Thursday, October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs: 1955-2011
I'm not going to go into hero-worship mode here, because I don't like to deify other human beings, no matter how good they may be. We're all humans and we all have flaws, whether anyone knows about them or not...none of us are perfect. That being said, I was deeply saddened by the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when I heard of it last night. Fittingly, I was looking at Twitter and Facebook on my iPhone when I saw the news. The irony wasn't lost on me, especially as earlier in the day I spent time during my commute listening to music on my iPod, talking to my wife on my iPhone, and checking some stuff out at home on my iMac, including the stuff on eBay I'm selling so I can use the money to buy an iPad. But it goes beyond being a mere Apple fanboy...yes, I love their products. They're aesthetically pleasing and look great. They're very intuitive and simple to use but very powerful in what they can do. They're innovative and cutting edge but at the same time they don't waste effort reinventing the wheel. And, at their core, and the heart of Jobs' intent from the very first computer he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak built in the 1970s, they improve our lives and make them easier in their own little ways.
I won't get into the details of Jobs' life or the history of Apple...that's all very well documented and available all over the internet and in various books. But, beyond the great products and innovations that Jobs and his team at Apple have brought to us over the years, probably the biggest reason I'm such a fan of the guy is that his story is a great American story. In a nutshell, this is a guy who dropped out of college, but had an interest in computers. He got together with Wozniak and, in his parents' garage, began building, marketing, and selling computers. Eventually they were able to found Apple as a proper company and by the mid-1980s had unleashed the wildly successful Apple II and Macintosh home computers, as well as the icon-based GUI (graphical user interface) that is ubiquitous today and which Microsoft copied for their own successful Windows OS. Of course, there were also a few failed computers systems offered up during this time. After being forced out of Apple in 1985, Jobs founded a new company, NeXt Computers. While not as successful, the innovations in their technology were brought back to Apple when Jobs returned in 1996/97 (where, along the way, he also co-founded Pixar and released Toy Story...not bad work for his time in the tech "wilderness" in exile, huh?). Once back, he unleashed vision in full force and, along with all of his colleagues at Apple, launched mammoth innovations such as the stand-alone iMac, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. While doing so, he and Apple revolutionized how we purchase, listen to, and transport music, movies, TV, videos, pictures, etc and made these devices and the experiences with them fun and enjoyable. From personal experience, the iPod has changed my life since I bought my first one in 2006...I can carry around my entire (15,000+ songs) music collection in my pocket and listen to it anywhere. The iPhone has made it easier for me to stay connected and informed with my wife, family, friends, co-workers, and the world at large by being able to have a phone and computer in my pocket. The iPad replaces my laptop and allows me to use it for both personal and work purposes. And the iMac...after a lifetime of owning only Windows PCs (although I had used many Macs throughout the years), my wife and I got frustrated with our latest breaking-down PC and bought an iMac last year...I've been nothing but 100% pleased with it. It's so easy to use and I don't have to worry about crashes, software glitches, etc. I turn it on and, just like all of my other Apple devices, IT JUST WORKS.
Looking at what I just wrote, this is perhaps Jobs' greatest triumph as the visionary and inventive mind (among MANY others throughout the year amongst his co-workers). Apple has made products that have made life easier and more enjoyable, and in the true spirit of capitalist competition, they've responded to competition and simultaneously spurred it on amongst its competitors, so that, no matter whether you're a PC or Mac, an iPhone or Android, etc, we all win.
So, for me, while Apple and their products will leave a lasting legacy, I also admire the man who saw a problem, worked tirelessly and very hard for years from a young age (18!) and built the leading tech company in the world, not to mention, as of 2011, the most profitable company on the planet. And he did it from the ground up, literally out of his folks' garage, the old-fashioned American Way: through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. He wasn't afraid to fail or take risks, and he and Apple had many failures along the way (the Lisa, anyone? Apple III? Pippin? The Cube? The Motorola Rokr? I could go on and on...). But like in any endeavor, in order to be successful, you need to take risks, fail, and learn from them in order to eventually succeed. It's something I try to do every day of my life, and to me, that's the most inspirational thing about Jobs, his life, and his career.
I never met the guy, but I will miss him. America, and the world, need more people like him, a throwback to earlier days and visionaries like Edison, Ford, Gates, etc. I'm always trying to think of ways I could start a business or a product...I have lots of ideas (just ask my wife, I'm always bouncing them off of her!)...Steve will continue to be one of my idols in this regard.
I'm just glad he's at peace now and can rest easy with the legacy he's left, both physically in his company and products, and inspirationally in his story.