Steve Jobs, who sparked a revolution in the
technology industry and then presided over it as Silicon Valley’s
radiant Sun King, died Wednesday. The incandescent center of a tech
universe around which all the other planets revolved, Jobs had a genius
for stylish design and a boyish sense of what was “cool.” He was 56 when
he died, ahead of his time to the very end.
to a spokesman for Apple Inc. — the company Jobs co-founded when he was
just 21, and turned into one of the world’s great industrial design
houses — he suffered from a recurrence of the pancreatic cancer for
which he had undergone surgery in 2004. Jobs had taken his third leave
of absence from the company in January of this year, and made the final
capitulation to his failing health on Aug. 24, when he resigned as
Apple’s CEO. After 35 years as the soul of Silicon Valley’s new machine,
that may have been a fate worse than death.
died only a few miles from the family garage in Los Altos, Calif., where
he and fellow college dropout Steve Wozniak assembled the first Apple
computer in 1976. Jobs transformed the computer from an intimidating
piece of business machinery — its blinking lights often caged behind a
glass wall — to a device people considered “personal,” and then
Jobs was the undisputed “i” behind
the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, and there was very little
about his personality that was lower-case. According to Fortune magazine
he was considered “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs,” but
Jobs also cultivated a loyal coterie of ergomaniacs — ergonomic
designers who created the sleek stable of iHits — whose devotion to him
was the centrifugal force holding Apple together. Shares of the
company’s stock plunged 22 points after Jobs announced his final medical
leave on Jan. 17.
“A hundred years from now, when
people talk about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Gates is going to be
remembered for his philanthropy, not technology,” said tech forecaster
Paul Saffo, “the same way people remember Andrew Carnegie for the money
he gave to education, not the fortune he made in steel. But what they’re
going to say about Steve Jobs is that he led a revolution.”
was a war waged on three fronts — computers, music and movies — and
with each successive Apple triumph, Jobs altered the landscape of
popular culture. With its user-friendly interface and anthropomorphic
mouse, the Macintosh forever changed the relationship between humans and
computers. After acquiring Pixar Animation Studios in 1986, Jobs became
the most successful movie mogul of the past half-century, turning out
11 monster hits in succession. The 2001 smash “Monsters, Inc.” could
just as easily have been the name of the company.
it was with the iPod — originally released just six weeks after the
cataclysmic events of Sept. 11, 2001 — that Jobs engineered another
tectonic shift in the digital world. The transistor radio had untethered
music from the home, and Sony’s Walkman had made recorded music
portable. With one of the world’s premier consumer electronics
businesses, and a music label of its own, Sony was poised to dominate
digital distribution for decades.
But it didn’t
happen. Jobs took a digital compression format that had been around for a
decade, synced it to Apple’s new digital download service, iTunes, and
with the iPod changed a system for delivering music to consumers that
had been in place since Edison invented the phonograph.
was Jobs’ genius for simplicity that led to a pricing standard of 99
cents per song that remained unchanged for eight years, despite initial
resistance from the music studios. And it was his irresistibility as a
pitchman that brought the record labels so completely into line that
iTunes now is the dominant player in the digital music business.
man of sometimes confounding contradictions, Jobs once traveled to
India and shaved his head seeking spiritual enlightenment. But he also
brought a fierce urgency to his business dealings, often screaming at
subordinates and belittling foes. Feared and revered, Jobs commanded the
respect of his competitors, loyalty from the engineers he goaded
relentlessly, and loathing from almost everyone.
not easy to like Steve close up — he does not suffer fools gladly,”
said Bob Metcalfe, founder of the networking giant 3Com and an old
friend of Jobs. “But I like him very much. His energy, and standards,
and powers of persuasion are amazing. He is the epitome of a change
Whether by accident or design, Jobs
created such an intense aura of mystery about what he was on to — and up
to — that he developed a cult of personality, sometimes called
“Macolytes.” His appearances at the annual MacWorld Expo were often an
occasion for the rollout of some new product that Jobs — with a rock
star’s sense of theatricality — had managed, until that very moment, to
keep top secret. To his loyal fans, it seemed to matter little that
Apple’s new device inevitably cost far more than its competitors’.
while his personal fortune — often the measure of success among the
tech elite — was dwarfed by peers such as Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp.
and Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp., Jobs’ matchless record of innovation
over three decades made him the coolest computer nerd in the valley.
reinvented the paradigm of what computing is three times with the Apple
II, the Macintosh and the iPhone,” said Mike Daisey, who built a
theatrical performance, titled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve
Jobs,” around a life notable for its highs and lows. “And to be clear,
the rest of the tech industry reinvented the paradigm zero times.”
insisted the products Apple brought to market not merely be great, they
must be “insanely great.” It was his focus on design that allowed Apple
to maintain a hold on the imagination of the public that often was
disproportionate to the company’s market share.
product lines were a projection of his sense of style, transforming the
boring, putty-colored boxes of computers sold by competitors like Dell
Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. into a compote of fruit
and berry-flavored iMacs. Yet Jobs himself rarely deviated from a
single, Mao-like uniform of blue jeans, black turtleneck and sneakers,
turning that into a kind of meta-fashion statement: Think different.
Dress the same.
His first brush with pancreatic
cancer did nothing to slow Jobs down during the final years of his life.
If anything, he seemed more driven than ever. Speaking to the Stanford
University graduating class of 2005, a year after surgery to treat his
illness, Jobs said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most
important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in
life. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s
a curious way, Jobs started his own life by living someone else’s. He
was given up for adoption by his biological parents — Joanne Schieble
and Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian-born graduate student — shortly after
his birth in San Francisco. His parents eventually married and had a
daughter, but it was not until Jobs and his long-lost biological sister
were both grown that he discovered she was the best-selling novelist,
Even growing up in the profoundly
non-conformist ’60s, Steven Paul Jobs always seemed different than his
peers. His adoptive parents — Paul and Clara Jobs, a machinist and an
accountant in middle-class Mountain View — took every utterance of their
restless son seriously. When Steve declared he wasn’t learning anything
at his junior high school, and told them he refused to return the
following year, the family abruptly moved to Los Altos so he could
attend Homestead High.
It was there that he
telephoned William Hewlett, president of the electronics manufacturing
giant Hewlett-Packard Co., and asked him to donate parts for one of
Steve’s engineering projects at school. Hewlett was so impressed that he
offered the teenager a summer job.
already had a sense of his own manifest destiny, he didn’t reveal it.
After a single semester at Reed College in Portland, he dropped out of
school, then spent the following year learning the I Ching — a Chinese
system of symbols used to find order in chance events — while dropping
acid and dropping in on Reed’s philosophy classes.
took a job with the computer game maker Atari in 1974, but stuck around
just long enough to save money for a pilgrimage to India. After
tramping around in traditional Indian garb and a backpack — his shaved
head and spectacles giving him a vaguely Gandhi-like appearance — Jobs
returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, spiritually uplifted and flat
He stumbled upon Wozniak in 1975, presiding
over a geekfest called the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto, Calif.,
and convinced the brilliant Woz to start a company with him. Jobs would
remain the man behind the curtain, creating Apple’s razzle-dazzle, but
unlike the Wizard of Oz, Jobs welcomed attention.
time I designed something great … he would say, ‘Let’s sell it,’ ”
Wozniak recalled once at an Intel Corp. conference. “It was always his
idea to sell it.”
Jobs decided to name the startup
Apple, after the Beatles’ record company. From the outset, he made no
secret of his appetite, conspicuously taking a bite out of the Apple
logo. He and Wozniak trumped Microsoft’s early operating system by
adding a mouse and a pioneering graphical user interface that allowed
users to stop typing commands in bewildering DOS code. It took Microsoft
until 1985 to counter with its clunkier Windows operating system.
in one of his rare miscalculations, Jobs refused to license Apple’s
interface to other computer makers, and it quickly became a Microsoft
world. As a business, Apple computers were a boom and bust operation.
The sophistication — even artistry — of the engineering created a
fanatical following for the company’s products, but the Apple faithful
remained a small, if vocal, minority.
Jobs needed a
businessman who could turn his ideas into gold, and found him in Pepsi
CEO John Sculley. When Sculley wavered, Jobs reeled him in with his most
famous seduction line: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life
selling sugared water to children,” he asked Sculley, “or do you want a
chance to change the world?”
But it was Sculley
who rocked Jobs’ world, outmaneuvering him in Apple’s boardroom, and
forcing him out of the company in 1985. “What can I say?” Jobs admitted
later. “I hired the wrong guy. He destroyed everything I spent 10 years
working for. Starting with me.”
With the fortune
he made on the sale of his Apple stock, Jobs immediately started another
computer company. But NeXT — which started as a manufacturer of
overpriced workstations, and ended as a designer of overpriced operating
systems — represented for Jobs a decade of wandering through the
He didn’t make the journey alone,
marrying Laurene Powell in a Zen Buddhist ceremony in 1991. The couple
had three children — Eve, Erin and Reed — and Jobs had a fourth child
from a previous relationship with Chris-Ann Brennan. Lisa Brennan-Jobs,
now 33, was born around the same time as Apple’s third-generation
computer, which was marketed as the Lisa.
NeXT still had not acquired the type of industry buzz that Jobs was
accustomed to creating. The workstations had a sheen of technological
sophistication, but were so expensive to produce that few companies
could afford to buy them.
Apple, meanwhile, was
faring even worse. Its share of the personal computer market had
dwindled so alarmingly that the company was even considering a switch to
Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system. Inside Apple, that was viewed
as such a full blown retreat that when NeXT’s operating system was
offered as an alternative to Apple CEO Gilbert Amelio, he grabbed it.
Apple paid $429 million for NeXT, but taking Jobs back as an advisor
turned out to be far costlier to Amelio than the price tag.
derided the CEO behind his back as a “bozo,” helping to set the stage
for Amelio’s ouster a few months later. Insisting he had nothing to do
with Amelio’s firing, even as he was installed as the company’s
“interim” CEO, Jobs hand-picked a board of directors loyal to him, then
set about returning Apple to profitability.
was still teetering on the brink of extinction in 1997, with just a tiny
fraction of the PC business, when Michael Dell, Jobs’ PC doppelganger
at Dell Computers, sneered that if he ran Apple he would “shut it down
and give the money back to the shareholders.”
one to back away from a fight, or to forget a slight, on the day that
his company’s market capitalization surpassed Dell’s in January of 2006,
Jobs sent a congratulatory memo to Apple employees — though by that
time, nine years later, he may have been the only one still keeping
score. “It turned out that Michael Dell wasn’t perfect at predicting the
future,” Jobs gloated. “Based on today’s stock market close, Apple is
worth more than Dell.”
Jobs’ resurrection at Apple
remains one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the annals of American
business. Until his rebound was cut short by cancer, it stood as a
near-perfect rejoinder to the F. Scott Fitzgerald aphorism, “There are
no second acts in American lives.” As a young man, Jobs merely helped
lead the world into the computer age. In the final years of his life, he
turned Apple into a kind of beloved nation-state: a company whose
reputation for innovation gives it a reach far exceeding any worth
calculable on a balance sheet.
“Steve Jobs has a
way of making people believe,” 3Com’s Metcalfe told the San Jose Mercury
News in 1997. “It’s called the reality distortion field. Whenever you
get near him, no matter how mean he might be, there’s this field that
distorts reality. You are made to feel that if you disagree, you are a
iPhone was an example of the kind of upside down world Jobs could
create with his distortion field. Long lines formed outside Apple stores
before the first iPhones went on sale in 2007, and the device received
endless — mostly rhapsodic — coverage in the press. Yet even after the
fourth-generation iPhone was released in 2010, Apple’s share of the U.S.
cell phone business stood at 22 percent, behind Android and RIM’s
Even Apple stores, which were
originally created to provide showplaces for the company’s product line,
turned into tech temples, and became so popular they generated the most
profit per square foot of any retail outlet in the country.
computers remain Apple’s most profitable product line, Jobs sought to
lead the company away from what had become, increasingly, a commodity
business. He made the transition from computer niche player to consumer
electronics giant official in 2007, dropping the word “Computer” from
what is now simply Apple Inc.
For a decade, Jobs
was the only CEO of two major American corporations, running Apple (as
the iPods got smaller and smaller), and Pixar (as the box office hits
got bigger and bigger). With comparatively little fanfare, Jobs annexed
this second fiefdom when “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas decided to
cast off his digital animation division. Jobs scooped it up cheap in
1986, and within two years, Pixar had won its first Oscar for the
animated short film “Tin Toy,” director John Lasseter’s five-minute
forerunner to “Toy Story.”
“Toy Story,” the first
fully computer-animated feature, followed in 1995, and it marked the
beginning of a box office run so successful that Jobs was able to sell
the company to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion in stock. That
transaction made him the largest single shareholder in the world’s
dominant media conglomerate.
At his death, Steve
Jobs sat at the summit of an information and entertainment empire,
through which he controlled a large part of the culture’s digital means
of production — and with the iPhone and iPad, its reproduction. He tamed
Leopard; befriended Mickey Mouse; kept music and movies, and even
Pluto, all spinning in their separate orbits, so they intersected, but
Jobs did all that through the
force of his personality, which was sometimes maddeningly abrasive, and
the perfection of his vision, which often seemed limitless. But now,
suddenly, the bright star at the center of Silicon Valley’s universe has
©2011 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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