Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

Steve Jobs, co-founder and chairman of Apple, has died of cancer, aged 56. Jobs stepped down from the role of CEO in August, saying he could “no longer meet my duties and expectations”. In a statement, Apple said "Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives."

Many believe that Steve Jobs is indispensable and that without his vision, Apple will falter. First, don't expect to see any sudden failure from Apple. They  have several years of new products in development and seem to have a clear strategic view with regard to iOS, the cloud and the future of the Mac product line. 

So what did Jobs bring to Apple? As co-founder of Apple with Steve Wozniak, Jobs was not the electronics genius; Woz designed the Apple I and Apple II. Jobs raised the money, sold the early computers and importantly, wanted the Apple II to look beautiful, like a sleek European hi-fi rather than a ham radio kit. He also saw in the revolutionary interface of the Macintosh (inspired by a demo he saw at Xerox PARC) that computers could be easy to use.

The first Macintosh, released in 1984, was a breakthrough, but was crippled by inadequate hardware, and this – along with his mercurial management style – eventually led to Jobs' departure from Apple. I believe this was a lesson Jobs learnt well and never forgot; there must be a total synergy between hardware and software to deliver a really great user experience. He also recognised, unusually for the IT industry, that most users only care about what they can do with their tech toys, not what the specifications are. You may notice that Apple adverts always show what people can do with the hardware, and never emphasise how many gigabytes or megahertz the product has. 

Another key to Jobs' success was his understanding of supply side logistics. As a kid Jobs worked for an electronics store in Silicon Valley, and he knew the importance of sourcing components at a good price. Once regarded as over-priced (called the "Apple Tax"), Apple's products now feature drop-dead gorgeous designs and are hard to beat on price. Almost two years after the release of the iPad, a legion of competitors have still failed to deliver a tablet with a similar spec at a lower price. 

When the history of computing is written, Steve Jobs will have a significant place as somebody who put the users first, making computers both easier and sometimes a joy to use.

"Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me ... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me." - Steve Jobs

A sample chapter from my book featuring a biography of Steve Jobs is available here or from the menu above

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