Apple Founder Steve Jobs Dies

This week, Apple founder and recently-former CEO Steve Jobs lost his years-long battle with pancreatic cancer. He leaves behind many who mourn him and a creative technological legacy that has changed lives throughout the world.

Born in 1955, Jobs grew up in the same place he later built Apple’s headquarters, in Cupertino, California. He displayed his well-known brashness and interest in electronics  at a young age; as a teen-ager, he didn’t shy away from phoning the president of Hewlett-Packard for parts for a school project. (William Hewlett not only sent Jobs the parts; he offered him a summer job at the company).

Jobs did go to college; he dropped out after a year, though, returning later to audit a class on calligraphy. It’s this class that he credits with giving him the graceful sense of design that influences Apple products to this day. After his brief time in college, Jobs took a job designing video games with Atari – a job which he left to go backpacking around India, study Buddhism, and take psychedelic drugs. (No, I’m not making this up). It hardly seems like the typical start to a career as a giant of industry – but technology is no ordinary industry, and Jobs, for that matter, was no ordinary giant. Jobs credited these experiences with shaping his creative vision.

That summer job at HP also left a mark. Jobs made an important friend there: Steve Wozniak. Wozniak’s impressive skill at building computers led the two Steves to form a company: Apple Computer Inc. The two set up shop in Jobs’ parents’ garage. Jobs himself was only 21.

The rest of the story is the beginning of a legend. In 1976, Jobs sold his car to finance their first venture, the Apple I. It was primitive, it was expensive ($666.66), and buyers had to put it together themselves. But it made enough money for them to bring out the Apple II the next year, to a receptive audience at the first West Coast Computer Faire. 

Jobs and Apple built on its success in early 1984, with the launch of its iconic Macintosh computer. The beige, boxy Mac included a mouse. CNN notes that “Jobs was among the first computer engineers to recognize the appeal of the mouse and the graphical interface, which let users operate computers by clicking on images instead of writing text.” The Macintosh sold fairly well, despite competition. Suddenly, though, everything was about to change.

{mospagebreak title=Lost Years and Company Rebirth}

In 1983, John Scully, formerly of Pepsi, accepted Jobs’ offer to work at Apple. He was CEO in 1985, and his ideas for the future direction of the company differed from those of Jobs. So by 1986, Jobs was out. This would prove to be a costly mistake for Apple.

Jobs made pretty good use of the 10 years he was away from Apple. He founded NeXT Computer. While the expensive, cube-shaped machines never captured the hearts of consumers, one aspect of the company gave Jobs a great edge for his eventual return to Apple. It chose the object-oriented model of software development for its operating systems. Tom Krazit, writing for CBS News, noted that this method “proved to be more advanced and more nimble than the operating system developments Apple was working on without Jobs.”

In addition to founding NeXT, as nearly his first action during his time away from Apple, Jobs purchased the graphic-arts division of Lucasfilm. You may know it as Pixar, a little film company that produced obscure movies such as “Toy Story” and “Shrek.” Pixar made a fortune for Jobs in 1995 with its IPO; Jobs eventually sold Pixar to Disney in 2006.

Apparently recognizing that they’d missed out on a good thing – or perhaps out of desperation – Apple bought NeXT in 1996, getting Jobs back in the process. I remember those days, as I was actively covering Apple for a technology research and reports company. The company was so lost at this time – bleeding customers, money, and market share – that I wasn’t sure even the return of Steve Jobs could save it. By 1997, Jobs was CEO once again. He’d instituted the NeXT approach to software development at Apple even before that. And at the turn of the millennium, everything changed again.

It was in 2001 that Jobs introduced the original iPod, a portable MP3 player that revolutionized take-along music. You wouldn’t think this was a big thing, but it was enough to start clawing the company back from the brink. The iPod was followed by the iTunes store in 2003, the iPhone in 2007, the App Store in 2008, and the iPad in 2010. It’s perhaps the greatest company comeback in history.

The numbers tell the story. CNN notes that “Apple now operates more than 300 retail stores in 11 countries. The company has sold more than 275 million iPods, 100 million iPhones and 25 million iPads worldwide…Apple is the most valuable technology company in the world, and has a market capitalization second to only ExxonMobil, which Apple surpassed multiple times this past August.”

Jobs had a reputation for being a hard, demanding boss, even scary to work with. He was also known for his amazing showmanship and power of persuasiveness, leading observers to refer to a “reality distortion field” around him. But he and his visionary approach changed several industries forever. His creative genius in the fields of computers, music, and mobile phones allowed us to do more, more easily and even more cheaply than we did before. (Sure, Apple hardware has been accused of being expensive – but Macintoshes and their brethren brought down operating costs tremendously in the publishing industry, just to give you one example). 

I’ll leave you with one more thing: his words at a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do…If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." Thank you, Steve Jobs, for building a dream that embraced us all.

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