Homage to Steve Jobs - A Pioneer of Function and Form
One of the icons of our age, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. – the world’s most valuable technology company – and of Oscar-winning Pixar Animation Studios, died on October 5, 2011, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. His quest “to put a dent in the Universe” generated a host of pioneering innovations that have transformed the high-tech business, brought new vigor to the entertainment sector and improved countless lives. This article explores the extent of Mr. Jobs’ genius and his impact on our lives.
In a tribute to Mr. Jobs, U.S. President Obama said, “Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world and talented enough to do it.”
Steve Jobs presenting the ultra-thin
laptop MacBook air. (Photo:
istockphoto / David Paul Morris)
A relentless drive to make sophisticated technology easy, simple and fun to use was the hallmark of Steve Jobs’ success. He helped usher in the era of the personal computer (PC), launching his company – and the Apple II computer - from his parents’ garage in the 1970s with his business partner, Steve Wozniak. Within a decade, Apple became a serious player in the high-tech arena. “We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a US$2 billion company with over 4,000 employees,” Mr. Jobs told students at Stanford University in June 2005. The launch of the Macintosh in 1984 continued to break new ground at a time when computing was the realm of a handful of specialists. Its graphical user interface made it easy to use and possible to do what no other computer had ever done before. “The genius of Macintosh is that you don’t have to be a genius to use it,” a company advertisement observed.
Undaunted by his departure from Apple in 1985, a few months later Steve Jobs founded NeXT, a computer platform development company specializing in higher education and business markets. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,” he said.
This proved fortuitous for a number of reasons, not least the fact that Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer at CERN – the first web server on the Internet - to develop the World Wide Web. Apple’s buy-out of NeXT in 1996 brought Steve Jobs back to the company he had co-founded and in which he served as CEO until shortly before his death. This meant that a great deal of NeXT technology subsequently found its way into Apple products, serving as a foundation for the development of the MAC OS X operating system, the Apple Store and the iTunes store.
Before heading back to Apple, Mr. Jobs bought the ailing computer graphics division of Lucasfilm Ltd., later renamed Pixar Animation Studios, that went on to create the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, which he co-produced. A slew of box office hits followed including A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004). The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar in 2006 in a deal worth US$7.4 billion, making Mr. Jobs the largest shareholder in Disney.
On his return to Apple in 1996, Steve Jobs turned the company’s fortunes around by spearheading an era of sleek, simple and clean design. As one commentator put it, he proved that by focusing on human intuition and beauty of form it was possible to create products that would become “objects of desire” across the globe. One of his first moves was to develop the iMac, a commercial hit that underlined the company’s new emphasis on design.
Having a strong empathy for consumers and their wants and needs and continually seeking to improve and perfect Apple’s products in the quest for simplicity and clean design have produced an array of high-tech products that are easy and fun to use. These icons of contemporary culture - the iMac in 1998, followed by the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010 – have each spawned a new series of ever-more refined and sleek devices that are a pleasure to use.
The impact of these innovations which have set new industry standards is far-reaching. In the entertainment sector alone, the landscape has changed beyond recognition. The introduction of the iPod, for example, transformed the way listeners experience music. The availability of user-friendly and affordable software programs (e.g., Logic and Garage Band) made it easier for aspiring musicians to record and produce their music and the launch of iTunes in 2003, effectively legitimized digital music sales making it quick, easy and affordable to download music. Apple was the first online distributer to secure deals with the major record labels. Within 16 days of its launch, iTunes had recorded 2 million downloads and, in early 2010, it recorded its 10 billionth download. Similarly, the iPad, the fastest selling technical device ever, is changing the way people read books and newspapers and surf the web.
A true visionary, Steve Jobs believed that design and technology could improve the world. He recognized that form was as important as function and succeeded in marrying high technology with elegant, sleek design. “Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service,” he said. “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson.
Intuition is a hallmark of Apple’s products – strikingly, they never come with a heavy instruction manual. “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious,” he told a group of designers. For many, he is one of the most influential industrial design figures of the last century.
“Steve Jobs stood out because he recognized that the appearance of an innovative product is an important part of its success,” noted WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “His focus on the design of new objects in establishing market acceptance is one of the principal drivers of his success,” he added.
Steve Jobs’ laser focus and quest for perfection were a driving force in Apple’s product development. The large number of patent and design rights held by him - 317 such rights in the U.S. alone, together with some 30 international applications filed under WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) - is a clear indication that he was at the epicenter of Apple’s product development. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” noted Apple’s Board of Directors.
The creations masterminded by Steve Jobs have generated a digital lifestyle that was inconceivable when he started out in his parents’ garage. He has put the virtual world at our fingertips, made the unbelievable affordable and revolutionized film, music and the way we communicate.
A passion for technology, a single-minded drive to make it appealing to anyone that might otherwise be daunted by its capabilities and a thirst to influence rather than be influenced have earned Steve Jobs “folk hero” status in many quarters. His remarkable self-belief, drive, honesty and vision are an inspiration. He certainly achieved his ambition to “put a dent in the Universe.”