Just one day after his company made its first iOS product announcement ever without him, Apples Steve Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56, from unannounced causes.
While the iPhone 4S, announced Oct. 4, is the latest in a set of iconic devices that debuted in 2007 and changed the mobile industry and the very fabric of our lives forever, Jobs contribution to technology in the last 35 years is hard to overstate.
He famously started Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, the two pioneering the first mass-market personal computer, the Apple II. Most people forget that, since the device eventually lost its leadership position to IBMs more open platform, the PC, but theres no doubt that Apple radically transformed the computing landscape by setting off an arms race of sorts in the personal computing space.
Under Jobs leadership, the company did it again in 1984 with the launch of the Macintosh. A famous Super Bowl ad introduced the Mac, characterizing the PC as begetting something akin to George Orwells dystopian Big Brother future. The Mac ushered in a completely revolutionary concept: a computing machine designed for the first time with an intuitive graphical interface and a mouse. The power of computing was thus extended to everyone, not just those with a head and an inclination for programming languages and clunky text inputs.
Jobs was eventually fired in a power struggle at Apple, but spent the hiatus founding the Pixar animation studio, among other ventures. He returned in 1996, reclaimed the CEO position, and went on to launch a string of beautifully designed desktop and notebook computers. The years that followed firmly ensconced Apple as the hipster” company of Silicon Valley, offering computers that may cost a bit more but were tailored for creative design and other graphics-intensive tasks all in a package of knockout industrial design. The iMac was followed by the Macbook Air, two offerings that became more symbolic of the power of computing-as-lifestyle-choice than any Windows-based machine could ever hope to be.
But it was the launch of iTunes and the iPod in 2001 that solidified the company as an icon. iTunes completely remade the face of music for artists, studios, concert promoters and radio, with a digital distribution scheme that was weighted against album sales and towards individual choice. It also successfully commercialized the concept of a mass-market walled garden oriented around a specific OS or device an idea that would come into full form with the launch of the iPhone.
In 2007 Jobs & Co. unveiled the App Store and a touchscreen smartphone, the iPhone. And in just a scant four years the wireless industry has found itself rocked to its foundations. Its now a market driven by apps and computer-like functionality in handsets that, combined with higher network speeds, has made the voice-centric business models that were ascendant for decades seem akin to grainy home videos of the black-and-white era. The iPhone has launched hundreds of competitors and copycats, driving the idea of a computer in ones hand deep into the mass market, across all age demographics and leaving a legion of failed or struggling competitors behind it.
Jobs wasnt done yet: He is said to have personally shepherded the design process of the iPad, launched in 2010. In the space of one year one year! Apple has once again created a new market, this time for second-screen” devices that may finally give mobile video the wings it as needed to take off. Tablet computing as a concept wasnt new, but the idea of wedding the idea to mobile handset-like functionality and an App Store most certainly was.
The computer mouse, graphical user interfaces, digital music distribution, apps stores, touchscreen smartphones, tablets all of these either have become or are destined to become fixtures of our every day lives and communications habits. Despite the occasional misstep on the part of Apple the Mobile Me cloud strategy, the refusal to play nice with Adobe Flash, Apple TV there is no doubt that in his short 56 years on Earth, Jobs and his company have made an indelible impression on our lives, one for which we all owe a debt of gratitude for making things more productive, more fun, more colorful and more interesting than anyone would have imagined back in 1976.
The visionary behind the iPod, iPhone and iPad has been fighting a battle with his health since he was diagnosed and successfully treated for pancreatic cancer in 2004. His liver then failed in 2009, prompting a six-month medical leave. In August of this year he announced his resignation as CEO, replaced by Tim Cook as chief executive.