Steve Jobs' Legacy at Apple
Low End Mac Staff - 2011.08.26
The news was all over the Internet Thursday evening: Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple Inc., handing the reins to Tim Cook, who has been ably running the company during Jobs' medical leaves. Jobs will stay on as Apple's chairman of the board.
Steve Jobs was one of the two people who invented Apple Computers in the mid-1970s and was forced out in the mid-1980s. Since his return in late 1996, he has reshaped a company that many had written off. The word most frequently used for Apple in that era was "beleaguered" - a far cry from being one of the world's most valuable companies today! With Jobs staying on the board and a seasoned staff in place running things at Apple, we're confident the company will be around for decades to come.
Today we're asking our staff to look back at Jobs' latest tenure at Apple. What single thing would you point to as the highlight of this era? And what would you see as Jobs' biggest mistake in the past 15 years? And what do you see as the biggest challenge facing Apple as Jobs lets go of the reins?
Steve Watkins (The Practical Mac): Steve Jobs' greatest single contribution to Apple (and the world) are the iDevices in general - and the iPhone in particular. Getting these devices in the hands of millions of consumers who would have not otherwise considered buying a Mac exposed Apple's unique brand and experience to an unprecedentedly large audience. And it caused many of those to consider buying a Mac (and the sales figures tell us that more than a few of them did make the switch). Sure, the iMac and Mac OS X made Apple profitable again, but the iDevices ensured its dominance, a word no one would have associated with Apple when the era of Steve II began.
Until a couple of years ago, I thought his biggest mistake was killing the Mac clone business rather than just temporarily discontinuing it, revamping it in a fashion more favorable to Apple, and rolling it back out. I always thought this approach would grow the Mac OS market share quickly. The wild success of the last couple of years has led me to question whether Steve's handling of the clone business was truly a mistake. After all, no one can argue with the success Apple enjoys today. If this is not considered a mistake, then I would have to say my answer to Steve's biggest mistake is "none".
Steve Jobs introduces the iMac in May 1998.
Apple's biggest challenge is replacing Steve's unquestioned marketing genius. Sure, Jonathan Ive designed most of Apple's successful products, but you have to realize that Jony did not just pull the iMac out of hat and place it on Steve's desk. Ive created several mockups (this is true of all his designs, and of most industrial designers); Jobs picked the one that went to market. Ditto for the iPhone and the iPad. This sixth sense of knowing what people want before they want it is what will be hard to replace.
Regardless of how Apple handles the transition, my thoughts and prayers are with Steve and his family. I hope he is able overcome this latest challenge with the same strength and courage with which he has faced down others in the past.
Brian Gray (Fruitful Editing): Pick just one event or product from the past 15 years? What a task! I think the iPod is one of the most important developments from the past decade-plus. Apple certainly didn't invent the MP3 player, but under Steve Jobs' direction, Apple made it simple, cool, and eventually affordable. The original iPod begat iTunes music and movie purchases, and the iPhone and iPod touch, plus numerous other additions to small multipurpose devices, such as video recording.
Apple without Steve Jobs will continue to innovate and change the way we use devices. Without Steve, though, I do wonder who will be there to see a product in development and question whether it needs that extra button - or would a wave of your hand be better?æ
Tim Nash (Taking Back the Market): Soon after the weekend, the invitations to an Apple event will start rolling out, the speculation will start anew, and the stories about Steve and the premature obits will die. Apple under Steve was great on news management, something else that Tim Cook will continue.
Adam Rosen (Adam's Apple): The biggest success has got to be the iDevices and the ecosystem around them. Starting with the oldest: The iMac brought the simplicity of the original Macintosh to the Internet era (and ushered in the iAge). Then the iPod allowed Apple to evolve from a computer company to a consumer electronics company, setting the stage for the iPhone and iPad.
Biggest mistakes? Not many: The puck mouse with that original iMac. An iPod shuffle with no user controls. MobileMe. But hits far outnumber misses.
Apple's biggest challenge now: continuing to evolve and stay innovative without getting greedy or complacent. And Flash on the iPad really wouldn't hurt....
Austin Leeds (Apple Everywhere): As the proud owner of two "new" (to me) iMac G3s (333 MHz Lime and 350 MHz Blueberry), I can clearly see the impact these evolutionary computers made. In many ways, the iMac was the even better sequel to the Macintosh, just as the return of Jobs has been more celebrated than his original stint at Apple ever was. Jobs returned to Apple a little wiser than he left it, and that acquired wisdom, when meshed with his impressive foresight, has produced the finest computers ever made for more than a decade.
It's hard to pick one highlight of Jobs' era, so I'll pick the two most important: The introduction of the iMac in 1998, which ushered in the Jobs era, and the introduction of the iPad, the last new product unveiled during his time as CEO. These two computers may seem vastly different - the iMac has a CRT, the iPad an LCD; the iMac is mostly plastic, the iPad mostly aluminum and glass; the iMac is the epitome of the PC, the iPad marks the end of PC dominance - but they are really identical. They're mile markers along the road of technological advancement, and quite noticeable ones at that. They've made their way into our culture, our everyday lives, and our hearts, and they will not soon be forgotten.
These two computers, along with the original Mac, will be Steve Jobs' legacy - not the slowly fading iPod, not the too-replaceable iPhone, not any of the other computers in the Mac line. These three represent the best of Apple, and they will be in the hands, minds, and hearts of users for years to come.
Apple's round USB mouse.
On a less serious note, I have to disagree with the disparaging comment leveled at the original Apple USB mouse earlier. Personally, I'm starting to like my little hockey puck - it's got a look and feel all its own, especially now that I've cleaned it up and restored it to its former fruity glory. I've never liked the oblong Apple Pro Mouse or Apple Mighty Mouse - there's no tactility to them, nothing that says, "Hey, click me!"
Apple's USB mouse.
Steve Jobs' biggest mistake? Convection cooling. Sure, it's nice to have silent machines, but that obsession with silence doomed the Apple III to a fiery death. I personally don't mind the fans - gives me feedback that I'm not just waiting for a dead machine to magically start up.
The biggest challenge awaiting Apple will be convincing its investors and customers that the current team at Cupertino can keep pressing forward with Jobs' vision, and that they can pass that vision on to the next team. Jobs and Woz started the ball rolling - it's time for a new generation to keep that ball rolling.
Steve Watkins (The Practical Mac): My wife and I both liked the "hockey puck" mouse. Glad to see it has at least one more fan!
Apple ADB Mouse II.
Adam Rosen (Adam's Apple): LOL! Well, Steve and John Ive would be glad to know that some people liked it The puck mouse replaced the oval-shaped, extremely-clickable (and controllable) ADB Mouse II. Nearly every one I came across either got quickly replaced or had a snap-on plastic cover attached to change the shape.
I stand by my wet noodle lashing...
Austin Leeds: The Mouse II was great, no doubt, but it's spiritual successors have none of its charm, unfortunately.
Dan Knight (Mac Musings): I have to agree completely on the ADB Mouse II, probably the most ergonomic mouse Apple ever produced. The original Mac mouse was chunky, and the first ADB Mouse was quite good, but the round USB mouse and subsequent lozenge-shaped ones? No thanks!
Austin Leeds: How about the Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad? I've really enjoyed the trackpads in the new MacBook Pros.
Dan Knight: The Magic Mouse has the same clunky lozenge shape, which I simply do not find comfortable. Then again, I've been using Kensington and Logitech mice for years. I haven't used the Magic Trackpad, so I can't comment on it.
Simon Royal (Mac Spectrum): I loved the Puck mouse.
Leaman Crews (Plays Well with Others): Wow, unbelievable amount of love for the puck mouse around here. I and everyone I know who used the puck mouse hated it. It was nice to look at, a horror to use.
Macally ADB and USB mice.
The first one I had (with a Bondi iMac) didn't even have the little indentation at the top so that you could tell which end was up and weren't "clicking" the bottom of the mouse.
Fortunately, when I got my Blue & White G3, the mouse was the new revision with the indentation. But both mice were replaced shortly thereafter with Macally mice (one USB and ADB) that were shaped like the ADB II mouse, but had two buttons!
Wish I could find those old Macally mice . . . the ADB one was one of the few multibutton ADB mice I ever saw, and was handy for ADB machines that could run OS 8 or higher (you know, with contextual menu support!).
Alan Zisman (Zis Mac): I got a tear-shaped plastic cover for my (tangerine) puck mouse - clipped over the top and gave it a not-round shape. Came in a variety of fruit-flavoured colours.
Allison Payne (The Budget Mac): There's little doubt that Steve Jobs being at the helm of the company was a major factor in both its momentum and fairly cohesive trajectory over the past 15 years. Though the technology hasn't always quite been where it he needed it to be to pull off the most ambitious moves (i.e., MobileMe), the company has weathered both the stumbles and great leaps with energy and finesse.
Unlike nearsighted Wall Street traders and some tech bloggers, I'm not terribly concerned about Apple diverging from the path Steve has set it on for years to come. He may no longer be CEO, but he'll still be advising as long as his health allows. Tim Cook is a close friend and loyal lieutenant who shares his passion and vision, and Jonathan Ive is doing his dream job, having virtually unlimited resources to create works of svelte industrial art. I don't see that changing just because Steve is no longer the nominal head of the company.
The challenges Apple will face over the next 15 years are to continue producing excellent computers and services, not losing sight of its time-tested financial strategy, and maintaining a good public image in the face of various scandals that plague most large manufacturers but are amplified in the media due to Apple's high profile.
Dan Bashur (Apple, Tech, and Gaming):
If I had to pin it down to one single thing that
was the most significant during this last chapter of Apple with Steve
at the helm, it would have to be Apple's decision to change to Intel
processors. A close second would be more in line with Adam's analysis -
the unveiling of the iMac and the iDevices that would follow - but
without Intel running our Macs, where would Apple be today? As much as
I love every one of my PowerPC Macs, and as different as they "think"
compared to Intels, they can only hope to poorly emulate Windows and
can expect to fail running any games and other applications that were
written for x86 machines that required anything more than a bare bones
With Intel, all of that changed.
As much as the decision to switch to Intel made Mac purists cringe, suddenly you had the best of both worlds running an Intel Mac, gaining the ability to run all the software designed for Mac OS X and Windows at full speed with much faster and much more efficient processors! With the PowerPC platform, Virtual PC was about as good as it got, and it left much to be desired. Steve knew that Intel had a bright future with Apple and knew the residual benefits of embracing it. Apple's share of the market and Mac sales growth after introducing Intel processors is a full testament to this decision.
As far as any single mistake I could say that Steve has made as CEO, it would probably be the failure to implement next generation multimedia. Blu-ray (which Steve himself called "a bag of hurt"), 1920 x 1080p full HD displays, WiDi (wireless display interface), and 3D display technology are just a few things that can be done on Wintel machines that Apple has passed on. Recent Sony Vaio laptops can even display content streaming from a PlayStation 3 over Remote Play! Think about how amazing it would be to watch Avatar (among other 3D films) in full 3D/1080p HD from the comfort of your bed without purchasing a new 3DTV? Stereoscopic gaming anyone? Better yet is WiDi 2.0, which came with the fairly recent Intel Sandy Bridge chipsets, that allows you to even stream Blu-ray wirelessly!
Unfortunately, Steve and company have always been content keeping the status quo with the dated SuperDrive while promoting streaming-only HD video solutions (with no Apple provided Blu-ray options). Pushing the cloud is clearly Apple's desire to push iTunes sales (removal of the optical drive in the consumer Mac mini in addition to the existing sans-optical drive MacBook Air while killing the white plastic MacBook with its optical drive is enough evidence for that). People still want a physical copy, and the technology to stream HD content at an acceptable rate is not yet there at the consumer level. Even armed with a 15 Mb downstream connection (that was running near full speed at the time), I had to wait roughly 2 hours before an 8 GB HD film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, fully downloaded on my PS3 this past weekend. Constant buffering is not an acceptable way to watch HD video instantly! Next time will be a trip to a local used game and video store.
When DVD was new, Apple was scrambling to be one of the first to market with a DVD-R drive and DVD playback (certainly a novelty for early PowerBooks). A very large market share focused on consumption and entertainment could have been shifted away from Windows machines had Apple been an early adopter of the newest multimedia technologies. Arguably, iOS devices have begun to fill that void, but once again you will be limited to the cloud and the fixed storage you have available.
Where to next for Apple? Aside from a few minor gripes, Steve has steered the ship quite well. The company has more cash on hand than the US government! Steve pushed for amazing product designs, innovations that have re-imagined the way we compute and consume digital content, along with promoting edgy ad campaigns. The biggest challenge going forward is more than likely an identity crisis without the man in the mock turtleneck doing the presenting. The two biggest strategies for Tim Cook to overcome these concerns would be another overdue design and media blitz.
Apple has stagnated as of late in the Mac department in terms of design, innovation, and panache. The MacBook Air, Mini, and iMac are all highly regarded accomplishments, but the MacBook Pro could definitely use a shot in the arm by adding the technologies mentioned above that Apple has missed out on, making the "Pro" line even more so. The Mac Pro could use the added tech as well, along with a new case design just to stir the pot (it hasn't drastically changed since the introduction of the Power Mac G5 in 2003). In addition, Apple should do a fan poll of the most missed designs Apple has done (since the G3 iMac) and bring back the winner as a limited edition with modern hardware built in (think Pismo with easy expansion and upgrade paths, Cube, Clamshell iBook, iMac G4, MDD G4, etc.). From there, Apple could also introduce another limited edition creative design of its own every year or so to shock the media and public. Limited and awesome design = attractive and collectible, while being very functional!
Finally, the media blitz is absolutely necessary if you want to run
a company like Apple with it's attitude and cutting edge products. If I
were Tim Cook, my very first order of business would be to make a huge
bang with Apple's return to the Macworld convention, where Tim (along
with many other third party vendors) could introduce new products to a
gigantic fanfare reminiscent of the old days that drew elbow-to-elbow
crowds and celebrities not unlike the E3 and Comic Con conventions. E3
has made a resurgence, especially with virtual showrooms and live
coverage over the Web and outlets like the PlayStation
In addition to Macworld, the sleek ad campaigns need to return focused completely on the Mac (something fresh but along the same line as the G3/G4 era ads, "Think Different" campaign, and Mac vs. PC). These ads would be aimed at prospective Mac buyers, rather than iOS devices which already have plenty of coverage. If Tim and Apple play their cards right, it will be a very exciting time for the company to usher in a new era, while expanding market share and bringing back many of the great concepts that kept the company edgy with a modern spin.
Charles Moore (several columns): Not many people can lay claim to their achievements having profoundly changed the world, and among those who could, even fewer have live to witness the full effects of the revolutions they launched. Steve Jobs has done both, not just once but serially, which is what makes him a truly extraordinary phenomenon.
There was the formation of Apple computer with Steve Wozniak and ephemeral partner Ron Wayne. Then the Apple II, the first really user-friendly personal computer. Then the PC landscape-altering Macintosh. Even Job's NeXT Computer, judged a failure by some, was arguably the best PC on the market at the time (also among the most expensive), and it's operating system lives on in Mac OS X and the iOS.
Meanwhile, there was Pixar, which revolutionized film animation, and the rebooting of the Mac brand with the original iMac and the iBook in 1998 and 1999. The iPod, the iTunes Music Store, metal-skinned and later solid metal laptops, the iPhone, the iPad, and the imminent iCloud - and he's lived to see it all come to fruition.
It boggles the mind when you stop to review and think about it. This week I've seen Jobs compared to Michaelangelo and da Vinci. That's a bit extravagant, since Jobs is a conceptual visionary but not really an artist. He's probably more a combination of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who took existing technological ideas, refined them, and made them commercial successes, along with a dollop of P.T. Barnum.
Whatever, we won't see the like of him again soon. That said, I do find the eulogistic tone and theme of much of the commentary on Jobs' resignation this week in poor taste. Jobs is still kicking, and I won't be surprised if he continues to for some considerable time yet. Let's put a hold on the canned obituaries, however benevolently intended.
Dan Knight: Of all the things he's ever done, I think Steve Jobs will be best remembered for creating Apple, a nonconformist computer company in an industry where conformity isn't just the norm, it's almost a requirement. Between 1985, when Jobs left Apple, and 1996, when he returned, the Mac and Apple changed significantly. The Mac went from a single iconic model into such a wide range of models that nobody could keep things straight (sometimes the exact same hardware had three or more model names), and Apple got into printers, monitors, digital cameras, PDAs, network servers, and other areas that diluted its focus.
The second coming of Steve Jobs brought the focus back. Jobs killed off Newton, got out of the printer business, and streamlined the Macintosh line by cutting back to three models: the consumer iMac, the pro Power Mac, and the PowerBook. There were a few variants of each, such as different colors (for the iMac) and different speeds, and the "Mac matrix" was incomplete until the iBook arrived in 1999, but the laser-like focus has remained even as Apple has added new products, such as the MacBook Air, while discontinuing dated ones, including the recently discontinued polycarbonate MacBook.
I'd have to say that the biggest thing Steve Jobs has done for Apple over the past 15 years is help it rediscover its purpose, which has always been to make technology accessible to "the rest of us" - non-geeks. From the external design to the tiniest details of the graphical user interface, Apple puts polish on its products, and it has grown so big that the PC industry is finding it impossible to compete with the MacBook Air and iPad on price, yet Apple also has industry leading profit margins.
Steve Jobs has made a few mistakes. I think he has a thing for Euclidean forms, as seen in the round puck mouse and later lozenge-shaped ones, the NeXT Cube and Power Mac G4 Cube, and the hemisphere base of the G4 iMac. The Cubes (NeXT and Mac) were beautiful, but neither one was a commercial success. On the other hand, the original iMac design looked like something out of The Jetsons and has become iconic, just like the original all-in-one compact Mac.
One overlooked thing that Steve Jobs did was kill the rainbow Apple logo, reducing it to its shape, and using it everywhere so it has become one of the most recognizable brand icons on the planet. While Apple lovers will quickly recognize a Mac or iPhone in a movie or TV show based on their design (and also see that the producers have often hidden the Apple logo), that logo shows up everywhere. Where the original version signified the Apple II as the world's first personal computer with color, the simplified version shows the same laser focus that goes into hardware and software design.
Steve Jobs' legacy is Apple's legacy and vice versa. He has created a company that can not only run with the vision that he has shaped, but will also be able to adapt itself to our ever-changing world. Unlike HP, which has been the world's leading PC brand for years, Apple isn't ever going to have to stop making computers and portable devices to remain profitable. The company is rich in finances, history, legacy, and vision.
Long live Apple! Long live Steve Jobs!
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