As a FOSS supporter, I’ve often found myself POd by actions taken by Steve Jobs, especially in recent months as he’s pulled out his patent portfolio and declared war on Android. However, I’ve never viewed his actions through the same lens I’ve used to see the anti-FOSS moves made by the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer or Larry Ellison. Indeed, I’ve always viewed Jobs as something of a kindred spirit and have understood that his commitment to protecting Apple has been brought about because he knows what it’s like to be ripped off by the likes of Microsoft. It’s happened to him in the past and he’ll be damned if he’s going to let it happen to him again. I like Jobs. I admire him. But he still pisses me off sometimes.
I also have a love/hate relationship with Apple, the company he founded and the company he rescued from oblivion with his return to the helm in 1996. Under Jobs guidance, the company has risen to the top of U.S. corporate culture not by bullying but by honest and shrewd marketing and by offering products that represent quality and value. But now Jobs is gone as CEO, and the world wonders if Apple can continue to innovate and grow without his vision.
It’s a fair question. The last time Apple found itself Jobsless, the company nearly sank. Even his detractors will admit that in the high tech computer biz, Jobs is a visionary who seems to intuitively know what will ignite the imagination of the public. It’s not that he invents new things – but he takes existing products and brings them to new heights.
Take the iPod for example. Before it existed, numerous hand held MP3 players could be found in the electronics departments of stores like Target, but they were an “also ran” product, not much more than a novelty. Most of them didn’t sound all that great, they were clumsy to use, and they didn’t store that many tunes. The only thing they had going for them was that they were cheap. Most shoppers looking for a music player took a pass and stayed with portable CD or cassette players, which were the standard of the day.
Jobs changed that by marrying the MP3 player to high quality components producing high fidelity audio and to a hard drive that can store hundreds or thousands of songs. Suddenly the portable MP3 player, the iPod, became the standard for carry-it-with-you-anywhere music, and the previous standard, Sony’s Walkman, was history.
So it went with the iPhone, which redefined the smartphone, and the iPad, which was a new way of looking at the tablet computer that Bill Gates had been unsuccessfully trying to push on the public for over a decade. Nobody but the most rabid Apple fanboys had any inkling of just how completely the iPhone would redefine the mobile experience, and it’s doubtful that even they understood the demand that would be created with the introduction of the iPad.
Now Jobs has stepped down and Apple’s future is uncertain – although not as uncertain as it was when he first returned to the helm after Apple purchased his company NeXT for $429 million back in ’96. Everybody wants to know if Apple will be able to stay ahead of the curve without the Jobsian vision-thing going on, or will the iPhone and iPad begin to stagnate while products from other vendors continue to innovate, eventually leaving Apple lagging the crowd?
The only answers I can give are rife with cliches and uncertainty, like “your guess is as good as mine” or “only time will tell.” What I can say is that while Jobs humbly belittles the notion that Apple will have any trouble navigating the waters without him, he has taken great care to make certain that the company will prosper, grow and continue to innovate when he’s gone. He’s worked closely with his hand-picked successor, chief operating officer Tim Cook, for 13 years – and he will remain on premises as the board chairman and as an “employee” for the foreseeable future, presumably working closely with Mr. Cook as he gains his sea legs.
I can only assume that Jobs has picked this time to resign due to concerns about his health, as it’s always seemed to me that he’s one of those people whose work is his relaxation. If he’s retiring due to his health, I sincerely hope that his health makes a positive rebound. A consumer computer world without Steve Jobs in it, is unimaginable.
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