Steve Jobs R.I.P. – tech industry loses visionary leader

6 Oct 2011

IN MEMORIAM: Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple and the man who created and then re-ignited, re-shaped and re-invented the technology industry on so many levels, has passed away after a long, but dignified, battle with cancer and other illnesses.

More than 35 years ago, Jobs, who had worked previously for HP and Atari, teamed up with Steve Wozniak and a computer industry legend began in 1976.

The company’s products go beyond personal computers like the Mac and now embrace tablet computers like the iPad, a rich tapestry of software, smartphones like the iPhone and media player devices. Every time the company unveils a new product, the entire computing industry skips in an endeavour to march in step.

In 1984, Jobs launched the Macintosh, bolstered by the famous ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad directed by Ridley Scott. Unfortunately for Jobs at the time, the power struggles between corporate and his team of innovators were reaching fever pitch. In 1985, Jobs resigned from Apple and founded NeXT Computer.

One debt that Ireland owes to Jobs and his management team in those days was the decision to locate its first overseas manufacturing hub in Cork in the early 1980s. Today, the same facility that shifted and changed with Apple over the years employs more than 2,000 people and in recent months it emerged that a further 500 jobs will be created in Cork city.

In the years that followed, Apple witnessed the rise and rise of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, failed to defeat it in a lawsuit and by 1993, the company’s array of product lines, including lines like the Peforma and Newton, weren’t achieving the desired market effect. Various attempts at reinvention including replacing John Sculley with Michael Spindler and subsequently Gil Amelio had failed.

Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and the company showed hints of a strategy that would define the company to this day. A young designer called John Ive led the design team behind a curious product called the iMac, an all-in-one computer that, unlike the rest of computers at the time, was not beige. Instead, it had an intriguing luminescent range of colours and some 800,000 computers were sold in first five months.

Following on from the iMac, Apple began innovating with clever multimedia software like Final Cut Pro and iMovie. The Mac OS X was introduced in 2001, and the same year Jobs correctly guessed the intersection of broadband, e-commerce and personal media and the iPod and iTunes were born.

This was followed in recent years by successive iPod families but perhaps the biggest game changer was the onset of the iPhone that transformed not only the mobile industry but the way people consume software, thanks to the arrival of the App Store. Since then, developers have derived US$3bn in royalties from a new app industry with some 500,000 apps created and some 10bn downloaded via mobile devices.

The iPhone was followed by the iPad, a new form factor for personal computing and the way people consume software apps on personal computing was also transformed with the arrival of the Mac App Store.

However, at the pinnacle of his success in recent years, Jobs had been fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer and throughout maintained the dignity, foresight and attention to detail that made him legendary.

Earlier this year, he temporarily passed the CEO reins to Tim Cook before permanently retiring as CEO during the summer with an intention of staying on as chairman and continuing to play a guiding role in product design.

Jobs is best known for his uncompromising dedication to quality and attention to detail. Without that, the technology industry as a whole would not be what it is today.

Very few leaders of the technology industry can claim to have made the same impact that Jobs has made – it is a legacy few, if any, could ever repeat.

US President Barack Obama said that Jobs summed up the best qualities of America’s pioneering spirit:

“By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

“The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.”

Watch Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University here:

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address 

From Stanford University’s YouTube channel.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years