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8 October 2011

In Memoriam: Steve Jobs

Tag(s): In Memoriam, People

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish”

Which apple do you think has changed the world the most? Was it the apple from the tree of knowledge with which Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden? Or was it the Apple of Discord that Paris chose to give to Aphrodite in return for the love of Helen? This alienated Hera and Athena and led to the Trojan War. One of the few Trojan survivors, Aeneas, led a small band to Italy where he founded the people that would eventually become the Romans. Or was it Newton’s Apple that led him to work through the principles of gravity and thus found modern physics? Perhaps some popular music fans would vote for the Beatles’ Apple label and studios.

In the week when the sad news came through of Steve Jobs’ death at the premature age of 56 many people think it was the Apple Corporation that he founded.

Steve Jobs was born in Wisconsin in 1955, but was adopted and grew up in Silicon Valley, California. After dropping out of college he took a job as a technician at Atari – one of the early manufacturers of video games – in order to earn money for a spiritual retreat to India. Returning a Buddhist, he would refer to his experimentation with psychedelic drugs during this time as ‘one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life’.

In 1976, along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, Jobs co-founded Apple. Wayne gave up his 10% stake just a few weeks later, but Wozniak and Jobs went on to make Apple’s first computer which went on sale for $666.66. But it was their development of the Apple II personal computer in 1977 that put the company on the map. Priced at $1,298 the product was upgraded several times and ran until the early nineties. In 1980, Apple Computer became a publically traded company with a market value of $1.2 billion on the very first day of trading.

The Macintosh was created in 1984. It took existing graphical user interface software, controlling the screen based cursor with a mouse, and made it faster, cheaper and a commercial success. Apple introduced the Macintosh in a famous Super Bowl television advert titled 1984. It evoked Orwell’s vision of 1984 but closed it with the line “On January 24th 1984 Apple Computer will introduce Mackintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” While outsold by IBM and then Microsoft/ Intel PCs the Apple Mac was marketed as a form of counter culture and appealed romantically to younger, more creative types.

John Sculley was poached from Pepsi-Cola in 1983 to become Apple’s chief executive. Amid falling sales a power clash between the two men forced Jobs out. In the following years, while Apple struggled to compete with Microsoft, Jobs not only founded a new company called NeXT which would concentrate on software development but also bought The Graphics Group from Lucasfilm for $10 million. Later renamed Pixar, the company signed a contract with Disney to produce a number of computer-animated films such as Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

Disney eventually acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006, making Jobs Disney’s largest single shareholder, with 7% of the company’s stock, and a member of the board of directors.

 In 1996 Apple bought NeXT for $429 million and Jobs returned to Apple as an adviser and was then made chief executive in 1997. One of his first appointments as Chief Designer was British-born Jonathan Ive who designed all the great blockbusters that started to flow from the Apple stable.

During the time he was away, from 1985 to 1997 Apple tried to launch new products but few enjoyed much success. I remember a complicated early Personal Digital Assistant called the Newton which had a limited life. This more or less coincided with my time at Sony from 1988 to 1998 and we did not really have Apple on our radar as a competitor while respecting their Apple Mac heritage. For later generations of Sony executives that was to change.

Apple’s iPod portable music player and iTunes store have revolutionised the way people listen to and buy music. The iPod was launched in 2001 followed by the iPod Nano, iPod Touch and iPod Shuffle. iTunes was also launched in 2001, adding an online music store in 2003,  the first ever legal online music store. In 2008, iTunes became the second biggest music retailer in America, second only to Wal-Mart. To date iTunes has sold over 16 billion songs.

The iPhone arrived in 2007. Its distinctive touchscreen design and ground-breaking technology inspired thousands to queue all night outside Apple stores to get hold of the first model.

In mid-2008 came the App Store, which now has around half a million applications ranging from maps and news to games and social networking. Earlier this year Apple revealed it had sold over 100 million iPhones and it has now overtaken Nokia to become the largest mobile handset seller in the world.

The iPad, Apple’s tablet PC, was launched in April 2010 and, despite costing nearly $700, 3 million devices were sold in less than three months.  By March 2011, when the thinner and faster iPad 2 was launched, it had sold more than 15 million, more than all other tablet PCs combined since the iPad’s release.

Jobs had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2004 and taken medical leave. In August this year Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, remaining on as chairman of the company’s board. Just weeks later, Jobs lost his battle to cancer and died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, California.  President Obama, many other world figures and leading business men have all paid tribute. Apple said the company has lost a ‘visionary and creative genius’ while others have used even more powerful language describing him as a magician, comparing him with Thomas Edison or even Leonardo da Vinci. Apple is now the largest technology company in the world by market value exceeding all the giants, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, Samsung and so on that he took on and beat.

It can be said that he transformed the Personal Computer, Music, Movie and Mobile Telephone businesses. I would not mind betting that if he had lived he would have gone on to transform the Television business as well.

So how was he so successful? He gave many interviews and presentations in which he spoke passionately about the need to love your work, creating great products. He said that he would not want to sell some of the products that other companies sold which he described as junk. He was a hard task master because he set such high standards himself.

But I think it is more than that.

The great Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky used to say “I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” England’s own Gary Lineker used to say something similar saying he would attack space where he thought the football might be rather than attack the ball. Jobs reminds me of Sony’s founder, Akio Morita (see my blog Memories of Akio Morita 11 July 2009). While developing the Walkman Sony staff wanted to put the concept out to research. Akio Morita rejected this and argued that no research could predict what would happen. It was Sony’s task to propose to the market and for the market to decide. A worldwide launch then followed and, with imaginative promotion, the product was a huge success and spawned a new lifestyle. When it is done well, as it was by Morita and Jobs, the consumer, previously unaware of this particular need, sees the new product and says “All my life I’ve wanted one of those!”


The iPod was the successor to the Walkman. But Sony and others had also developed MP3 players that used the latest compression technologies to allow consumers to carry large numbers of tracks on one storage and play back device. While the Walkman could only carry one tape at a time its descendant the Network Walkman could carry thousands. But it was Steve Jobs who really understood the synergy between the hardware, the operating software and the content, thus creating a business model where Apple not only sold its hardware at premium prices but also took a cut of the download price of a piece of music. Similarly when apps are downloaded to use on an iPhone or IPad, Apple take a commission. They even take a commission of the order of 30% from the newspaper publishers who want you to download their daily content to your iPad. This is how it became more valuable than almost every other company on earth.


In 2005 Steve Jobs gave a famous speech to the graduating class of Stanford University. (I referred to it in my blog The Importance of Invention 10th October 2009.) You can find it at 

Steve Jobs’ final message in the speech is “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”  It worked for him.  Maybe it could work for you.

Copyright David C Pearson 2011 All rights reserved

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