Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Steve Jobs died last night at the age of 56, after a seven-year battle against ill health which included pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant. The co-founder, chairman and former CEO of Apple and former CEO of Pixar was arguably the single most influential technologist of the last century.

Jobs was many things. A college drop-out. A control freak. A benevolent dictator. He was also one of the most intuitive marketers and designers the industrial world has ever known – a man who could shape the form and function of his products and use them to create new consumer markets. A true visionary.

In his first stint at Apple he was responsible for the launch of the Macintosh, the first PC to use a graphical user interface. It was launched with a one-off commercials based on George Orwell’s 1984 during that year’s Super Bowl. It remains one of the best-known and most-loved ads in TV history:

Jobs was forced out of the company he founded with Steve Wozniak the following year after disappointing sales and an internal power struggle. He would return in 1996 and became CEO the following year after a successful boardroom coup.

In between, Jobs had bought a small animation studio which became Pixar and established a lucrative partnership with Disney which produced ground-breaking and critically acclaimed CGI films such as Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, WALL-E and Up. In 2009, Toy Story 3 became the first animated film to surpass $1bn in box office receipts. Disney eventually bought Pixar outright in 2006, in a deal which made Jobs the largest individual shareholder in Disney.

It is easy to forget that at that time of Jobs’ return Apple was in the doldrums. Macs accounted for only a fraction of the PC market, and the company’s recent innovations (such as the Newton PDA) had mostly flopped. In 2000, Apple’s sales were a modest $8bn.

That all changed in 2001 with the launch of a portable digital music player, simply named the iPod. This device – and the iTunes music library which followed it – transformed the way people both consume and purchase music. The iPod is ten years old later this month, and has already sold over 300 million units worldwide.

iPod advertising is typical of Apple’s – for which read Jobs’ – flair for selling technology in a way which strikes right to the heart of consumer needs, emotions and desires:

Having transformed the music market, Jobs next turned his company’s attention to the nascent smartphone market. The launch of the original iPhone in 2007 brought intuitive multi-touch technology to mobile phones and exploded the market overnight. Backed by the launch of the App Store and a relentless cycle of new launches – the iPhone 4S was announced on Tuesday – it remains the best-selling smartphone model in the world.

Again, iPhone advertising is a masterpiece of consumer marketing, such as the following advert for the iPhone 4 focussing solely on the benefits and potential uses for its FaceTime video calling facility:

Finally, of course, there is the iPad, which was first announced in early 2010 and has since triggered an explosion in the market for tablet PCs:

Having been on its knees with dim prospects at the dawn of the millennium, Apple is now the second largest company in the world by market capitalisation, with sales of $65bn in 2010. Jobs is seen by many of Apple’s devotees as an almost messianic figure, with some justification. Like many others, I learned about his death on one of the devices he created.

A statement issued by Jobs’ family said:

Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family. In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the impact Jobs has had on our 21st century world. His relentless drive to maximise both form and function in his product designs and his intuitive understanding of what was required to create and reshape markets were unparalleled in the business world.

But perhaps the best example of his ability to inspire people is this commencement address he gave at Stanford University in 2005, a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (you will find a full transcript here):

There is one particular passage which speaks to us all:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

There have been visionary technologists who have transformed the world with their inventions – John Logie Baird, say. There have been visionary industrialists who have transformed the world by bringing new technologies to mass consumer markets – Henry Ford springs readily to mind. But, other than Steve Jobs, how many have succeeded in being both?

Tributes to Jobs have been plentiful in the hours following his death: from Barack Obama to Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg to Stephen Fry. But perhaps the most fitting of all comes from @Vegas_Paul on Twitter:

3 Apples that changed the world: the one that Eve ate, the one that fell on Newton’s head, the one that Steve built. RIP Steve Jobs.

Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene Powell, and their three children, Reed, Erin and Eve, and by his daughter, Lisa.

The world has lost a great technologist, a great industrialist and, most of all, a husband and a father. Wherever you are now, Steve, I hope they have great wi-fi and 3G reception. Rest in peace.