THE Apple.com homepage, one of the most valuable pieces of virtual real estate in the world, yesterday featured just one black and white photograph, alongside the words: “Steve Jobs 1955-2011”.
The death of the iconic leader of the world’s biggest technology company was met with an outpouring of grief usually reserved for musicians and world leaders. Chief executives, devoted fans and US President Barack Obama were among those to pay their respects after his tragic death at the age of just 56. iPhones showing his picture were left alongside the more traditional flowers and candles outside Apple Stores across the world.
Jobs’ impact on technology, and its impact on him, is unique to his generation. He grew up as the personal computer market was becoming a reality for Americans. Through Apple, NeXT and Pixar, he helped to shape the way we think about and interact with technology. He worked on the first wave of consumer operating systems and had a ringside seat as the internet evolved from a lab to become the dominant form of mass communication. Apple was a part of Steve Jobs as much as Steve Jobs was a part of Apple.
He grew up in Cupertino, where he would later base his world-conquering Apple empire, with his adopted parents (he never met his biological father and was estranged from his biological mother). He met Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak while working at HP, going on to build their first computer in his parents’ garage using money from the sale of Wozniak’s van.
Jobs was a hard task master – he demanded the same perfection in others as he aimed for himself. Those who have worked for him often describe the experience as an emotional rollercoaster, with the lows coming in equal measure to the highs. Jobs’ determination soon made Apple a commercial success – its IPO created more overnight millionaires than any other before it. But just five years after going public, Jobs was forced out after a spat with the chief executive he had personally wooed from Pepsico.
Jobs’ achievements during his 12 year absence – during which Apple veered close to bankruptcy – are as astonishing as his accomplishments with the company. NeXT, the computing firm he founded, shaped the modern user interface. Pixar, which netted him the majority of his fortune, changed the direction of cinema. The story after he rejoined Apple is the stuff of modern legend – iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad – culminating in Apple becoming – briefly– the biggest firm in the world. Through an uncanny knack of understanding what people want before they knew they wanted it, Jobs transformed not only computing but music, film and publishing. Jobs’ death is a huge loss – not only to Apple.