Only one day after his company made its first iOS product announcement ever without him, Apple’s Steve Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56, from his battle with pancreatic cancer.
While the iPhone 4S, announced Oct. 4, will be the newest in a group of legendary devices that first came out in 2007 and transformed the mobile industry and the very fabric of our lives forever, Jobs’ contribution to technology in the last 35 years is really hard to overstate.
He notoriously started Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, the two groundbreaking the first mass-market personal computer, the Apple II. Most people forget that, since the system eventually lost its leadership position to IBM’s more open platform, the PC, but there’s little doubt that Apple drastically transformed the computing landscape by setting off an arms race in the personal computing space.
Under Jobs’ leadership, the company did it again in 1984 with the launch of the Macintosh. A famous Super Bowl ad introduced the Mac, characterizing the PC as begetting something akin to George Orwell’s dystopian Big Brother future. The Mac ushered in a completely revolutionary concept: a computing machine designed for the first time with an intuitive graphical interface and a mouse. The power of computing was thus extended to everyone, not just those with a head and an inclination for programming languages and clunky text inputs.
Jobs was eventually fired in a power struggle at Apple, but spent the hiatus founding the Pixar animation studio, among other ventures. He returned in 1996, reclaimed the CEO position, and went on to launch a string of beautifully designed desktop and notebook computers. The years that followed firmly ensconced Apple as the “hipster” company of Silicon Valley, offering computers that may cost a bit more but were tailored for creative design and other graphics-intensive tasks – all in a package of knockout industrial design. The iMac was followed by the Macbook Air, two offerings that became more symbolic of the power of computing-as-lifestyle-choice than any Windows-based machine could ever hope to be.
But it was the launch of iTunes and the iPod in 2001 that solidified the company as an icon. iTunes completely remade the face of music for artists, studios, concert promoters and radio, with a digital distribution scheme that was weighted against album sales and towards individual choice. It also successfully commercialized the concept of a mass-market walled garden oriented around a specific OS or device – an idea that would come into full form with the launch of the iPhone