Few industries have leaders that people love to both despise and worship at the same time. Those industries that do have such people do not have anyone close to what the computer industry had, but now does not. The computer industry has had the fortune of having not one, but at least three such people but, even then, two of them were not of the caliber of one Steve Jobs. I speak of Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. Of the three, only Ellison remains. Gates abdicated a few years ago and, just this week, Jobs has stepped down.
Steve Jobs IS Apple. Apple IS Steve Jobs. The two are so closely tied that the company stock actually went down a bit when his resignation was made public. The news of his departure rippled through the press fairly quickly and caused a lot of angst among the Apple faithful.
Regardless of whether you like him or not, he, more than anyone else, including Bill Gates, has had more influence on the computer and, now, consumer electronics industries. The introduction, a decade ago, of the iPod, ushered in a renewed interest in both music and personal audio that had been lost with the Sony Walkman.
Indeed, since his return to Apple in 1996, Jobs has spearheaded the domination, by Apple, of several markets that, prior to the Apple entry, were teetering on non-existence, or, at least, were insignificant. The portable music player market was a disaster. The tablet computer was a niche market and a dismal one. Smartphones were all the same and difficult to use. Online purchasing of music, television and movies was disjointed. Apple, one by one, went in and dominated those markets. They did so following the mantra of tightly controlled ecosystems. Forcing users to purchase applications and peripherals with the Apple stamp of approval. This end to end control was something that Apple did not have on its Macintosh product line and it languished for years before it finally got any kind of real market share.
Jobs is one of those rare types that can elicit excitement about pretty much anything. He is so well known for his ‘reality distortion field’ that even Saturday Night Live and the Simpson’s parodied him. Indeed, his legendary ‘Stevenotes’, keynote speeches at various trade shows, where he introduces new products or major (or what should be major) updates to existing product lines. I have found myself , at times, wanting the product he was selling only to realize, once I thought about it, that,no, I didn’t really need that product. He is very influential indeed.
That power of influence is what led to the plethora of online media outlets to purchase music, movies and TV shows. He made many deals with various media companies at a time when such deals were unheard of and, when iTunes got so popular, those same companies went to other brands to keep the iTunes juggernaut in check. Competition is a good thing, even when it is only the impression of competition.
Jobs turned the cell phone world upside down with the introduction of the iPhone. Regardless of how easy it really was, every cell phone maker on the planet had to have an iPhone like device.
The same thing happened with iPad. iPad turned the portable computing market upside down and blew open the tablet market. Almost overnight, the ‘netbook’ market tanked. The tablet market exploded. Problem is, people want an iPad, not an iPad like device. So far, none of the competitors have had any measurable success. The failure of the TouchPad by HP, the Blackberry tablet and the Samsung Galaxy Tab prove that people want the ‘real thing’.
The departure of Steve Jobs from Apple leaves a lot of questions. Questions about Apple’s future loom over the company. Tim Cook, Jobs’ hand picked replacement, says it is business as usual and that Apple would not change. Indeed, the brain trust is still there. Jobs did not actually develop any of the successful products that Apple currently markets. He had a hand in molding those products and was, perhaps, the best spokesperson for those products, but he didn’t actually create them. Apple has many talented people working for it and they will continue to churn out innovative and consumer friendly products for quite some time.
Will Apple continue to garner the ferocious devotion that it currently enjoys? Probably. Will it continue to get the attention of the press? More than likely, for the near future anyway. However, the moment an Apple product falters, and it will, the luster will be gone. It is doubtful that there will be another Jobs to step up and polish over that faltering product, and it won’t matter what the product is, it just needs to give the impression of a failed or failing product. That’s all it will take and people will say that they wish Jobs were back. And, so will Apple.