Leadership

Steve Jobs: 10 historic achievements

Steve Jobs' resignation as Apple CEO inspired this retrospective of his most significant and innovative contributions.

Regardless of where you stand on Steve Jobs the person, there's no debating that his powerful personality, relentless drive, and ingenious foresight have made a tremendous impact. He presided over massive shifts, resurrecting the Apple Corporation as it revolutionized the technology devices people use and the way they use them. Under his leadership, Apple not only created new markets but also consumed share in those markets. Apple even smoked Microsoft when it comes to market value, steamrolling to a market capitalization of $346 billion versus Microsoft's comparably anemic $205 billion.

Steve Jobs has stepped down at Apple in the midst of one of the worst economic periods in history, and he's left Apple healthier than ever, as one of the most respected global brands and with $76 billion in cash. His contributions to that success are not to be underestimated. Here's a look back at the most significant things Steve Jobs did that fueled Apple's resurgence.

1: Do you want to spend your life selling sugared water?

The complete and epic quotation attributed to Steve Jobs while luring Pepsi-Cola USA president John Sculley to Apple in spring 1983 (according to Sculley's and John Byrne's Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple) is, "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?" That statement, and its sentiment, perfectly sum Jobs' incessant, obsessive, and focused personality.

Jobs was driven not just to build a company, develop products that sold, and gain fame, but to truly change the world. If we're honest, that's the goal of every upwardly mobile employee, but few ever achieve it. What makes the comment legendary is that Jobs wasn't just talking; he dId change the world, by building the Mac and later recovering Apple through the introduction of imaginative and innovative products. And it was Jobs who resuscitated Apple years after Sculley abandoned it in October 1993, after Apple posted an almost 100% drop in quarterly earnings.

Maybe that's really what so motivated Jobs when he returned to the company in 1996. Only Jobs truly knows.

2: The first Apples

Thanks to the technical intelligence and capability provided by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs was able to bring his vision of a mass-market personal computer to reality. The two sold about 175 Apple Is, built in Jobs' garage at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos, according to The Silicon Boys and Their Valley of Dreams.

Those first computers marked a watershed moment. But together, the two Steves lacked their tipping point. It would come, thanks to Jobs' unwavering evangelism for his vision, which won the support and financial backing of A. C. "Mike" Markkula, Jr. With Markkula on board, the company soon found legitimacy, moved into real offices in Cupertino, and got to work on the Apple II, which would sell some five to six million units. The rest is history.

3: The Xerox PARC visit

One of Jobs' greatest gifts is his uncanny ability to not only see the future but also to marry innovation with commercial success. He's done it time and again.

A good example is the story of the Apple team traveling to Xerox's famous PARC research lab in November 1979. Apple was reportedly allowed just two visits to the facility in exchange for permitting Xerox to purchase 5% of the company for $1 million, according to Apple Confidential 2.0.

What Jobs saw -- and was able to commercially deliver where Xerox didn't -- changed the world. Xerox engineers were leveraging a graphical user interface and manipulating an onscreen cursor using a peripheral called a mouse. Jobs was immediately inspired, to the extent that he asked programmer Bill Atkinson how long it would take to "bring what they had just seen" over to new products Apple was currently developing, according to iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business. Those features would prove popular in the Mac, which would become "the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface rather than a command-line interface."

4: 1984

Always performing, Jobs continually thought and worked on an entirely different scale than most. His predisposition and behavior were so extreme that he was alleged to have his own unique reality distortion field. That personality demonstrated itself in what has arguably become the most famous advertisement ever, despite the fact that the Apple board almost didn't approve the spot.

Apple introduced the Mac via a revolutionary Super Bowl ad widely recognized as a classic event. Named 1984, the one-minute television spot, produced by Chiat/Day, consisted of overwhelming Orwellian imagery and featured an energetic, athletic, and colorful heroine rebelling against a monochromatic, listless, and suggestively totalitarian state. On the heroine's jersey appeared a Mac representation, with text closing the ad announcing the debut of the Macintosh personal computer.

5: iPod

The iPod, and its corresponding iTunes content licensing strategy, provides another example of Jobs' ability to achieve commercial success and innovation where others tried and failed. Sony had long beat Apple to the punch, introducing the popular Walkman all the way back in 1979. Others followed, with numerous companies producing compact MP3 players in the 2000s.

But it was Jobs' iPod in 2001, and his insistence on a simplified user interface, that changed the way everyone now buys and listens to music. It wasn't until Apple's iPod and iTunes Store took off that the recording industry began embracing the digital distribution (albeit reluctantly) of its content as a viable business model.

Again, the rest is history. There are now some 18 million digital rights management (DRM)-free songs available in the iTunes Store. Tens of millions of iPods have been sold, and more than 10 billion songs have been downloaded.

6: iPhone

Integration of applications, music, email, calendars, and contacts on a single device that also functions as a cell phone is yet another example of Jobs' identifying a massive market opportunity where Apple didn't previously have an entry. By focusing on reliable use and matching a device to consumers' desire, Jobs again struck pay dirt.

Out of almost nowhere -- Apple had never even remotely approached entering the cell phone handset business -- the company introduced the iPhone in 2007. Since then, it has sold some 100 million units.

Other companies had been making Smartphones. Apple wasn't first. But it found a way to build a better device and the market responded overwhelmingly. There's no arguing with the sales numbers, but if you need more evidence, just look to Research in Motion. RIM previously won over businesses with its Blackberry line. Now RIM is relegated to the sidelines, essentially forced to offer free versions of its clunky server-side supporting platform to lure or retain customers. It's a complicated administrative step, adding unnecessary hardware requirements, application support, and maintenance expenses that aren't necessary when deploying iPhones within enterprise environments.

Apple, meanwhile, marches merrily along. Great expectations, and assuredly long lines, await the next release of the iPhone handset.

7: Mac OS X

With all the hype surrounding the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone, it's easy to forget the foundation for all the growth was laid by Mac OS X, the refinement of the UNIX OS Jobs brought with him when he returned to Apple from NeXT in 1996. In 2002, just a few years after rejoining Apple, Jobs was able to retool Mac computers to leverage the powerful, scalable, and secure UNIX platform.

The OS is renowned for its stability, ease of use, and security. Additional traction was gained in 2006, when the OS began accommodating Intel chips. Still, haters are going to hate. While detractors ridicule Apple's low computer share (forgetting that Apple's share of new laptop sales should prove alarming to other industry executives; some estimates place Apple's share of "premium" PCs costing more than $1,000 above 75%), they forget that Apple's focus changed.

No longer did the company seek to be known as a computer manufacturer. Instead, Jobs provided foresight to steer the company into new waters. Now Apple would become the provider of a wide range of technology devices that assist customers in managing their photos, videos, music, memories, email communications, business data, and more, all on a host of devices. And don't discount the stability Mac OS X has provided on the backend, as consumers gravitate to using Macs because they've become so enamored with their other Apple products.

Was that all part of the plan back in 2002, when Mac OS X was released? Probably not. But Jobs' ability to leverage NeXT's investments to build a better and more popular Mac fueled Apple's rise and provided the financial stability necessary to experiment with the iPod, iTunes, and iPhone initiatives.

8: iPad

Following the resuscitation of the Mac platform, the introduction of the iPod and iTunes Store, and the debut of the ubiquitous iPhone, the iPad proved that Jobs still retained brilliance. Many -- including Microsoft, with partners Viewsonic, HP, Dell, and others -- had taken a run at the tablet market. They failed. By 2010, tablets were dead, eclipsed by the soon-to-be short-lived netbook craze.

And here came Apple, debuting an elegant sub 10-inch touchscreen display in April 2010. With the now-canonical focus on simple, intuitive, reliable interfaces, the device became a runaway hit. Before the year was out, Apple would sell almost 15 million iPads and own 75% of the tablet computer market.

Just how good is the iPad? So good that HP, having just released its TouchPad tablet, announced it is abandoning the product and the market. In fact, the computer manufacturer may exit the personal computer market altogether.

Jobs' long-standing desire to produce powerful, mass-market, commercially successful products that change the world once again came to fruition. And he characteristically knocked the competition in the process, proclaiming there was room for the iPad in the market because, referring to netbooks, "They're just cheap laptops. We think we have something better."

Did he ever. Apple continues to sell millions of the units. Rumors of a third-generation model have media pundits and gadget lovers anxiously awaiting more information.

9: Pixar

Jobs' contributions to storytelling, movies, and the motion picture industry are often overlooked. That's unfortunate. After leaving Apple in the mid '90s, he turned his attention to NeXT, whose computing technology ultimately helped power demanding graphics productions. Jobs demonstrated vision, yet again. He invested some $5 million to purchase George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic Computer Division, which became Pixar. The company, of course, leveraged NeXT computing technology to power video rendering operations.

Jobs became a billionaire after taking Pixar public in 1995. That's more money than he'd previously made building Apple, obviously. Later, following the blockbuster successes of such movies as Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Cars, Jobs sold Pixar to Walt Disney Co., obtaining a board seat in the process. Thus, his impact on modern entertainment can't be dismissed and stands as proof of additional business success within an entirely separate industry.

10: One more thing...

Jobs gained his almost cult following due to his unique blend of personality, drive, vision, and showmanship. This is evident in many of his appearances at Apple developer conferences, product introductions, and special events.

He became known almost as much for his penchant of saying "one more thing" as for his trademark jeans and black turtleneck. Apple fans knew the routine. Jobs would plod through the expected talking points, highlighting units shipped here, reviewing new features there. That was all fine and good. But seasoned attendees knew the show was only getting started when Jobs would pronounce "one more thing."

That's when audiences knew they were in for a moment, a potentially historic moment. That's why invitations to Apple's special events were highly sought after. Everyone wanted to be present for what broke following "one more thing."

When did it start? Supposedly, with the AirPort at the Macworld Expo 1999. Other products that debuted immediately following the famous tagline included G4 PowerBooks, PowerMac G5s, the fifth generation iPod, the MacBook Pro, and the iPod touch. And don't forget the MacBook Air. Famously revealed from within a manila envelope, it was Jobs at his greatest.

Additional reading

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

5 comments
birumut
birumut

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robo_dev
robo_dev

At the time the NeXT project was considered to be a boondoggle, as the cost of their machines were $6,500 each in 1988. People laughed at Steve Jobs for that. But: A NeXT Computer was used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN to develop the world's first web server software, CERN HTTPd, and also used to write the first web browser, WorldWideWeb. This workstation became the world's first web server on the Internet. Then: Apple purchased NeXT on December 20, 1996 for $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock. Steve Jobs got the last laugh on that!

mig25jet
mig25jet

What about a screen so small without color? What about the genius of the hockey-puck mouse? What about the PC that looked like a kettle? What about the price tags that BURN! Apple people are name-dropping elitists. Give me a PC anyday!

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Hey, I'm 60 years old and listening to downgraded music on crap quality earphones appeals to me not at all. The iPad is cool because you can use it as an e-reader except that the Kindle does it far better. iPod and iPad are just bling toys for people with too much money. But that doesn't take away one tiny bit from the huge respect I feel for Steve Jobs. When he and Wozniak made their first Apple, much bigger guys with more money behind them had tried and failed. My Apple II Plus was a wonderful machine, once you'd upgraded the processor, RAM, and software of course. I loved it the way people used to love their Volkswagen Beetles. Then desktop publishing appeared. You had programs like Ventura that ran on the MS-DOS platform. Or you could get a Macintosh and run a commercial publishing house with it. Incredible. Some people say that Steve Jobs saw what the consumer would want before the consumers knew it themselves. I disagree. I say that singlehanded, Steve Jobs created the markets for those products. As for the MacBooks, they are typical of Jobs' drive for perfection. Perhaps we can't blame Bill Gates now for the bloated slug that is Microsoft, and perhaps Bill would also have driven his team to produce software we could love. There's no perhaps when I say that Steve Jobs has produced the ultimate book PC running the ultimate OS. Until a week ago, Steve Jobs was the last man standing in the computer wars. We assume that ill health has forced this colossus to step back. The last one anything like Jobs was Edison, so it looks like we only get one a century. It's going to be a long wait.