From those first boxy little Apple computers 35 years ago to the iPhone and the iPad today, Steve Jobs seemed to know what people wanted and thought they needed even before they did. In fact, when it came to product design or approach to business, that was his operating philosophy.
Mr. Jobs, who died Wednesday after a long illness, has been called the Henry Ford and the Thomas Edison of his generation, a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci. Every year, it seemed, he had another sleekly designed toy or tool to introduce as he paced a giant stage – dressed in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck, his own image sometimes blown up Oz-like on a giant screen behind him.
Jobs’ accomplishments weren’t all computers and other electronic gadgets.
With iTunes (a free computer program), people could legally buy and download music – thousands of songs, as well as movies and TV shows – which they then could sync with their iPods or other listening devices. In essence, it became a principal (and profitable) gateway for the way people amuse and entertain themselves.
During the time when he had been ousted as CEO by Apple’s board (a job to which he returned in 1997), Jobs bought the Pixar computer-animation studio from George Lucas for $10 million. After it had produced “Toy Story,” the first computer-animated feature film, Jobs sold the company to Disney for $7.4 billion.
Jobs was not the easiest boss to work for. “My job is to not be easy on people,” he once said, summing up his management philosophy. “My job is to make them better.”
The devices that Jobs and the Apple designers came up with year after year had a sensuousness to them that attracted millions of customers, many of whom waited for days outside stores so they could be among the first to buy – as if they were waiting for tickets to the last Beatles concert.
Referring to the Mac OS X’s Aqua user interface, he told Fortune magazine in 2000, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”
For years now, iPhone and iPod owners have fiddled with their devices (sometime mindlessly) as if they were worry beads. As a Buddhist who once joined an ashram, Jobs no doubt was amused to learn that when the iPhone was launched in 2007 it was dubbed the “Jesus phone” for its seemingly miraculous features – cellphone, e-mail, Internet, camera, photo album, digital recorder, GPS, and apps too numerous to count – in a device so compact you could slip it into the back pocket of your jeans.
As news broke of his passing, mourners gathered at Apple stores around the world, placing flowers and candles. And from around the world, the tributes to Jobs came in, including one from another college dropout.
“Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates tweeted. “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”
“Insanely great,” of course, was a phrase Jobs himself had used in introducing the Apple II back in 1977, and it became a favorite of his over the years.
“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” Jobs told Business Week in 1998. “I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.” It was an outrageous statement, of course, reflective of an enormous ego married to genius. But it was very close to what he accomplished.
Books and doctoral dissertations have and will be written about the technological vision and approach to business that Jobs embodied. Walter Issacson, biographer of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger, has a new one coming out next month titled simply “Steve Jobs.” Jobs cooperated with the book but had no control over it.
“Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against,” Amazon blurbs. “His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.”
And of course, you’ll be able to read it on your iPad using the iBooks app.