It’s hard to disconnect Steve Jobs from the company he founded. Throughout its lifetime, all of Apple’s successes have been Jobs’, and nearly all of Jobs’ successes were at Apple. Yes, it’s true that he after being forced out of Apple in 1987, he went on to found NeXT, and NeXT made great products, but they were unpopular and expensive, and only really found their home when they were bought by Apple in 1996. And yes, Pixar has been a blinding success, but I think, while Jobs’ hallmarks of stylistic beauty and fun have always been evident in Pixar’s films, he generally kept himself back from the creative process there and allowed people like John Lasseter and Brad Bird to go about making great films (and boy, did they).
So, what of Apple now that he’s really gone? If Apple’s successes are Jobs’, then what will happen to the company now? After Steve resigned as CEO, John Gruber wrote that possibly his greatest creation was not any particular product, but Apple itself. Apple now is a very different company than it was when Steve returned to it fourteen years ago. It is a company utterly steeped in his philosophy – that a great user experience should come first, and all other considerations are secondary; that a single success is no reason to stand still; that to innovate you must be willing to be different, and to embrace change. I think that over the next few years we will see a very different Apple — different how, I can’t say, but difference is Apple’s lifeblood. It’s Tim Cook’s Apple now, and he’ll do things his way, and I’m quite sure that’s what Steve would want. Steve ensured that Apple knows how to pick great people, and even without him it will continue to do that. Steve ensured that Apple will always have its eye on the future, to both predict and to shape the technology that will be part of our lives in the years to come, and so his legacy will last well beyond the couple of years’ product line-up that Apple no doubt has prepared.
Steve Jobs could do something which ought to have been impossible in a technology company: he could think long-term. There is video of him in 1997 talking about what we now think of as cloud computing, and describing how his life revolved at the time around what is now very similar to iCloud. A caller to Mac OS Ken Live last week described how Steve, over a decade ago, was thinking of something conceptually very like the iPad – a theoretical impossibility at the time; now an everyday sight. Almost the entirety of Apple’s output since his return was focussed on his idea of the Digital Livingroom, which used the PC as a hub to which all other devices were connected. I have difficulty predicting what computers will be like in two years, but I think Steve would have had a good idea, even at the time of his passing, what they’ll be like in twenty.
Ten years ago, the iPod was first released. Four years later, it had become the most popular music player in the world. At the time, I had been working in Argos at Christmas in my first post-college job, and I had never heard of the iPod – that will give you some idea of my technophobia at time. Since then, I bought my first iPod, and that led to an iPhone, which was followed by two Macs and an iPad. The experience I’ve had using them has been miles from any of the reluctant struggles I suffered with technology before that. A PC was always something I used, but my Apple devices are genuinely part of my life. My experiences of the world are different because of Steve Jobs.
Shortly after finding out about Steve’s death (via a text to my iPhone) and checking for confirmation at apple.com (on my MacBook Pro), I decided to send an email of condolence to the email address that has been set up for the purpose, firstname.lastname@example.org. I gave a little thought to what I wanted to say, about my experiences as a user of Apple products, and about his influence on my life, and about my conversion from technophobe to heavy computer user, but I couldn’t sum up my thoughts in a way that didn’t feel self-centred. So after a little while I just decided to try to sum up as well as I could what I felt set him apart both as a business leader and a thinker. In the end, I sent the following two-sentence comment. I hope Steve would have admired its brevity.
Someone once said that technology is just the name we have for stuff that doesn’t work yet. The remarkable legacy of Steve Jobs at Apple is a computer company that doesn’t make technology.