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“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – from Apple’s 1997 ‘Think Different’ campaign
These words are not only the memorable message of a brilliant and award-winning ad campaign, but are also a fitting eulogy to one of the greatest creative visionaries and business legends of our time, Steve Jobs.
Few business leaders have changed the way consumers perceive multiple industries as Jobs has. From personal computing to the entertainment industry to smart mobile devices to retailing to software integration to user interface and hardware design, Steve Jobs has redefined the mindsets of manufacturers, marketers and consumers. Robert Pirsig, the erstwhile author of ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’, who explores the fundamentally important question of what quality means in his classic book, would have found a kindred soul in Steve Jobs.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at how this business icon, who helped create the world’s most valuable technology company, has immeasurably changed the world and our outlook through his vision.
In the early 1970s, while working at Atari as a technician, Jobs teamed up with Steve Wozniak, a software engineering prodigy then working as a programmer at HP, to market Wozniak’s brainchild, the Apple I, which was exhibited as a next generation computer at the Hombrew Computer Club, an informal association of computer engineers who were looking to create more efficient and powerful machines. While Wozniak’s focus remained fixed on finding ways to accommodate more circuits, and thus harnessing more computing power, on a compact circuit board, Jobs realized that a lay user would focus more on how immersive the operative experience of the external unit would be, from the graphical user interface to the hardware design to the durability. It is to Jobs’ credit, thanks to his interest in calligraphy, his preference for smooth and curved edges and his dislike of fan noise, that the Apple II became the first computer that created benchmarks in the industry in terms of overall user experience.
The digital revolution of the 90s changed many industries, not least of which was the music industry. Even as Napster, the peer-to-peer file sharing service started by Shawn Fanning became the bane of musicians and record labels, Steve Jobs pioneered the world’s largest music retailing platform, iTunes. iTunes now has more than 200 million registered users worldwide, who have purchased and downloaded more than 15 billion songs. The iPod, which has become the world’s best selling portable music player, only added to Apple’s supremacy in the music industry. Apple also invented the podcast, a series of web episodes streamed to different devices, and audio podcasts became the means to learn new things and share useful and important information, and were increasingly downloaded or streamed, which increased the popularity of Apple’s online store on iTunes massively.
The personal computer
Throughout Apple’s ups and downs in the personal computing domain, Steve Jobs never lost his vision of creating a computer that created a paradigm shift in what a personal computer should be. Though the Apple I never became a mainstream device, and the LISA flopped, as did the sophisticated business machines he helped create at NeXT, Jobs continued to bring sleeker and more sophisticated machines into the market, that were not only admired by individual home users but also by professionals, notably in the design industry. The Macintosh, iMac, Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, and the Power Mac all bear the Apple stamp of excellence, thanks to Steve Jobs’ acute awareness of the importance of the human experience aspect of personal computing.
Back in the early 1990s, one of Apple’s visions for a portable computer, an early precursor of the tablet device, called the Newton, failed to generate much excitement and was shelved. Similar attempts by competitors such as Microsoft also went unnoticed. However, after Jobs’ phenomenal comeback in 1997, he soon reworked Apple’s concept of a tablet using an industry leading compact design, an easy-to-use mobile operating system, a relatively long battery life, and an app store that is praised for its high quality apps, on which apps of other mobile operating systems have been modelled. The result was the iPad. The latest incarnations of the iPad, the iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina Display pack in the power of an A7 processor, combined with the beautiful user interface that have mesmerised and converted millions of consumers to Apple products over decades.
Steve Jobs scored another first for Apple with the iPhone. Introduced in 2007, it redefined the concept of a touchscreen mobile phone that functioned equally well as an internet and multimedia device. Effectively, Apple created the first functional computer that could be carried in a pocket and could be used as a phone, among other things. The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry, and since its launch, smartphones have become one of the biggest selling electronic gadgets of all time, selling in excess of 1 billion units per year worldwide since 2012. Although it faces tough competition from Samsung, which has overtaken it in several markets, the iPhone today still remains the most coveted device in the smartphone category. With features like a 64-bit architecture, a fingerprint identity sensor, a better and faster camera, ultra-fast wireless, an app store with more than a million apps, a cloud platform that seamlessly supports file storage and editing, and more, the iPhone has all the characteristics of a futuristic device that has altered our perceptions of a phone forever.
After Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985, he founded a company called NeXT, which was aimed at creating powerful and sophisticated business machines. Though NeXT’s products never became the commercial successes that Jobs had hoped for, he got a breakthrough when he purchased Pixar, a computer animation company owned by legendary Hollywood filmmaker George Lucas. Though Pixar struggled initially, when ‘Toy Story’ was released in 1995, Steve Jobs again was hailed as an industry game changer. In a genre dominated by Disney and Sony Pictures Animation, Pixar became an overnight sensation, grossing an average of $600 million for each of its lavishly animated full length feature films. Almost all of Pixar’s films have now become animation classics, watched and re-watched and admired by millions of viewers across the world.
After returning to head Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs realized that Apple needed to make its own foray into retailing to push sales. While Jobs had always known the power of great presentation, he was disappointed to see that even well setup displays of Apple products in major retail stores did not seem to significantly push sales, owing to the poor training of the stores’ salespeople, which adversely affected customer loyalty. True to Jobs’ maverick style, the first Apple retail store was opened in a brick-and-mortar town called Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, in 2001. Jobs ensured that visitors got hands-on experience with a variety of functions, such as checking out multimedia interactions, specific gadgets, accessories, etc., for each of which a specific section of the store was allotted and hands-on demos were readily available. Apple’s retailing concept boosted customer experience to a large extent, and a testament to its success is the massive sales figures of $11.7 billion, achieved in 2010 through retail store sales alone, which accounted for 15% of its total sales of $76.3 billion dollars.
In sum, Steve Jobs can easily be called the Midas of the modern age, redefining industries, creating new standards, and moulding people’s minds through the sheer intensity of his attention to detail, focus on quality, and his understanding of the importance of the human experience of technology. He was indeed a messiah of the tech and business world, and an icon that many have tried to emulate, with varying degrees of success. The world sees men like Jobs very rarely, and it remains to be seen whether we will see another legend like him anytime soon.