Steve Jobs | 1955 – 2011 | The eccentric business leader of our times.

By now, almost everyone on the planet has heard of the passing away of, admittedly, the greatest business leader of our times, Steven Paul Jobs.

I woke up to the news this morning and could not believe my eyes. Everybody knew of his pancreatic cancer, the surgeries and treatment he’d been through in the past few years and his numerous medical leaves, but, no one was expecting him to leave this early. I could not help but feel sad about it.

I’m writing this to present my view of the man, the things he did to help the tech industry and the things he did to hurt it. It’s difficult to understand how I disliked the man and his ways but still feel his absence is a great loss to the industry.

But first, a few notable statements of remembrance:

Bill Gates (Microsoft co-founder):

I’m truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs’ death. Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and to everyone Steve has touched through his work.

Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives.

The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.

For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor.

I will miss Steve immensely.

Sergey Brin (Google co-founder):

From the earliest days of Google, whenever Larry and I sought inspiration for vision and leadership, we needed to look no farther than Cupertino. Steve, your passion for excellence is felt by anyone who has ever touched an Apple product (including the macbook I am writing this on right now). And I have witnessed it in person the few times we have met.

On behalf of all of us at Google and more broadly in technology, you will be missed very much. My condolences to family, friends, and colleagues at Apple.

Larry Page (Google co-founder):

I am very, very sad to hear the news about Steve. He was a great man with incredible achievements and amazing brilliance. He always seemed to be able to say in very few words what you actually should have been thinking before you thought it. His focus on the user experience above all else has always been an inspiration to me. He was very kind to reach out to me as I became CEO of Google and spend time offering his advice and knowledge even though he was not at all well. My thoughts and Google’s are with his family and the whole Apple family.

Michael Dell (Dell founder):

Today the world lost a visionary leader, the technology industry lost an iconic legend and I lost a friend and fellow founder. The legacy of Steve Jobs will be remembered for generations to come. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to the Apple team.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook co-founder):

Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world.

I will miss you.

Eric Schmidt (Google CEO):

Steve Jobs is the most successful CEO in the U.S. of the last 25 years. He uniquely combined an artists touch and an engineers vision to build an extraordinary company… one of the greatest American leaders in history.

Choi Gee-sung (Samsung Electronics CEO):

Samsung Electronics is saddened to hear of Chairman Steve Jobs’ passing and would like to extend our deepest condolences.

Chairman Steve Jobs introduced numerous revolutionary changes to the information technology industry and was a great entrepreneur.

His innovative spirit and remarkable accomplishments will forever be remembered by people around the world. We would like to again express our sincerest condolences to Mr. Jobs’ family and his colleagues.

Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) had this to say:


Google’s homepage looked like this in honour of him –

 

 

   Although I always disliked his ways of doing business, his belittling view of the competition, his hypocritical statements, elitist approach to things, I can never deny the marketing genius that he was. Inventor? Not in a million years. The Washington Post compared him to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein. A call too far in my opinion. I’d rather equate him to Thomas Edison. Similar business practices, crediting off of other’s work (actual inventions and innovations) etc. Steve Jobs was no inventor, he was a salesman, the best one in the last 30 years. If anyone deserves credit for the invention of the Mac, it’s Wozniak. Jobs was the man who sold it with great marketing and vision.

In my knowledge, understanding and honest belief, the single most important reason for Apple’s mind-numbing success is their marketing. Jobs had the rare gift of being able to look into people’s minds and tell what would work. Apple was never about invention, first-to-industry or cutting-edge technology, as many would like to believe. Almost everything Apple brought to the market existed prior. But, the big difference was how they presented it. They took existing technology (many a times refusing to credit the creators), polished it to the finest detail, claimed “Eureka” and marketed it like only a genius could.

Apple Computer, as it was originally incorporated in 1977, saw great initial success, but over the years, it started imploding due to divisions within the company. After Steve Jobs was shown the door in 1985, it was headed towards becoming a complete failure. There is a boundless amount of material on the web about Apple’s history, so, I won’t talk about that in all detail here.

PIXAR and NeXT were his ventures in that period and when Apple acquired NeXT in 1996, Jobs returned to Apple. After being named interim CEO (iCEO, that’s where the “i” came from) in 1997, Jobs went about a total restructuring and rethinking of the company. The iPod (actually invented my a man called Kane Kramer) was the first shot in the arm for Apple and the stepping stone to it’s colossal success that we see today. At a time when piracy (read Napster) was killing the music business, Jobs made deals with several record companies to have their music sold in digital format on the iTunes store. Thus the iPod. With the resounding sales success of the iPod and a recovering Mac, Jobs had put Apple on the path of recovery.

Steve Jobs has been documented on record calling Microsoft “a maker of 3rd grade products” and “the ones who stole the Mac GUI” which is one of the reasons why so many people could not stand the guy. Here was a company that put a personal computer on everyone’s desk and their mother’s, and Jobs was calling it 3rd grade. It was a case of sour grapes after the repeated failures of the Apple Macs. The whole timeline and business history of Apple can be easily found on the internet.

There is a widely known incident from the fifth All Things Digital conference, where he and Bill Gates appeared for the first time for an extended interview, that when veteran journalist Walt Mossberg asked him

“what it was like to be a major Windows developer, since Apple’s iTunes program was by then installed on hundreds of millions of Windows PCs.”

he replied:

“It’s like giving a glass of ice water to someone in Hell.”

Mossberg said:

When Gates later arrived and heard about the comment, he was, naturally, enraged. In a pre-interview meeting, Gates said to Jobs “so I guess I’m the representative from hell.”

These were the kind of remarks and behaviour that led many people to loathe Jobs and dislike Apple. There have been PC vs Mac wars all over the internet for longer than I could care to remember and it created a cult of Apple followers which would later turn mindless, ridiculous, blind and ignorant by the time the iPhone & iPad had become major successes. That is one by-product of Apple marketing and brain-washing which stands in front of today as this worryingly ignorant and hostile bunch of Apple fans. Mind you, I am, by no means, trying to suggest that everyone who owns an Apple product is the same, but sadly,  a large majority of them seem to be that way. Anyway, this is no place or occasion for that kind of talk, so, I’ll not go any further into that.

In 2007, the iPhone was announced. With the ecosystem put in place since the iPod, the iPhone was a pretty impelling choice for users to jump on the new phone. It was intelligently designed, polished and as ever, cleverly marketed. I remember how the launch in the UK was scheduled at 06:02 PM to mark the exclusive rights of O2 over the first iPhone. It had already created enough hype for people to line up outside stores through the night. Pictures of CPW and O2 stores with people waiting outside started popping up on the internet and even the morning newspapers had a few themselves.

There was nothing in the iPhone that did not exist before it, but Apple put in together in a nice case and made it work beautifully with iOS.  The interface and functioning was a clear win. Although it was hugely overpriced and, allegedly, restricted or bottle-necked at retail stores to create an impression of demand, there is no denying that it changed the way people looked at smartphones. At the time, it was, by far, the most polished and accomplished smartphone. We sure had the Symbians and the WinMos (I remember putting my O2 XDA Orbit next to it and feeling blue), but the iPhone was a completely new benchmark. And we have Steve Jobs and his team of engineers and designers to thank for guiding the smartphone industry to better designed devices. Everything the iPhone did was already possible on the smartphones that came before it, but, it was the UI and the ease of use, coupled with brilliant marketing that made the iPhone historical.
(No, I still didn’t buy it. Why? Well, one, it was insanely expensive for a student. Two, even the contract prices were ridiculous for a carrier-locked phone. I got myself a SE P1i later.)

But, soon came the mighty Google and its little green bot to take the candy away from Apple. And followed the familiar remarks from Steve Jobs, belittling Android, calling it similar stuff that he used to call Microsoft and Windows back in the day.

When Blackberry announced the Playbook, Steve spared no time to take a jab at it. RIM’s CEO had  a fitting reply, although the Playbook later failed to sell.

It was usual for Jobs to take ugly jabs at the competition, but this time Apple were to out-do themselves and go on an all-out war against every major manufacturer that posed a threat to their iPhone and iPad sales. Well, you see, by then, the iPhone and the iPad accounted for over half of Apple’s revenues. It was a more important part of Apple’s business than the Macs, iPods or anything else. Hence, lawsuits after lawsuits claiming infringement of ridiculous “design & shape” patents and “look & feel” of the devices ensued and it stands at a very ugly juncture today where a lot of money and time (on all sides) is being wasted paying corporate lawyers rather than being spent in the research labs.

Which brings me to the point, while Jobs and Apple did many things to help the tech industry by pushing it towards better design and refinement of existing technology, they also did some to hurt it.

There are numerous instances of them trampling over small time developers, blocking apps from the App Store and later incorporating the same apps into a future OS update as a feature of their own, suing educational institutions & grocery stores on something as trivial as some vague resemblance to the name “Apple” or an actual apple logo that looked nothing like their own. They sued the city of New York no less for using the term “Big Apple”!

There are literally dozens of such cases of Apple debauchery.

The latest example is the newly announced Siri in the iPhone 4S (sorry, had to say it!). Siri was an app built by a 3rd party developer which was available on the App Store. Now, Apple have bought it, baked it into iOS5 (along with the Android-like notification system), but it’s only available on the iPhone 4S. Wait, that’s not all. They removed the app from the App Store too. Draw your own conclusions.

I’d like to end this by saying one thing; Steve Jobs was a visionary, a man of immense leadership abilities, an outstanding businessman with a formula to making hugely successful products. But often, all that was mired by what I outlined above. This is only a drop of the ocean that Steve Jobs’ life was.  There is no doubt that he’s been a source of massive inspiration for business leaders all over the world and he was a man with a vision of the future. His legacy will live on for a long time and I hope, with all honesty, that Apple will continue to make great devices. The only thing that irks me is the way in which they go about their business and use uninformed consumers to their advantage. I hope that changes with time and the good things that Steve contributed to Apple continue to foster and inspire the tech world.

 

Like him or dislike him, the man had a profound effect on this industry.

For that, I respect him and pray for his soul to rest in peace!

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