There are only a few people who could claim they have helped to change the entire world. Steve Jobs would likely not want that kind of a title but the truth is that his leadership of Apple, especially in his time as CEO from 1997 to this week, has influenced not just the tech industry but in communications, entertainment and more. During his time as CEO of Apple he quickly turned the company around from a place that was losing money and seemed old fashioned to one that was massively profitable and is now on the leading edge of developing new technology products.
Of course Jobs helped to found Apple back in 1976 and under his leadership at the time he created some of the most celebrated PCs ever made such as the Apple II and later the Macintosh. Jobs was kicked out of Apple in 1985 and later helped to found NeXT Computing and the Pixar 3D graphics company. While NeXT never really took off Pixar's achievements in CGI animation put Jobs on the map again.
It's easy to create a bullet point list of all the things that have happened at Apple since Jobs returned to lead the company as its CEO in 1997; the revival of the Mac PC platform with the iMac; the launch of the iPod music player line; the introduction of iTunes; the release of the iPhone and most recently the launch of the iPad. Jobs and the team at Apple have stuck to the company's most famous marketing slogan, "Think Different". The result is that other companies have been struggling to catch up to create products in new business areas that Apple basically created all by itself.
The key thing to Apple's success under the leadership of Jobs is seeing the future instead of blindly following obvious trends. Jobs wanted to make a PC that looked cooler and different than the normal Windows-based beige PC box. The result was the iMac; a cool looking all in one PC that could be ordered in one of several different colors. It was a small step but it worked to make Apple cool again.
Later Jobs began to realize that the era of playing music on compact disk players was looking archaic as PC hard drives got bigger and disk drives could be used to rip songs from CDs and played on PCs. The result was the concept that became the iPod; a portable music players that stored tracks on a small hard drive. Suddenly people could have their entire music collection on a small device that can be taken anywhere. The launch of the iTunes music service, where people could download not just full albums but individual songs, revolutionizes the music industry and opens it up for independent bands and singers would might not have access to national exposure.
The 2007 launch of the iPhone gave Apple yet another new audience and a new business model. While the phone had its flaws (including a fairly expensive price that Apple quickly solved just a few months later) the combination of the touch screen interface, the App Store download service and more was light years ahead of what other phone makers were creating. Even today, as other smartphone makers create products that match or even exceed the iPhone, people still want to get their hands on the next version of the device.
The iPad launch of 2010 was made fun of by some people who called just a "really big iPhone" but Jobs and Apple knew that the iPad was much more than than. The tablet PC device is already taking market share away from notebook makers and, like the iPod and iPhone before it, has also lead to a boatload of imitators that haven't yet been able to come close to the iPad's success (HP certainly found that out the hard way with the demise earlier this month of the TouchPad).
Even with all of these innovative products, Apple still makes Mac desktops and MacBook Pro notebooks for the faithful. Not all of these concepts have worked (the iMac G4, which looked like a lamp with a monitor on top, wasn't a huge hit and Apple TV is still considered a "hobby" project) but the Mac is still embraced by a core user group who wouldn't dare use a Windows PC.
The result of all this success is that Apple is now one of the biggest publicly traded companies in the world. When Jobs came in as CEO again in 1997 it was bleeding money; now Apple has a war chest of tens of billions of dollars.
Could Jobs have done some things differently while leading Apple? Sure. Apple has been criticized in the past for not embracing the video game industry like Microsoft did, first with Windows PC games and later with its Xbox console division. More recently Apple has been slammed for not allowing its iPhone and iPad devices to run Flash applications. But that's Apple's way of doing things under Jobs. It doesn't like to follow; it likes to lead and watch everyone else follow.
Jobs' health problems have been known for years but his sudden decision to resign as CEO of Apple on Wednesday was still a surprise and one which has made many worry that Jobs' health issues might be getting worse instead of better. We certainly wish Jobs and his family all the best as he enters into a new era in his life. In the short term, Apple should do fine in the near term under its new CEO Tim Cook. People will still want to purchase the iPhone 5 when it comes out later this year and the iPad 3 should also be a big hit when it comes out in early 2012.
The big question for Apple in the long term is if it can continue to innovate and predict what the consumer will embrace under its new leadership. While Cook is almost certainly an able business person, it remains to be seen if he will have the vision that Jobs had for the company in the past 14 years. Cook certainly has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, business shoes in the world that he has to fill.
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