he departure of Steve Jobs from the position of CEO in August due to ill health puts Apple in something of a quandary. Apple is currently the biggest company in the world by market value so it seems absurd that one person can have such an impact on the business. However, Apple has been inextricably linked with Steve Jobs for most of its existence.
Jobs was one of the cofounders of the company in 1976 and oversaw the spectacularly successful IPO in 1980 which created 300 millionaires in the business. Next he headed up the team that developed the ubiquitous Macintosh which still forms the backbone of Apple’s offering in the PC and laptop sectors. A year later he was ousted by the board following a dispute with the CEO. He set up his own software firm, NeXT. Although Apple enjoyed a brief golden age between 1988 and 1991, by 1997 it was on the verge of bankruptcy following three years of heavy losses. Jobs returned as CEO and effectively saved the company, first by redesigning the Operating System around his own NeXT software to create a credible rival for Windows, then by going in to partnership with Microsoft to create a version of the market leading Microsoft Office that was compatible with the Mac.
The rest is history; the spectacularly successful iPod revolutionised the world of personal stereos, the ubiquitous iPhone made everyone want a smartphone and the iPad turned the tablet computer into the world’s must have accessory. But how much of this is down to the influence of Steve Jobs and how much is down to having good product development teams and simply being in the right place at the right time?
Jobs has delivered some basic but ground breaking ideas. Firstly, he understood the need to combine hardware and media. It was iTunes that made the iPod such a huge success and turned downloading music from an illegal fringe activity to the principle media of the music industry. The App Store was what made the iPhone the definitive smartphone because it allowed users to download numerous software applications cheaply and easily. It has also helped make the iPad the definitive tablet computer. Jobs also recognised that form is just as important as function. Every device Apple makes is sleek, minimalist and stylish – they are the Bang and Olufsen of the computer world. Finally, he realised that the way people use computers is changing; they are no longer just a work tool, they are a multimedia portal, a games console, communications device and much more besides. The iPad is all these things; just don’t try and type up a memo on it.
Most importantly, Jobs has never been afraid to take risks. Before the iPhone Apple had never made any kind of mobile phone; before the iPad they had never made a tablet computer. Every gamble Apple has taken in the past 10 years has paid off – and paid off big! Jobs is known for his single mindedness and his arrogance; it’s my way or the highway is his maxim and he is a tough taskmaster. He doesn’t compromise and he doesn’t learn from others; a good example of this is the way he pushed ahead with his own operating system at a time when over 90% of the PCs in the world ran Windows. Arguably, if he had adopted Windows in 1997 instead of developing a Mac compatible version of Microsoft Office, he would have sold a lot more laptops and desktops. Then again, perhaps he wouldn’t have created the mobile operating system that made the iPad and the iPhone possible.
My feeling is that Apple will become a much safer and more conventional company and the world of IT and media will be all the poorer because of it.
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