Why Steve Mattered


Steve JobsToday, the world mourned the passing of Steve Jobs, business mogul and co-founder of Apple and Pixar. During his lifetime Steve made monumental contributions to the world and computing as we know it, although he was not without his critics and detractors. Looking back on his career, it is clear to all that Steve mattered, and here’s why:

A Reinventor for the Ages

Apple has come a long way since Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were tinkering away in the early 70’s, building personal computers. Since then, Jobs has been an ideas man, taking ideas both old and new to set technology on a course toward a bright future. During a visit to Xerox PARC in the early 70’s, Jobs saw a glimpse of the future that became the cornerstone of his vision: a graphical user interface. He promptly implemented the interface into Apple computers. For the first time in a widely available computer, users could interact easily with their computer without having to punch in code on a green screen.

Jobs’s innovation didn’t end there, nor did his connection to Xerox PARC and the ideas developed there. The visit to the PARC facility must have impacted him deeply, because it would seem that Steve set his company on a course that over the next 30 years would lead to where we are today: the realization of a vision he had all along. One of the earliest dreams of computing was ubiquitous computing, or Ubicomp. The basic premise of Ubicomp is the complete and utterly invisible integration of ubiquitous, networked devices in our everyday lives. The ubiquitous devices themselves were of various sizes, dubbed “Tabs, Pads, and Boards.” Sound familiar? It should. Apple kickstarted and cornered the smartphone market with the very tab-like iPhone, not to mention the newly-announced Siri addition in iOS5 which promises to integrate the iPhone into our lives even more seamlessly. And then there’s the obviously-named iPad.

Were these ideas new? Not at all, but Steve was unwaveringly set on making these dreams of computing a reality. Whereas Ubicomp may have remained a lofty, distant idea, Steve made it real. He made it work. Perhaps sometimes it is far more important to be not an inventor, but a reinventor.

Pixar

Do you still love Toy Story? Did Up make you cry? Can you quote nearly every line from Finding Nemo? If so, you have Steve Jobs to thank. Steve Jobs purchased Pixar when he was briefly ousted from Apple in 1986. During his time with Pixar, Steve reinvented Pixar by changing it from a hardware and software company that catered to animation studios by selling off its hardware division. Under Steve’s guidance, Pixar began animating for commercials and films. In 1991, Pixar signed a deal with Disney to create Toy Story.

The rest, as they say, is history. Pixar has continued to be an industry boundary-buster by creating critically acclaimed animated films that feature rare emotional depth, and employing advanced computer animation techniques that pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible.

In 2006, Disney acquired Pixar and Jobs became Disney’s largest single shareholder with 7%. The previous largest shareholder, ex-CEO Mike Eisner, held 1.7%.

The scene in Up that made you cry.

The Steve Jobs Touch

Steve Jobs in the ever-present turtleneck

Steve Jobs in the ever-present turtleneck.

It’s undeniable that Steve Jobs had an aura about him, a sort of infectious charisma, that attracted others (maybe it was the ever-present black turtle neck, no one can be certain). From his famously hands-on management style to his interaction with the public, Steve had his own way of doing things, and he became a model for how business can be done differently.

Steve Jobs, unlike many CEO’s, played a key role in nearly all of Apple’s activities. This style of managing led to Fortune Magazine’s senior editor-at-large Geoff Colvin writing that he was “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.” The results of his hand in Apple’s offerings have paid off, however. While many companies make decisions by reviewing them in front of a board, Steve’s singular vision demanded singular control. After all, the man leading technology into the future of Ubicomp must be sure that the path isn’t strayed from. Without Jobs’s intervention in Apple’s products, it’s very likely that many of the products we have come to rely on to organize our lives and entertain us wouldn’t resemble their current forms.

Jobs also had a way of interacting with the public that was all his own. Steve often replied to emails personally, answering any questions that came his way. In fact, popular blogs like Emails from Steve Jobs existed solely to showcase these personal correspondences with customers. In one touching story, Fiona Bigh, mother of a young girl with albinism, a condition which affects her eyes, wrote to Jobs thanking him for creating the device which has replaced the magnifying glass her daughter needed to read. Steve replied, “Thanks for sharing your experience with me. Do you mind if I read your email to a group of our top 100 leaders at Apple?” This type of response was characteristic of Steve. Of course, his interactions with the public were not always so sentimental, there was the infamous “you’re holding it wrong” debacle when the iPhone 4 was released.

Despite his life being cut tragically short, it is clear that Steve Jobs’s legacy has been enormous. His contributions to computing, entertainment, and our world have been monumental. He showed us what a man with determination, a daring vision for the future, and a lot of ideas can do for the world. For better of for worse, success or failure, PR boon or disaster, Steve was always Steve and we’ll miss him terribly.

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