— Steve Jobs will be remembered as a titan of business, of course. But for those of us who struggled decades ago to learn lines of code in order to create something as elementary as a letter on a computer, Jobs will forever be associated with making modern computing simple, seamless and satisfying.
The iconic co-founder of Apple, along with Steve Wozniak, helped create a funny-looking computer named the Apple I, then II, in the 1970s that became synonymous with style and ease of use, as did dozens of products that would follow over the years, including the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. With the creation of the iTunes Store and 99-cent song downloads in 2003, he upended the digital music business at a time when it could have easily tipped in favor of piracy, a direction it was headed.
By 2008, the iTunes Store was the leading source for consumers to buy digital music, and it spawned other online-buying websites that tried to follow its simple-to-use model. It also led to Apple's creation of the App Store in 2008 for buying programs and software for the iPhone, and this year, the Mac itself.
The wireless world was completely revolutionized by the release of the iPhone in 2007. At that time, the word "smartphone" was largely equated with BlackBerrys, the standard bearer for the business class. Jobs saw the iPhone as a mobile computing device, and not just a phone, for everyone — something his competitors did not grasp at that time.
'I'll always stay connected with Apple'
Jobs' failing health — he was diagnosed with rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004, and had a liver transplant in 2009 — was obvious to all who saw photos of the world's most famous CEO in recent years in his trademark blue jeans and black turtleneck.
Despite taking a leave of absence from Apple earlier this year, he did make a few public appearances to unveil new products — still the showman that he was known to be, with his trademark, "And... one more thing" to deliver the big reveal, whether it was a new Mac or iPhone.
But at each of his subsequent public appearances, he seemed a little more frail and a little less energetic than the time before, the turtlenecks looser, the blue jeans baggier.
Apple fans and followers were devastated by his letter of resignation Aug. 24, in which he wrote: "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."
It was an ominous sign from the man who said, in 1985, "I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry."
But the threads of the tapestry were fraying. Jobs asked in his letter of resignation to remain as chairman of Apple's board, holding out, as he did so defiantly about many things — products, software, design, marketing — until the end.
Some had hoped Jobs would even make an appearance at Tuesday's unveiling of the new iPhone, nearly six weeks after his resignation. But he did not.
A telling speech
The year after his cancer diagnosis, when Jobs was 50, he gave the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University. It's an oft-quoted speech because it was such a personal one.
Jobs the showman was quite the opposite when it came to family matters. But in the speech, he shared his thoughts about many personal things, including his own life — and death.
"No one wants to die," he said. "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."
That was typical Jobs: Dramatic and yet no-nonsense all in the same breath.
"This stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t," he said about technology in a Wired magazine interview, eight years before he was diagnosed with cancer.
"I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all."
But Jobs changed technology and how the everyday person used it.
"His impact on the world of technology and American business can not be underestimated," said Tim Bajarin, a technology consultant who attended the Apple shareholders’ meeting in January 1984, where the first Macintosh was unveiled.
"His simple vision of creating products that he would want — ones that were elegant and easy to use, is what drove him and Apple to spectacular success."
In a 1985 interview with Playboy, not long after the first Macintosh came out, Jobs said, "We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build."
Telling, too, were his remarks about the quality of the build of the Mac, which was — and still is — pricier than the average computer.
"When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it," he said in the interview. "You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through."
'He basically went on his gut'
Ken Auletta, in a recent interview with CNBC, likened Jobs' legacy to that of inventor and scientist Thomas Edison's a century ago.
While Jobs wasn't a scientist or inventor, he said, Jobs "invented and popularized and conceived products that all of us use, and have changed not only all of our lives, but the lives of many businesses that he's disrupted."
Like Edison, Jobs "was a great businessman, and that's unusual to have that kind of combination," said Auletta, a long-time technology and business writer and author, and columnist for The New Yorker.
And he took a path that is anathema to most modern business execs today, Auletta said: He "never did market research — he basically went on his gut ... because he understood that people couldn't know what they would like when they had never seen it before."
Indeed, the most recent example of that was the iPad. A year before Jobs announced it in January 2010, there were plenty news stories about the then-unnamed tablet that Apple was working on, and in fact had started working on before the iPhone.
Many analysts and commentators dismissed it as the kind of Jobsian product that would go the way of the infamous Mac Cube computer or hockey puck mouse, but even faster because there was no need for a tablet the way that Jobs envisioned it.
Even more ridicule followed when it was named the iPad. But Jobs, and Apple, had the last laugh. Since its release in April 2010, nearly 30 million iPads have been sold. Competitors have been churning out their own versions non-stop; none of them can touch the iPad in terms of success.
In large part, that's because no matter what Apple's tablet is called, it is one of the easiest devices to use — and it has the force of the App Store, with more than 140,000 programs for the iPad alone, behind it. No competitor has yet to match that.
The iPhone has more than 500,000 apps; Google's Android phones — almost as easy to use as the iPhone, and the other 800-pound gorilla now in the mobile landscape — has more than 261,000 available.
Not everything Jobs did turned to gold. Several products were failures, both before and after his return to Apple.
'Your time is limited'
In 1985, Wozniak left Apple, but Jobs was forced out after clashes with members of Apple’s board of directors, including John Sculley, the former PepsiCo president Jobs brought to Apple to help run the company.
Jobs — acerbic, demanding, difficult, often cruel to the "fools" and mere mortals he did not suffer — was "devastated" by the ouster.
Still, Jobs reflected in that 2005 speech at Stanford, "it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."
Consultant Bajarin said he met with Jobs on the second day after he came back to Apple in 1997. The company languished for much of the 12 years he was gone from it.
"At the time, Apple was $1 billion in the red and in serious trouble," Bajarin said. "So I asked him how he planned to save Apple. He said that he would go back and meet the need of their core customers. And then he said something that at the time puzzled me: He said he would pay close attention to industrial design when creating products. Not long after that, he gave us the candy-colored Macs that broke the mold of what a PC should look like."
Indeed, what followed was not only the iMac in 1998, but the iPod in 2001, iTunes Store two years later, and the iPhone in 2007 — as well as some duds like the Cube (2000) and Apple TV (2007), the latter still an anemic offering.
In "over 30 years of covering Steve Jobs as an analyst, I saw him at his highs and lows," Bajarin said. "But even in his lows, he never took his eye off of the vision of creating products that were stylish and simple to use."
And for much of the past decade, Jobs also heeded his own advice, given at that 2005 commencement speech:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life," he said. "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
Most importantly, he added: "Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."