iSad: Steve Jobs
Put up for adoption at birth by a young unwed mother, college dropout, garage inventor, Buddhist capitalist, culture changer, genius, tyrant.
He never quite fit the profile of American entrepreneur, but his story could make people change their point of reference for bootstrap success from Horatio Alger to Steve Jobs. His death yesterday at the age of 56 is dominating the news and there is no consensus on where to place the modern Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or P.T. Barnum, depending upon your point of view.
Jobs is being hailed by his legion of followers as a visionary who changed the way we live, work, and play. Others are saying his genius was in simplifying existing gadgets and making us want them. Yet another segment is looking at Jobs as the man who forever altered – and in some ways killed – a number of industries, including changing the way news is delivered and, in turn, the news industry itself.
One thing everyone can agree on: Jobs and Steve Wozniak changed the computer industry and started a worldwide revolution with the introduction of the Apple II personal computer. The little beige box that sat on a desktop soon came with a tethered contraption called the mouse, allowing users to move a cursor around the screen and select the programs they wanted. And the rest, as they say, is history.
His loyalists border on sycophants. In 1997, Apple’s annual revenues were $7.1 billion and falling. In Boston for the annual MacWorld convention that year, Jobs announced to jeers that he had accepted a $150 million cash infusion from the evil empire – in the eyes of Apple acolytes – Microsoft. That marked the turnaround, though, to where Apple is now generating $62.7 billion in annual revenues and is second only to Exxon in corporate value.
But did Jobs really invent? Or is his legacy a matter of myth more than reality? After all, there were computers before the Apple, he just made it more personal. Before the iPod, there were MP3 players, but Jobs convinced music labels that people would buy individual songs they liked for 99 cents rather than whole albums for $8 to $12. The Kindle and Nook were rudimentary tablets already on the market but the iPad took all the oxygen out of the room when it became available for two and three times the cost. Yet companies like The New York Times rushed to make their product iPad-friendly.
Jobs, and in turn Apple’s, impact on our culture was outsized. Is there anyone older than 25, and even many younger, who does not remember the famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial that compared the use of PCs to an Orwellian society and introduced the world to the Mac? That commercial not only changed the computer industry but the way we watch Super Bowls. Now everyone tries to one-up themselves and their competition in the commercials.
And how many people are aware that Jobs bought a little movie graphics division from Star Wars maker George Lucas and turned it into Pixar Animation Studios, producing industry-changing (there’s that word again) films such as Toy Story and Cars, that generated hundreds of million in revenues? When Disney bought Pixar, it not only made Jobs even wealthier, it made him the entertainment giant’s largest stockholder.
There are lingering questions about what will happen to the Apple brand now that Jobs is no longer available for a rescue, as he has been so many times in the past. Jobs’s presence was essential in each of Apple’s unveilings, from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad.
There was some speculation that the cool reception given earlier this week to the iPhone 4S was as much due to Jobs’s absence as the lack of major changes in its appearance (there were significant upgrades on the technology side). That, many will say, was Jobs’s genius. Knowing what we wanted before we did then making the heart race and the kid in us say, “I have to have that.” There’s no app for that.
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