Science and technologyBabbage
Oct 6th 2011, 1:25 by T.S. | LONDON
NOBODY else in the computer industry, or any other industry for that matter, could put on a show like Steve Jobs. His product launches, at which he would stand alone on a black stage and conjure up a “magical” or “incredible” new electronic gadget in front of an awed crowd, were the performances of a master showman. All computers do is fetch and shuffle numbers, he once explained, but do it fast enough and “the results appear to be magic”. He spent his life packaging that magic into elegantly designed, easy to use products.
He had been among the first, back in the 1970s, to see the potential that lay in the idea of selling computers to ordinary people. In those days of green-on-black displays, when floppy discs were still floppy, the notion that computers might soon become ubiquitous seemed fanciful. But Mr Jobs was one of a handful of pioneers who saw what was coming. Crucially, he also had an unusual knack for looking at computers from the outside, as a user, not just from the inside, as an engineer—something he attributed to the experiences of his wayward youth.
Mr Jobs caught the computing bug while growing up in Silicon Valley. As a teenager in the late 1960s he cold-called his idol, Bill Hewlett, and talked his way into a summer job at Hewlett-Packard. But it was only after dropping out of college, travelling to India, becoming a Buddhist and experimenting with psychedelic drugs that Mr Jobs returned to California to co-found Apple, in his parents’ garage, on April Fools’ Day 1976. “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences,” he once said. “So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions.” Bill Gates, he suggested, would be “a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger”.
Dropping out of his college course and attending calligraphy classes instead had, for example, given Mr Jobs an apparently useless love of typography. But support for a variety of fonts was to prove a key feature of the Macintosh, the pioneering mouse-driven, graphical computer that Apple launched in 1984. With its windows, icons and menus, it was sold as “the computer for the rest of us”. Having made a fortune from Apple’s initial success, Mr Jobs expected to sell “zillions” of his new machines. But the Mac was not the mass-market success Mr Jobs had hoped for, and he was ousted from Apple by its board.
Yet this apparently disastrous turn of events turned out to be a blessing: “the best thing that could have ever happened to me”, Mr Jobs later called it. He co-founded a new firm, Pixar, which specialised in computer graphics, and NeXT, another computer-maker. His remarkable second act began in 1996 when Apple, having lost its way, acquired NeXT, and Mr Jobs returned to put its technology at the heart of a new range of Apple products. And the rest is history: Apple launched the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, and (briefly) became the world’s most valuable listed company. “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” Mr Jobs said in 2005. When his failing health forced him to step down as Apple’s boss in 2011, he was hailed as the greatest chief executive in history. Oh, and Pixar, his side project, produced a string of hugely successful animated movies.
In retrospect, Mr Jobs was a man ahead of his time during his first stint at Apple. Computing’s early years were dominated by technical types. But his emphasis on design and ease of use gave him the edge later on. Elegance, simplicity and an understanding of other fields came to matter in a world in which computers are fashion items, carried by everyone, that can do almost anything. “Technology alone is not enough,” said Mr Jobs at the end of his speech introducing the iPad, in January 2010. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” It was an unusual statement for the head of a technology firm, but it was vintage Steve Jobs.
His interdisciplinary approach was backed up by an obsessive attention to detail. A carpenter making a fine chest of drawers will not use plywood on the back, even though nobody will see it, he said, and he applied the same approach to his products. “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” He insisted that the first Macintosh should have no internal cooling fan, so that it would be silent—putting user needs above engineering convenience. He called an Apple engineer one weekend with an urgent request: the colour of one letter of an on-screen logo on the iPhone was not quite the right shade of yellow. He often wrote or rewrote the text of Apple’s advertisements himself.
His on-stage persona as a Zen-like mystic notwithstanding, Mr Jobs was an autocratic manager with a fierce temper. But his egomania was largely justified. He eschewed market researchers and focus groups, preferring to trust his own instincts when evaluating potential new products. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said. His judgment proved uncannily accurate: by the end of his career the hits far outweighed the misses. Mr Jobs was said by an engineer in the early years of Apple to emit a “reality distortion field”, such were his powers of persuasion. But in the end he changed reality, channelling the magic of computing into products that reshaped music, telecoms and media. The man who said in his youth that he wanted to “put a ding in the universe” did just that.
(Photo credit: AFP)
The Economist welcomes your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful of other readers. Review our comments policy.1-18 of 18webber0075 wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:35 GMT
Rest in peace Steve. The universe misses you already.Dhiraj Pandey wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:39 GMT
Its amazing what Steve Jobs has done to a apple and its a shame that cancer takes another influential person from this world. He will be remembered for the brilliance marketing he did and will be forever linked with apple.vinayaksathe wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:40 GMT
Hope he reincarnates soon. World needs him.klearview wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:44 GMT
A great quote from Slashdot: "From the fall of AOL to the rise of iComputing, we had a 12 year golden age where walled gardens were derided, people owned their own devices, and the landscape of the internet formed more or less naturally."
RIP, Steve, but as much of a visionary as you were, I hope that your passing away will contribute to giving us back the openness in computing, that same openness that you did so much to destroy.Muffinavenger wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:46 GMT
Just remembered an Onion news video which went something like "45 people dead in a train crash, unfortunately Glenn Beck wasnt one of them."
What America needs is more Jobs less Palins
RIPýmbassador wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:46 GMT
Probably his best speech:liberalwithsanity wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:48 GMT
I knew this day would come not too far down the road from the day he announced his resignation. But still I am really surprised how shaken I am after hearing the news. He will be of inspiration for generations to come and immensely missed.zaimohiu wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:49 GMT
Steve jobbs has definitley been one of the most influential people this century. He gave technology a new perspective and a new meaning. He inspired thousands with him new ideas. He will truly be missed.lilei wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:49 GMT
Steve, may you be happy, continualy creative and fruitful in the paradise!!!Mandarki wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:52 GMT
In many universities' communication courses they begin with watching a Steve Jobs keynote presenting an Apple product. This man became the reference in so many separate fields. I have used Apple products for a few years now and aside from all the silly comments one can make about them, they really are extraordinaire. From the product quality to the design to the build they just scream perfection.
There is so much to talk about regarding Steve's talent and innovations.
He lived knowing that he would have a short life and he would probably say he lived a full life. I hope he will rest in firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:55 GMT
People like Steve Jobs are needed in the business world. He truly worked for the consumer and continued to improve his products. Apple is a household item thanks to Steve Jobs and he is such a role model, being fired from Apple and still pursuing his dreams. His ideas and inventions had a huge imapact on our world. RIP Steve Jobs, you will be remembered.mrlobo wrote:Oct 6th 2011 1:58 GMT
Steve Jobs has been influential in history. His creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and attention to detail has benefited millions. I find it inspiring that he never was down when things didn't go as planned, he simpled made the best of it and boy, what things came from that. A prime example is Pixar, which he co-founded after being ousted from the board at Apple. Steve Jobs will be truly missed and the world will always remember the impact he has had this century.St. Teilo wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:01 GMT
The world's greatest Don Draper.
I wonder who will now write code at Apple, or engineer new designs?
Regardless, your guide helped revolutionize an industry. You will not be forgotten.Jose Ernesto Passos wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:03 GMT
Steve Jobs was a leader, some had the pleasure to meet him and work with him, others were inspired by his ideas. It is worth to hear his speech at Stanford, it is a summary of the ideas that moved him through an interesting life. One of them, for me is very important, each one should look after what he likes and shall dedicate his energy in pursuing it. I think he felt that he had a great life (he said it several times in public). Today I am very sad, because now, I will never have the opportunity to meet him alive. Good bye Steve Jobs... Say hello to Bill Hewlett, John Lennon and other great people that you met or admired during your journey.Matt_Bond wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:07 GMT
The most brilliant CEO of the millennium and definitely one of the most influential on our day-to-day lives since Henry Ford. A true embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit and of capitalism. I did not know him, but I will miss him.
I hope Apple can survive without his email@example.com wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:10 GMT
Steve Jobs was a genius in the designing world of technology. He has done so much for a single person by thinking so far out of the box and creating the unimaginable. Jobs was very original minded and it is sad that he is now gone. However, Apple now has a very high reputation to hold up to. The company will still be highly successful, but not on the same level. Unless another extremely creative minded person steps up to the plate, consumers are bound to be disappointed with the future "Job"-less products. I am very anxious and curious to see what Apple future will look like. Maybe Jobs has led them to the next few steps to help them continue making sleek designs and amazing the world with the new inventions produced by the company or at least, we can all hope so.samanr4 wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:12 GMT
I think the death of Mr Jobs caught many people off guard. Even after his death, he deserves a lot of respect and honor for all the work he has contributed to the technology industry. Jobs changed the way we use technology, and because of his success, we will only become more successful. Its amazing that a man who seemingly would struggle in life, after dropping out of college and being under the abuse of drugs, would be able to accomplish so much, when both of them are greatly looked down upon. He is living proof that you can do what you set your mind to and that there are reasons to be hopeful. Much thanks to Steve Jobs for how much he has contributed to todays world. Rest in Peace.Hibro wrote:Oct 6th 2011 2:12 GMT
Will Apple Still Be Apple Without Steve Jobs?1-18 of 18
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