So a little over a week has gone by and we’ve had time to digest the news of Steve Jobs’ death on October 5th, by his family’s reports a peaceful passing. A peaceful passing that has inspired anything but peace in the wonderful world of the Internet. Apple fanboys are in mourning while others dance on his virtual grave, so why has one man spawned such opposing reactions?
Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs was born on February 24, 1955 in San Francisco to Joanne Carole Schieble, an American of Swiss and German descent, and Abdulfattah John Jandali, a Syrian. When Schliebe’s father opposed their marriage Steve was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs (née Hagopian) who moved to Mountain View, California when Steve was five years old.
Jobs studied at Cupertino Junior High and Homestead High School in Cupertino, California though he also attended lectures given by Hewlett-Packard and later worked there with Steve Wozniak. In 1972 he dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon after just one semester and would spend his time sleeping on the floor in friends’ rooms, making money for food by returning Coke bottles and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple.
In 1974 Jobs worked as a technician at Atari, Inc. where he intended to earn enough money to travel to India in search of spiritual enlightenment, after which he returned to Atari with shaven head and wearing Indian dress, surprising even those who had got used to seeing him in bare feet.
His first task on his return to Atari was to create a circuit board for the game Breakout and the company wanted him to eliminate as many chips as possible from the design to save money, and Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell was willing to pay $100 for every chip that Jobs could eliminate. In my opinion this is where Jobs’ main strength came to the fore, he realised that he was perhaps not the best engineer in the world, but he did happen to know one of them, and he called upon his friend Steve Wozniak to help him out and promised that they would split the rewards. Woz would work at HP duing the day and went to Atari in the evenings where he managed to save on no less than fifty chips on the design, but when he retells the tale he claims that Jobs told him Atari had only offered to pay $700 rather than the $5,000 they were due so Jobs pocketed the rest. A tale that’s all too believable when one considers Jobs’ reputation.
Ironically I draw a direct comparison between the relationship of Jobs and Wozniak and that of Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney (also an Atari founder). One man has the vision, the drive and the will to make technological ideas happen while the other has the technical know how to actually do it, and this was key in the early days of Apple as Jobs persuaded Woz to help him build a computer and sell it.
This single act forms the very basis of what Steve Jobs does. He wasn’t the only person to know one of the world’s greatest engineers, he wasn’t the only person designing and building computers out of a garage, and like the many ideas that would spawn from Apple throughout their history, he wasn’t the first person to come up with it, but his skill was in knowing which ideas to use and to make his own. He knew what he wanted, he knew who the people were that could help him achieve it and he went out and got them. A prime example being the man he wanted as CEO in 1983, John Sculley, who was with Pepsi-Cola at the time. Jobs asked him “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” I guess Sculley wanted to change the world, or at least felt Jobs could do it.
A later disagreement between the two saw Jobs leave Apple and start what he describes as “one of the most creative periods of my life.” when he started NeXT, a company that made comparatively highly priced computer hardware that wasn’t adopted by the masses (ring any bells?) but the NeXT was renowned for being used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN and becoming the first server in the World Wide Web.
In 1986 Jobs bought The Graphics Group (Pixar) from Lucasfilm for $10million and again used a mix of other people’s ideas to “change the world” as he put it, and he contracted with Disney to produce CGI films that Disney would not only finance but also distribute. He didn’t invent film, he didn’t invent animation and he didn’t distribute anything, but he was credited on Pixar’s first film Toy Story as executive producer and followed it up with box office hits like A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E and so on, before selling Pixar to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion worth of stock, making him Disney’s largest single shareholder.
In 1996 he returned to Apple when they bought NeXT for $429 million and as interim CEO he killed several projects on the way to making Apple profitable again by launching the iMac among other products, and at the 2000 Macworld Expo he switched officially from interim to permanent CEO, joking that he would be the iCEO.
Perhaps the product most associated with Jobs and his talent for re-inventing other peoples ideas is the iPod and later the iPhone, neither of which do anything new but they captured the imagination of the masses and sold well. Very well.
In August 2011, Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, his failing health all too obvious at each successive keynote where his familiar black turtle neck jumper seemed to hang more loosely with every product launch, but he remained as chairman of the board. The markets weren’t fooled and they reacted accordingly because within hours the Apple and Disney share prices dropped by 5% and 1.5% respectively.
His final “gift” is of course the iPad which for me, encapsulates everything about the modern day Steve Jobs, the Steve Jobs that takes an idea and convinces people that they want it, nay, need it. The tablet PC has been around for years and has never succeeded, basically because nobody wants one, and why would they?
Steve Jobs made the tablet PC smooth, shiny and put an Apple logo on it and instantly millions of people needed a tablet PC (which ironically the iPad is not). This feverish fanboyism for Apple and Apple products is what drives the tech nerds nuts, because they don’t understand it, and Apple fanboys are some of the most vehement out there. It started out as Mac versus PC, shifted to iPhone versus all other phones and now seems to be centred around iPad versus Android tablet.
What I found most distasteful about the whole episode is the people that think its OK to post videos of Androids dancing for joy at the news of Jobs’ passing, that think its OK to rejoice in Job’s death so that their chosen platform can overtake Apple and its iOS in the marketplace. What these people fail to realise is that they too are fanboys, the only difference being that they haven’t chosen to worship at the altar of Apple. What’s more is that these people generally consider themselves to be tech savvy computer power users, but they seem to have completely lost sight of the influence that Steve Jobs had back in the dawn of the home computer industry.
These same people also seem to be giving Bill Gates a free pass, and forgetting the fact that Gates too failed to invent the BASIC he is credited for, failed to create the DOS that he is credited for and failed to create the Windows that he is credited for, just Google Gary Kildall (and the irony of Googling isn’t lost on me either).
Bill Gates’ major success was to change the way that software was licensed and make a ton of money from doing it. Steve Jobs’ success is summed up in one of his favourite quotes which he used at the Macworld Conference and Expo in January 2007, when he quoted the ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky:
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.”
Gretsky didn’t claim to invent ice hockey, or even the puck, he just had the vision to see where it would be, and I will remember Steve Jobs as one of the pioneers of the home computer industry boom rather than as the man who tried to sell me a very expensive computer, a bespoke phone or a shiny wannabee tablet PC.
I really do love my 80GB iPod Video though.