Despite the millions of words, both print and digital, written this past week about Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, it is safe to say that we probably knew very little about the man, the myth and the icon.
In fact, of all the people over the years who led and shaped the personal computer and consumer electronics industries, Jobs was perhaps the most enigmatic. His personality and presence drove Apple to new heights in terms of innovation and design. It also created an almost cult-like following among users of the company’s products, who lined up for days to hear him speak at trade shows and events.
Conversely, Jobs was also an extremely private and introspective person, whose passion was simplicity and utility.
Over the course of his life, his influence touched nearly every facet of our lives, from personal computers and phones to music, tablet devices and animated movies. But, Jobs was never obsessed with legacy or immortality, but rather with just providing ways for people to do better in their personal and working lives.
He was also a person who recognized the importance of learning from failures, as he had when fired from Apple by the very man he had hired and later returning to take control and steer the company into new and exciting areas of technology. There were also a number of unsuccessful technology launches like the failed Lisa and early MessagePad personal digital assistant.
Anyone who has reported on this industry for a while has a favorite Jobs story. Mine involves an interview scheduled in the mid-1980s soon after Jobs took back control at Apple. I was working for a then small start-up company called Softbank Corp., based in Japan, and was asked by founder and friend Masayoshi Son to write a cover story on Jobs for The Computer, a Japan-based monthly magazine.
I arranged the meeting and flew out to Apple headquarters with a photographer in tow ready to spend a few hours with Jobs. When I arrived, however, his PR staff told me he was ill with the flu and could not make it. I was extremely disappointed, but understanding, and was about to pack it in when a call came in from Jobs who said he would try to make it in to keep the appointment.
About an hour or so later, Jobs arrived wearing a bulky old sweater that looked like a blanket, looking horrible but ready to talk. We sat down, I pulled out my notes and dove right into my first question when he raised his hand and stopped me mid-sentence. “Before we begin” he said, “what do you know about washing machines?” I stared at him for a moment and admitted I knew very little beyond using one, asking why he wanted to know. He said he was doing some research before buying and wanted to find out which had the better performance, was the most cost-effective, and which model was best for the environment.
I imagine Jobs thought my association with the Japanese gave me an inside track on cutting edge appliances. It did not. Regardless, over the next 10-15 minutes we talked washing machines, and I learned more about the man and his intense curiosity and zest for knowledge than I did about any wash day miracles. It is this same curiosity, passion and quest for technology with a purpose that drove him to champion such devices as the Mac desktop and notebook computers, iPod, iPhone, iPad – all life-changing and incredibly important devices.
The big question now is how Apple technology will evolve and flourish now that Steve Jobs is gone and his physical presence and charisma is missing. Certainly, the company will continue and succeed since so many advances have been made and are most likely in the pipeline. Years from now, however, it may be a different story as Jobs’ spirit fades and becomes an iconic footnote, new people take charge, the industry moves on and new stars emerge.
TechnologyGuide takes a look at the possible short-term and long-term implications of Apple After Jobs in a special report that examines desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones. We’ll skip any talk of washing machines this time around and hopefully provide a clean and fresh look at what is to come, provided by our editors and experts.
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