Steve Jobs stepped down as head of Apple last week. An era in technology has ended. Some might say that the dumbest thing Apple did was to force Jobs out in the late 1980’s. I disagree. If Jobs had not spent the next decade in the wilderness, he would not have discovered what made both Apple and himself great.
We all see what Jobs has done after his second coming in the late 1990’s. Jobs was hailed as a savior and a breath of fresh air after the self-important reign of Doctor Gil Amelio. (Gil had a nasty habit of insisting on the doctor part often when it was not appropriate. Micho Kaku is a Ph. D., and everyone already knows he’s smart.) Since then, Apple has had the iMac, the MacBook Air, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and iTunes. What Microsoft was to the 1990’s, Apple was to the 2000’s.
But all that was made possible during Jobs’ exile. During that time, he founded Pixar, which rules the computer animation roost. Pixar practically invented modern animation. He also founded NeXt, a computer company that ran a slicker-than-Macintosh OS based on Free BSD, the original open-source Unix variant that predates Linux by years. It was at Pixar and NeXt that Jobs discovered he was lousy at business. Oh, Jobs is a brilliant businessman. Even rivals hang onto his every word at Apple events. But it’s the consumer where Jobs found his business nirvana. And if you’ve ever seen a NeXt machine, you know they were pretty impressive, light years ahead of Windows 95 and the various Mac systems out in the 90’s. This became OS X, the operating system that runs every Macintosh today.
So Steve Jobs left Apple unsure of how to run a company and returned knowing better than anyone, certainly Bill Gates, or even better than Oracle’s Larry Ellison, how to connect with the consumer. Of course, this has made for some of the most obnoxious devotees of a product line ever. As an Apple shareholder, I’m pleased Jobs has cultivated his own cult. It funds my retirement. As a consumer of computer goods and services, I don’t see the justification in Apple users’ smugness. How do I deal with it?
I crank up my iPod and drown them out.
So what will happen to Apple now that Jobs is stepping away?
Jobs spent the last fourteen years recreating the company in his own image. Those who run the company day to day already know what goes into the Apple experience, what to look for when designing the next device, and how that device or service should look to the end user. Microsoft, whose product line has improved over the years, needs to find someone to similarly carry on after Gates completely steps aside. Steve Ballmer ain’t cutting it.
Eventually, someone will need to reinvent Apple, but that’s not likely to happen in the near future. Instead of resting on their laurels, Apple learned from Jobs how to keep going.