The man who played a part in both the birth and the end of the personal computer...
Steven Paul Jobs
(February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)
Born in San Francisco, California on February 24 1955, Steve was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. His biological mother was an unwed graduate student Joanne Simpson and his biological father Abdulfattah John Jandali.
Being born out of wedlock in the puritan times of America’s 1950s, the baby was put up for adoption. His biological mother Joanne had a college education and insisted that the future parents of her son be just as well educated. Unfortunately, the candidates, Paul and Clara Jobs, didn’t meet her expectations: they were a lower-middle class couple that had settled in the Bay Area after the war. Paul was a machinist from the Midwest and had not graduated from high school. In the end, Joanne agreed to have her baby adopted by them, under the firm condition that they later send him to college.
Steve grew up in a place now known as the world center of computer technology: Silicon Valley. As Steve was growing up, he became increasingly curious about the world of electronics that filled his neighbors’ garages. In 1969, he met with a computer whiz kid who shared the same interests - Stephen Wozniak also known as “Woz” and they soon became friends. Steve and Woz later engaged in several pranks together, including putting a huge middle finger on one of the high school’s building.
A few years later, Steve and Woz started their first entrepreneurial venture. In 1972 on US campuses, there was a lot of talk about “phone phreaks”. They were early computer hackers that managed to build “blue boxes” — little devices that fooled AT&T’s long-distance switching equipment, and allowed you to make phone calls for free.
Woz read about them in an article which he showed to Steve. They both tried to build one, and to their surprise, it worked! It was Steve who came up with the idea of selling them; they would go from room to room in Berkeley’s dorms, where Woz was a student, and sell them to interested students. However, this business was illegal and the two of them stopped after they almost got caught by the police.
The following year, Steve finished high school and reached college age. He decided to go to Reed College in Oregon. His parents had promised his biological mother that they would send Steve to college and although they spent almost their entire life’s savings on their son’s higher education; they had to keep their promise to Steve’s biological mother, and paid for the tuition. However, Steve only stayed at Reed for only one semester, after which he dropped out. "After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting".
"It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it” Steve said in his speech to Stanford in 2005 (video below).
He had spent a lot of time learning about Eastern mysticism and adopted strange diets, fasting or eating only fruits: it was his hippie period and decided to travel to India with a friend to seek enlightenment at age 19.
The Birth of Apple
After Steve came back to the Valley, he focused on Woz’s work on a computer board. Woz was attending a group of early personal computer hobbyists called the Homebrew Computer Club, where he got the idea of designing his own computer (which consisted only of a circuit board at the time). Steve Jobs saw that many people were interested in his friend’s brilliant work: he suggested they sell the board to them, and so the Apple Computer was born.
Steve sold his Volkswagen van, and Woz his HP 65 calculator. They thought about what to call the new company, and couldn’t come up with a good name, until one day, Steve said that they would call it Apple if they didn’t find anything better, they didn’t — so Apple Computer was born.
Apple’s first year in business consisted of assembling the boards in Steve’s garage and driving to local computer stores to try and sell them. Meanwhile, Woz worked on a new, much improved computer, the Apple II, which he finished in 1977. Both Woz and Steve knew the Apple II was a breakthrough computer, much more advanced than anything the market had ever seen. So Steve set out to find venture capitalists to fund Apple’s expansion. After a while, he made a deal with Mike Markkula, a former Intel executive who invested $250,000 in their business and assured them their company would enter the Fortune 500 list in less than two years.
Mike Markkula was right. The Apple II soon became the symbol of the personal computing revolution worldwide. It crushed all competition both because of its breakthrough hardware features (including its color graphics) and its very large supply of compatible software. The key to Apple II’s success was actually VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program ever brought to market. Thousands of people bought the Apple II just to use the spreadsheet program. As a result, the company grew at a very fast rate, and went public after just four years of existence, in December 1980. Steve Jobs’ net worth passed the $200 million mark on that day — he was 25.
At this time, Apple’s success was being threatened by IBM who were planning to enter the personal computer market in 1981. Apple had to fight back or they would go out of business in a couple of years’ time. Their Apple III computer had already bombed on the marketplace so they focused all their energy on a project headed by Steve Jobs called “Lisa” named after his ex-girlfriend’s daughter.
The Lisa computer was a breakthrough because it used a graphical user interface instead of a command-line interface. This technology, like many others that would revolutionise computing, and was invented at Xerox PARC — but Apple was the first company to bring it to market.
Steve Jobs was soon thrown off the Lisa project because he was considered too temperamental as a manager. Deeply angered by this he took revenge by taking over a small project called Macintosh, determined to make it a cheaper GUI computer that would cannibalise sales of Lisa. Macintosh was in development since 1979 and its concept was “a computer as easy to use as a toaster.” Steve Jobs recruited brilliant young engineers in his Mac team and invigorated them by insufflating a spirit of entrepreneurship and rebellion, calling them “pirates”, unlike the rest of the company, “the Navy.”
Even though the Mac project was controversial as it threatened both Apple II and Lisa, and because Steve Jobs antagonized it against the rest of the company, it soon became crucial to Apple’s future because Lisa proved yet another market failure.
Steve was supported in his mission by John Sculley, Apple’s CEO, whom he hired in 1983 to help him run the company and groom him into a top executive. In January 1984, he introduced the Macintosh in great fanfare.
Although Mac’s first months were encouraging, sales soon started to plummet. There was growing fear in the company that this third flop in a row would put Apple out of business. Besides, Steve Jobs’ continued to drive everyone nuts, starting with CEO John Sculley. After a failed board coup initiated by Jobs in mid-1985, Sculley announced he and the directors had agreed on a new organization chart for Apple, in which Steve had no managerial duties whatsoever. He was only to remain chairman of the board.
Steve was stunned by this as Apple was his life, and he was kicked out of it. He started looking for new ways to spend his energy. It was actually in that second half of 1985 that he was introduced to a small team of brilliant computer graphics experts that George Lucas was trying to sell. They all shared a common dream of making animated movies with computers. Steve was interested and he eventually bought the company for $10 million in 1986, incorporating it as Pixar.
The NeXT Years
Steve’s main passion was still to make great computers. In September 1985, he announced to the Apple board that he was going to found a new company, called NeXT, and build an advanced computer for higher education and scientific research. He was going to take with him some of the best engineers and salesmen from the Mac team. Apple disapproved and threatened to sue him. It was at that point that Steve left his company for good and sold almost all of his stock in disgust.
NeXT started work on its computer in early 1986, after Apple dropped its lawsuit. Steve aimed at the highest possible standards for his new machine: he wanted the best hardware, built in the world’s most automated factory, and running the most advanced software possible. He decided the computer’s operating system, NeXTSTEP, would be based on UNIX, the most robust and most complex system in the world — but that it would also be as easy to use as a Macintosh, thanks to its own graphical user interface. In addition, it would make software development very easy with its object-oriented programming technology. These ambitious plans put off the release date of the computer — called the NeXT Cube — to October 1988.
However great it was, the NeXT Cube did not sell. It was overpriced and missing useful software. NeXT struggled for years to sell it, expanding its target from just education to businesses, and introducing a cheaper box, the NeXT Station. Yet the number of computers they sold each month remained in the hundreds. The company was bleeding money and all its co-founders left one after the other, as well as its first outside investor, Texan billionaire Ross Perot. By 1993, NeXT had to give up its hardware business and focus only on promoting its advanced software technology. NeXT Software, far from beating Apple, had turned into a niche software development business. Steve was devastated.
In addition, his investment in Pixar also seemed to lead nowhere. The small company had tried to sell advanced graphic workstations to specialized markets since it had been founded, without success. Jobs shut down Pixar’s hardware operations in 1990, decided to focus on developing an advanced 3D language called RenderMan. He kept the animation division, headed by John Lasseter, only because its work on TV commercials was one of the company’s only source of revenues. Hope was brought by a contract with Disney to make a full feature film with computers in 1991. However, by the end of 1993, Burbank canceled the contract. With both his ventures failing, Steve had reached the nadir of his career. He spent most of his days at home with his young son Reed and his wife Laurene, whom he had married in 1991.
Fortunately, as John Lasseter came back to Disney with an improved script for the feature film, called Toy Story, the project got back on track. The movie was to be released for Thanksgiving 1995. As the date approached, Steve Jobs realized what an incredible power the Disney brand was. He decided Pixar would go public the week after the release of Toy Story, cashing in on the media hype surrounding the first computer-generated animation movie of all time. It worked wonders: Toy Story’s box-office success was only surpassed by the Pixar stock’s success on Wall Street. Steve Jobs, who owned 80% of the company, saw his net worth rise to over $1.5 billion — five times the money he had ever made at Apple in the 1980s!
At this time, Apple was in the midst of their worst ever year. After the release of Windows 95, the Mac, which was profitable had failed to evolve for a decade while Steve Jobs was away and started losing market share at an alarming rate. By 1996, the company’s newly appointed CEO, Gil Amelio, was looking for new software to replace the old and bloated Mac OS. He eventually chose Steve’s NeXTSTEP. Apple paid $400 million to acquire NeXT, and Steve was back to the company that had thrown him out a decade earlier. His official title was that of “informal adviser to the CEO”.
However, when Amelio announced Apple’s losses of $700 million for the first quarter of 1997, the board decided it was time to get rid of Gil Amelio. Steve Jobs organized a board coup and was named interim CEO of Apple in July 1997. He immediately started an extensive review of the whole company, cutting the number of projects from hundreds to a dozen. The number of hardware products would be cut down to just four. He also made a shocking announcement at Macworld Boston in August: Apple would be teaming up with its arch-rival Microsoft, in an unprecedented deal that would put an end to interminable patent disputes.
Back to Change the World
Steve Jobs quickly brought confidence back to the Apple community. The company launched a revolutionary marketing campaign around a new slogan: Think Different, spreading the idea that people who used Macs were dreamers who could change the world. As the Apple brand grew stronger, the company launched a couple of new successful products, the Power Mac G3 and the PowerBook. Six months after he had come back, Steve Jobs had led the company to profitability.
Yet Apple’s resurgence really came a little later when Steve introduced a new consumer desktop computer called the iMac, introduced in May 1998. It was Apple’s first innovative product since the original Macintosh in 1984. The iMac’s stunning translucent design blew away the whole personal computer industry, which had failed to produce anything but black or beige boxes for over a decade. The iMac was a hot seller and was essential in bringing back tons of developers back to the Mac platform. Design innovations continued throughout 1998 and 1999 with the colored iMacs and iBook, Apple’s consumer notebook. After three years in charge, Steve Jobs had brought Apple back to greatness. That is why he finally accepted to become full-time CEO of Apple in January 2000 — the first time one man became CEO of two public companies at the same time.
The real reason why Steve Jobs was brought back to Apple had not yet materialized, but then it became clear — it was to bring the NeXT’s software technology to the Mac platform. This eventually happened in early 2001, as Apple released the first version of its breakthrough operating system, Mac OS X. Mac OS X was really NeXTSTEP with a Mac facade. Nevertheless, it turned out an essential asset to Apple as the company developed breakthrough applications for its Macs as part of the digital hub strategy.
The digital hub strategy was unveiled by Steve Jobs at Macworld San Francisco in January 2001. It was a vision for the future of the personal computer. Although many analysts and self-appointed experts were proclaiming PCs would disappear within a couple of years to be replaced by Internet terminals, Apple believed they would evolve into digital centers or hubs for our new digital lifestyles. In other words, the PC would become the centerpiece of our new lives filled with digital cameras and camcorders, MP3 players, smart phones and other digital devices. The digital hub strategy led Apple to develop a suite of applications designed to manage our new lifestyle, the so-called iApps: iMovie (1999), iTunes (2001), iDVD (2001), iPhoto (2002), iCal and iSync (2002), GarageBand (2004) and finally iWeb (2006). The iApps were a strategic move in Apple’s greater plan to gain market share over the PC, as there was simply no equivalent solution on the Windows platform. Other moves included an aggressive ad campaign (Switchers) and the start of Apple’s retail operations in mid-2001.
The greatest momentum for Apple came from an unexpected source: the iPod. The iPod was an integral part of the digital hub strategy. It was started in early 2001, when Steve Jobs realized that he had misplaced his enthusiasm for “desktop video”, i.e. the ability to edit movies on the computer — that was still far from mainstream. What was hot at the turn of the century wasn’t movies but digital music, as exemplified by the success of Napster. He focused on catching up and bought an outside hardware developer to work on Apple’s own MP3 player, which was brought to market in record time, just in time for 2001’s holiday season.
The iPod’s breakthrough features were its beautiful design, its user interface and click wheel, its fast FireWire connectivity and its ability to sync with iTunes seamlessly — which made it a hot seller from the start. For the first time, people were buying Macs just so they could use this little music player the size of a cigarette box. Apple cashed in on that success and went further in the following years, first by making iPod Windows-compatible in 2002, then by opening the iTunes Music Store and developing a Windows version of iTunes in 2003.
As of 2006, after Apple had continually pushed innovation in its music business by introducing iPod mini in 2004, iPod shuffle then iPod nano in 2005, and expanded its Music Store internationally, it had become the undisputed leader of the new digital music era. A significant landmark was passed in 2006 when Apple’s revenues from iPod equaled those made on computers. For the first time in its history, the firm from Cupertino had left its niche markets to become as influential a player in consumer electronics as Microsoft was in the PC space. iPod’s market share was close to 75%!
The iPod played a critical role in setting Pixar’s future. After having released success after success (A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters Inc. (2001) and Finding Nemo (2003)), the animation studio had decided to let go of its distribution deal with Disney, mainly because of increasing tensions between Steve Jobs and Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Steve Jobs openly said he would not make another deal with the Magic Kingdom until Eisner was out. Turns out his opinion was shared by many an executive at Disney — including Walt’s own nephew, Roy Disney, who started a public campaign to oust the company’s CEO. This led to the nomination of Bob Iger as new CEO in March 2005.
Steve Jobs and Bob Iger started working together because Apple decided to sell TV shows on its iTunes store. In October 2005, in front of an audience of stunned journalists, Steve Jobs shook hands (as Apple’s boss) with the new CEO of Disney — implying a renewed cooperation with Pixar in the near future. This eventually led to no less than the merger of both companies, announced in January 2006. Steve Jobs, who still owned half of Pixar’s stock, became Disney’s largest individual shareholder (owning 7% of the company’s stock). As for Pixar executives Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, they were given critical roles in the new studio.
The Apple iPhone and iPad
The year 2006 was a critical one for Apple. Mac sales were finally taking off, and after years of struggle to gain market share, its growth rate was exceeding that of the PC. Several factors accounted for this historic change: the success of iPod of course, and the positive side effect it had on the Apple brand. The move to Intel as well: after years of fighting the so-called Wintel monopoly, Steve had announced in 2005 that the company would start using Intel processors in their Macs form then on. The entire product line was transitioned over in less than a year. Intel Macs were faster and cheaper, but their main advantage was their ability to run Windows — which was a key argument in making Windows users switch, afraid as they were not to find their favorite software on the Mac. Finally, Apple was encountering unexpected success with its chain of retail stores, the fastest growing in the US.
The big impact for apple came in January 2007, when Steve Jobs introduced iPhone at Macworld. iPhone was arguably the ultimate Apple product. Its beautiful hardware ran no less than Apple’s full operating system, OS X. Its multi-touch technology, Web surfing and iPod capabilities, easy-to-use interface, and more, made it a smartphone “light-years ahead of its competition”, as Steve Jobs said. It shook the phone industry to its core, down to the exclusive deal that Apple cut with AT&T for subscription plans. Four years after it was introduced, it is already fair to say that iPhone will go down in history as the first digital convergence device, equivalent to putting a computer, an iPod and a phone in your pocket. It was such an obvious part of Apple’s move outside the PC business that Steve announced at the end of Macworld 2007 that the company’s name would be changed from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc.
Steve Jobs surprised the world many times over with great new Apple products but the biggest announcement of all was undeniably iPad, Apple’s iOS-based tablet, which Steve unveiled on January 27, 2010. At the industry conference D8 in June 2010, Steve Jobs clearly stated that in his opinion, iPad had started the post-PC era, and that PCs would eventually become “like trucks”, a marginal part of a market dominated by portable tablets.
Steve was undeniably an extraordinary visionary by any standards who has left his legacy on personal computers with the Apple II and Macintosh, music with iPod and iTunes, mobile communications with the iPhone, animation with Pixar and his final legacy the iPad. He has changed the lives of millions by making technology that is easy-to-use and exciting, a man who has played a part in both the birth and the end to the personal computer.