Steve Jobs: Logging Out

Steve Jobs had the vision thing.  He imagined products of which no one else had ever conceived and he had the ability to drive highly creative people to turn his visions into reality.

For example, Jobs didn’t create the iPod.  Instead, he gave his team a seemingly impossible brief:  create a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes that could hold more than 1,000 songs.  And make it aesthetically pleasing, by the way.  And let’s have it for Christmas.

Some of the design was created at Apple; some of the elements were licensed, such as the dial on the front, which came from England.  But no one had the idea to combine those elements into a device that could, indeed, hold more than 1,000 songs and remain smaller than a pack of smokes.

For all the adulation Jobs received for the brilliance of his consumer products, he was a controversial figure within the hardcore computing community, who identified more with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.  The reason, or at least one reason had to do with the original Apple II, which came with slots allowing enthusiasts to enter their own programs.  Eventually, Jobs closed those slots, taking control from the computer geeks and centralizing it at Apple.  This sat poorly with the enthusiasts, who viewed Jobs as a sell-out.

Yet even the hardcore computing types must be mourning the loss of an individual who transformed computing, telephony, the music industry, and pretty much everything else.  Had there not been an Apple, would there have been an Amazon?  Would as many people have bought in as quickly, or at all, to the Internet?  Would there be a Google?  Or would Microsoft have enjoyed a Soviet-style hegemony over the computing world to this day?

For Jobs brought not only innovation to the world of personal computing; he brought style.  In his famous address to a Stanford commencement class, he told of dropping out of school and sitting in on his girlfriend’s calligraphy class.  He fell in love with what he saw and multiple fonts became a hallmark of Apple computers, and eventually, everyone else’s, too.

Imagine a world of computing devices and portable phones without Jobs’ influence.  Just go back in your mind, if you’re old enough, to the first and second generations of cell phones and recall how clumsy and clunky they were, especially compared with the sleek, museum-quality design of the iPhone and all the phones that sought to emulate it.

Jobs wasn’t just smart; he was also lucky.  An investment in a then-struggling animation studio called Pixar turned into an astonishing success, bringing the world Toy Story, Cars, Up, Wall-E, and A Bug’s Life.  Pixar came along just when Disney’s animated films had been in a multi-year slump; Disney’s acquisition of a majority stake in Pixar landed Jobs on the board of Disney.

Perhaps Walt Disney is the innovator most comparable to Jobs.  Disney reinvented the delivery of entertainment in the form of cartoons, movies, and eventually theme parks just as Jobs reinvented the delivery of information, entertainment, music, and just about everything else.  Like Jobs, Disney died relatively young, not living to see the launch of Walt Disney World.  And like Jobs, Disney created and defined a company that all but deifies him, and asks, “What would Walt do?” to this day.

Ironically, tens of millions of people most likely learned of Jobs’ passing from devices he created—iPads, iPhones, MacBooks, and so on.  Can Jobs’ successors keep his company, and his vision alive?  Disney’s did.  We’d wager that Apple will do likewise.

 

(New York Times best selling author Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com.)