Oct 052011
 

Steve Jobs giving a presentation in 2007

Many people have already offered their own personal tributes and takes on the passing of Steve Jobs earlier today.  Here’s one of the best.  May I add a few words of my own.

I’m far from an ‘Apple fanboy’ – longer time readers well know my struggles with my Windows based computers and my steadfast refusal to move to Macs.  On the other hand, I can not overlook the fact that Apple today – the most valuable company in North America by share market capitalization – is where it is and what it is almost entirely as the result of one man’s vision, drive, passion and energy – Steven Paul Jobs.  His passing today leaves us all diminished, whereas his life had enrichened us all.

Steve’s most major contributions to our world and every part of the lives we lead are :

  • Defining/marketing the first viable personal computer in 1977 (the Apple 2, four years before the IBM PC)
  • Popularizing an obscure operating system invented by Xerox and its mouse interactive controller that is now the base of nearly all computer operating systems (first the Lisa then the Mac – the Lisa came out in 1983, two years before Windows)
  • Making the first – and still, ten years later, the only mass-appealing MP3 player (the iPod, released in 2001)
  • Creating a multi-functional cell phone with an intuitive touch screen interface (the iPhone, 18 months before the first Android phone)
  • Creating a tablet computer that is vastly more portable, affordable, and intuitive than the many failed tablet computers prior to that time (the iPad, which perhaps to this very day still has no worthy direct competitor).

Other less world-changing devices were also introduced during his time with Apple, but these five accomplishments are surely his greatest.

Interestingly, none of the ‘big five’ accomplishments were true innovations out of left field – they were all reworks and enhancements of prior products and ideas.  This, I think was his greatest strength – his ability to bridge the gap between the back-room techie types who make really wonderful stuff which ordinary people could never understand or operate, and translating this equipment into elegant and easily used consumer products,  He could and would take incomplete concepts and push them the final mile into true mass-market consumer products, and to make them not just special interest devices, but broadly appealing things which the average man-in-the-street quickly put on his ‘must have’ list.

The success of his passion is evident in the extraordinary transition that Apple has undergone since his return to lead it in 1997, at a time when the company was as close to extinction as any company gets.  A failing company 14 years ago is now worth $351 billion.

Many people have come up with one brilliant idea, but never repeated it.  Jobs has been a part of five brilliant ideas, spanning almost 35 years.  All our lives have been massively changed – and for the better, whether or not we actually have any Apple products in our houses and offices.

There’s one other measure of his impacts.  Since January 17, Steve Jobs had been on medical leave, and while he put in several public appearances, was much less participative than in the past.  Apple’s advances this year are undeniably underwhelming.  A new iPad almost identical to the previous (revolutionary) one last year and so unexciting that apologists quickly claimed it to be merely an interim device, to be replaced with a new iPad 3 later this year (it hasn’t been).  A new iPhone almost identical to last year’s (significantly enhanced) one that is so unexciting that even Apple felt unable to give it a new number, merely adding an S to last year’s model name.  And iPods that are almost completely unchanged from last year’s range which had also featured some new design approaches – iPods so lack-luster that this year they weren’t even given their own separate event to announce their release.

Is Apple already losing its momentum?

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