Steve Jobs, Apple’s transformative CEO, has died, aged 56.
The co-founder of Apple didn’t simply help to popularise computing – he also played a pivotal role in reshaping the entertainment industry with the astonishing success of both the iTunes store and Pixar’s animation studio.
Steve Jobs – early years
Born in San Francisco in 1955, Jobs was given up for adoption by his unmarried parents and raised by Paul and Clara Jobs in the heart of what would become known as Silicon Valley. He showed an in interest in electronics from an early age, befriending local engineers and attending lectures at Hewlett Packard (better known as HP).
Jobs and Wozniak
In 1969, Jobs was introduced to 18-year-old engineering student Steve ‘Woz’ Wozniak, who had just completed building his first basic computer. Jobs was impressed, claiming Woz was, “the first person I met who knew more electronics than I did.”
Three years later, Jobs and Woz made their first product together – a ‘blue box’ that enabled people to illegally make free, long-distance calls. Jobs briefly left Silicon Valley to study at Reed College in Portland Oregon, but dropped out after a term.
Steve Jobs and Atari
In 1974, Atari had a massive hit with the Pong arcade game, and Jobs managed to land a job by refusing to leave the building until he was hired. Soon after, the future Apple boss asked for time off to see his guru in India – amazingly, Atari agreed, and Jobs began a spiritual quest that led to his lifelong veganism and Zen Buddhism.
On his return to America, Atari challenged Jobs with developing a bat-and-brick game called Break-Out with as few computer chips as possible. Jobs sub-contracted the work to his old friend Steve Wozniak – and in an early indication of his hard business nose, paid him just 30 per cent of his 50 per cent cut for the job.
The Apple I and Apple II
Regardless, on April 1st, 1976, the pair founded Apple and, soon after, Jobs and Woz started selling their first computer, the Apple I.
The Apple I was little more than a circuit board, and it sold poorly. However, its successor – the Apple II – had a keyboard and expansion ports. With a pre-installed BASIC programming language developed by a small company called Microsoft, the Apple II single-handedly popularised home computing in America, and turned Steve Jobs into a millionaire. It continued its massive popularity well into the 1980s – until IBM arrived with its own range of personal computers. In 1980, Apple floated on the stock market. It was the most successful public stock offering in history.
Birth of the Mac
Buoyed by the success of the Apple II, Jobs began work on a new computer called LISA. Inspired by a trip to Xerox’s research facility PARC, Jobs decided Apple’s new computer should have a graphical user interface (GUI) and be controlled by a mouse – but after endless delays, Jobs was removed from control of the project. He took over a smaller project to create an inexpensive, all-in-one computer for the masses named Macintosh (after a variety of Apple).
Jobs brought much of what he had learned on LISA to the Macintosh project – including its GUI and mouse. The resulting computer was launched with an iconic Ridley Scott advert during the Superbowl in November 1984.
An initial rush of sales slowed and the Macintosh was soon selling less than the antiquated Apple II. In a desperate attempt to revitalise Apple’s fortunes, Jobs helped to hire PepsiCo boss John Sculley with the immortal line: “Are you going to sell sugar water for the rest of your life when you could be doing something really important?”
Steve Jobs’s boardroom blues
After a boardroom tussle, Jobs found himself sidelined at Apple, and in 1985 he left the company, sold all his shares, and started a new computer company targetting the eduction sector, called NeXT. Despite some notable achievements – Tim Berners Lee developed the world wide web using a NeXT computer – Jobs’s new company failed to set the world alight, and in 1993 it stopped producing hardware and focussed on its operating system, NeXTSTEP.
Steve Jobs and Pixar
Meanwhile, Jobs used the money from his sale of Apple shares to buy a computer animation business called Pixar from George Lucas. Jobs hoped that he could sell the sophisticated Pixar workstations to businesses, but once again found no demand for his hardware.
Fortunately, Pixar’s was producing Oscar-winning short animations to showcase the power of its technology – which led to a three-picture deal with Disney. The first Pixar feature, Toy Story (1995), became one of the most successful animated films of all time, and began a string of hits that included A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. When Jobs finally sold Pixar to Disney in 2006, he received shares worth $3.4bn – and became the largest single shareholder of Disney stock.
Jobs returns to Apple
But Jobs’s biggest passion was computers, and although he came tantalisingly close to licensing NeXTSTEP software to IBM in 1989 – when Microsoft was struggling to produce a stable version of Windows. It wasn’t until a desperate Apple was casting around for a new operating system in 1996 that he was finally able to return to the frontline. He quickly took over as interim CEO.
The NeXTSTEP software became the foundation stone for the new Mac OS X software and, in time, the iOS software used by iPhones and iPads.
But when Jobs returned to Apple with his new software his first job was to bring the loss-making company back into profitability. He slashed many product lines, including the touchscreen Newton PDA, and ended licensing agreements that had allowed other companies to produce computers running the Macintosh software.
A new beginning – the iMac
Steve Jobs then set about reawakening the original spirit of the Macintosh by producing a new, affordable all-in-one – the iMac. It was launched with a typically charismatic, unscripted performance by Jobs at an event that would set a template for future Apple launches.
The iMac was immensely successful, moving Apple away from its heartland in the creative industries and into the consumer realm. It was also the first fruit of an incredible partnership between Jobs and his design chief Jonathan Ive.
“Design is a funny word,” said Steve Jobs in 1996. “Some people think design means how it looks. But... it’s really how it works. To design something really well you have to ‘get it’.” And Jobs and Ive ‘got’ that the computer was just one part of a new digital world: so they set to work on a pocketable music player that could hold thousands of songs.
The iPod years
The iPod was launched in 2001, and by 2003 it was outselling the Mac.
The iPod quickly became a cultural phenomenon, but it was the iTunes Music Store that would have the biggest impact on the shape of 21st century commerce.
Flushed with the success of iPod and Pixar, Jobs was able to do what no-one else had managed – through personal lobbying he got the major music labels to agree to put all their wares on a single online store.
Within a four years of its launch, iTunes was the world’s biggest music retailer, and Apple quietly dropped ‘Computers’ from its name.
Steve Jobs – iPhone 2007
In 2007, Jobs was widely expected to announce a mobile phone with iPod functions – but the iPhone wildly exceeded expectations. It’s a testament to the Apple’s highly prized culture of secrecy that the entire world was so surprised and dazzled by its arrival (Stuff immediately hailed it “the greatest gadget ever”).
Despite some obvious flaws (in particular the lack of 3G) the iPhone was years ahead of the smartphones being produced by the market leader, Nokia. It’s the product that best typifies Jobs’ drive to integrate software and hardware – with the focus firmly on the user rather than the technology.
The iPad – Jobs’ last stand
In 2010 Jobs kick-started the tablet revolution with the announcement of the iPad, running the same iOS software as the iPhone. By October 2011, Apple had sold over a quarter of a billion iOS devices – and become the most valuable company in the world.
Declining health and death
However, it was clear from his emaciated appearance at launch events that Jobs’ health was rapidly deteriorating. During 2004, he had received surgery for a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Although it initially seemed successful, Jobs was forced to take another leave of absence from the company in 2009 and eventually stepped down from the roll of CEO in August 2011.
On October 5, 2011, his family released a statement that said Jobs "died peacefully today surrounded by his family.” With his passing, technology loses a true visionary. Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.