastrous", and everything was shut down pending a re-write.
This must had been the darkest period in Jobs' professional life. But released to critical acclaim in 1995, Toy Story went on to make more than US$361 million worldwide, and Pixar has since become a household name, synonymous with some of the best movies ever made.
In 1996, an ailing Apple bought NeXT for its next generation NeXTStep operating system, and Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. The iMac, the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, the iPhone, the App Store, the MacBook Air and the iPad followed, and the rest of the story has become legend.
Jobs had an uncanny ability to see not just what was, but what could be. Speaking at the D: All Things Digital conference in 2010, Jobs revealed that the iPad had actually preceded the iPhone, even though the iPhone had been released first. Apple had been working on an early iPad prototype, but Jobs shelved the tablet project when he saw how the device's multi-touch screen could work just as well on a mobile phone.
According to well-known Apple writer John Gruber, when Apple then started developing the iPad for release, there were camps within Apple which had doubts about the tablet's success. Jobs stayed the course, and the iPad's astounding success has reignited and dominated the computer tablet market since.
Apple is famous for having no focus groups and committees; in fact it's said to have a focus group of one: Steve Jobs. Jobs has paraphrased Henry Ford's famous line about cars and horses, saying that "people don’t know what they want until you show it to them." And the market has proven that people want what Jobs had been promoting in his products ever since the first Macintosh: technology that's beautifully made and easy to use.
It's these essential elements: to see what an idea could be before it is, the ability to recognize gold from grit, and to doggedly bring vision to life despite the naysayers, that Apple has lost. It's too early to tell if Apple will retain the vision that Jobs brought to the company, but there's no denying the obvious: No matter Apple's future performance, Steve Jobs is simply irreplaceable.
But this story isn't about Apple, even though Apple is deeply woven through Jobs' story. This story is about Steve Jobs the human being, and this is how we want to remember him: as a force who made living as tech lovers and tech writers in this time so electrifying.
The man instilled a singular sense of wonder into pieces of metal and plastic that made it impossible to take your eyes off Apple. Apple's products certainly weren't the creation of just one man, but there was always the sense that Jobs was intensely involved in their making; and there is always the sense that Jobs intensely cared about us. Not us as in individuals, but us in general as users of his products, that he wanted to make things which would delight us. It's a telling monument of how much he succeeded that how many people all over the world, who never knew him, are mourning his passing.
Jobs once said of the iPhone that "once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything." Once in a while, a revolutionary man comes along that changes everything. We feel sorry for the future generations of tech lovers and writers who will follow us, who can only wonder what it was like to be delighted by Steve Jobs, and we feel fortunate to be part of the generation that witnessed a titan at work.
Yesterday, we went to sleep in a world with Steve Jobs; a world which contained possibilities of more stories about Jobs and potential for his vision of the future to unfold. Today, we woke up to a world with those doors closed. Steve, we never knew you. But our world is a little better everyday because of the things you made, and because of that we can't help but feel a sense of loss. Thank you and goodbye.