Steve Jobs, the visionary largely responsible for Apple’s unprecedented success, died today aged 56. I am shaken by his death. Although sick for a long time, it seems somehow unreal that such a larger-than-life character, who has had such a penetrating effect on the way we interact with technology and, indeed, carry out our daily lives, is gone.
The adopted son of a Silicon Valley machinist, and a college dropout, Jobs never described himself as an engineer or a software guru, but he always had a keen interest in electronics. When he and school friend Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976, Wozniak was the technical geek and Jobs was the marketing brains, the visionary.
Jobs started Apple with a $1,000 investment, but within five years of the release of the Apple II the business was raking in upward of $600 million and listed as a Fortune 500 company.
Customized for specific applications, the Apple II blew the competition out of the water, and at a time when computers were monstrously clunky, ugly things with boring names, Jobs envisioned the sleek, even groovy, Apple II. Jobs was to the computer what James Dyson is to the vacuum cleaner. Utilitarian turned art form. “Great products,” Job’s said, are “triumphs of taste.”
Just like his jeans- and bare-feet wardrobe, Jobs had a great talent for minimalism, presenting powerful innovation and technology in its simplest form.
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity,” Jobs said in a May 1998 interview with Bloomberg. “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
In the 1980s, after the release of the Mac computer, Jobs left Apple to work on Pixar. He returned to Apple in the late 1990s where he revolutionized consumer electronics. Jobs launched the company into the digital music business, introducing iTunes and then the iPod MP3 player, the iPhone and the iPad. The iPhone touch-screen technology proved particularly popular with consumers, and by last year Apple had sold 90 million iPhones alone.
Jobs didn’t care much for market research. He famously, if somewhat arrogantly, stated that he in fact did zero market research. “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” He believed that “original” ideas came from connecting experiences and coming up with a new thing out of those experiences.
When asked to comment on the innovation process at Apple, Jobs told Bloomberg in 2004:
“The system is that there is no system…innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.
“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
As the face of Apple, Jobs, in my mind, will remain unparalleled in his genius blend of product design and marketing know-how, business bohemian-ness, and an uncanny knack for feeding us life-altering software we didn’t know we needed. Today the world lost one of the greatest technology leaders of our time.