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How Steve Jobs changed the world

Last updated on: March 8, 2011 08:13 IST

How Steve Jobs changed the world

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Shiv Bakhshi

Shiv Bakhshi looks back at Steve Jobs'  two stints with Apple and how he made the brand a modern day cult.

Whether you like him or not - and there are millions on each side of that divide - you have to admire Steve Jobs for the 'insanely great' products Apple has launched during his current tenure as chief executive of the company which he founded in his family's garage in 1976 and from which he was famously ousted in 1985, at the ripe old age of 30.


Image: Steve Jobs, seen in a January 1997 file photo, rejoined Apple after the computer company purchased his NeXT software firm.
Photographs: Lou Dematteis/Reuters
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The products - the iPod, iPhone, iPad - that Apple has launched since Jobs' return to the helm 12 years later tell only half the story, notwithstanding the fact that these iconic artefacts have routinely disrupted markets and helped usher in a new technological order by redefining industrial design for consumer devices and the software that powers them.

Not to mention, they set a new standard for 'cool'.


Image: Jobs talks during a presentation of Apple's G3 line of Macintoshes and PowerBooks at the Flint Center in Cupertino on Nov 10, 1997.
Photographs: Lou Dematteis/Reuters
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How Steve Jobs changed the world

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If the iPod changed the way we consume music, the iPhone, in raising the bar on user interface and industrial design, almost single-handedly lifted mobile phones out of their utilitarian frame of reference and situated them in a fashion frame of reference - altering the price/utility calculus for high-end mobile devices.

The iPad has fashioned a new market segment that threatens the personal computers.


Image: Jobs stands by iMac computer as he addresses the Apple Expo in Paris on Sept 17, 1998.
Photographs: Mousse Mousse/Reuters
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But, perhaps, the more important part of the story is that Apple under Jobs has changed forever the institutionalised structural relationship that existed between mobile operators and their device vendors, tilting the balance in favour of the latter.

Before the advent of the iPhone, mobile operators in the West - largely, because they subsidise the devices and constitute the dominant market channel - routinely defined the connectivity features that could be built into mobile devices, and device vendors routinely bowed to the pressure.


Image: Jobs poses with Apple's iBook portable computer at the MacWorld computer trade show in New York on July 21, 1999.
Photographs: Peter Morgan/Reuters
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As a result, few, if any, cell phones came equipped with WiFi connectivity. The iPhone changed that.

More importantly, the iPhone reconstituted the historical relationship between mobile operators and their subscribers.

Before it came along, all cellular services in the US, and elsewhere, were activated by mobile operators alone.

The iPhone changed that, too; mobile subscribers could now buy their device at an Apple store and do the service selection and activation at home, via iTunes.


Image: Jobs stands next to the iMAC DV Special Edition in Cupertino on Oct 5, 1999.
Photographs: Reuters
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In wresting away that control from mobile operators, Jobs and Apple helped achieve what regulation could not - erode the power of operators to act as a gating factor for new products and business models.

To borrow Jobs' signature phrase: In legitimising the language of 'touch' and 'multi-touch' and introducing consumers to the greater possibilities of digital media, Jobs changed the way we interact and consume information.


Image: Jobs delivers a keynote address at Macworld Expo in Tokyo on Feb 16, 2000.
Photographs: Eriko Sugita/Reuters
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For the record, touch screen mobile phones predate the iPhone, as do many other features in the iPhone.

Jobs' genius, and Apple's, was in pulling these together and creating an elegant ensemble that performed flawlessly.

The market has handsomely rewarded Jobs and Apple for the trouble, and Apple has earned tremendous economic rent over the past several years as competitors have scrambled to get a handle on the language of touch.


Image: Jobs throws the lightweight Apple iBook notebook computer up in the air on May 1, 2001.
Photographs: Lou Dematteis/Reuters
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Apple reported blowout earnings on the strength of 40 million iPhones and  almost 15 million iPads that it shipped in 2010; with its stock price in the stratosphere, it is now the world's second-largest company by market value after Exxon.

The ambition, and the ability, to affect change has been an enduring element of Jobs' career in technology, dating back to the launch in 1977 of Apple II, the device generally credited with creating the home computer market.


Image: Jobs holds up the MP3 music player at an exibition on October 23, 2001.

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This 'will to change' was, perhaps, best captured in the 1984 Ridley Scott ad introducing the Macintosh.

The ad positioned Macintosh as the instrument of change that would save the world from the conformist, dystopian future dominated by a televised Big Brother that George Orwell had delineated in his Nineteen Eighty-Four.

IBM, aka Big Blue, was the target.


Image: Jobs stands with several Apple flat panel displays on June 28, 2004.
Photographs: Kimberly White/Reuters
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The will to change - 'to put a dent in the universe,' in Jobs' memorable phrase - has served Jobs well, during each of his two stints at Apple, and during his years of exile from Apple when, among other things, he founded NeXT, the company on whose computer Tim Berners Lee created the world's first web page in 1991.

The technology they developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance, Jobs told the audience in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.


Image: Jobs holds up Apple's Mini Mac computer on January 11, 2005.
Photographs: Lou Dematteis/Reuters
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A college dropout, he joked that the commencement address was closest he had come to a college graduation.

Jobs' current run at Apple may indeed be the greatest second act in the history of business.

But it has not been without controversy.

In 2006, Jobs faced allegations that he was involved in back-dating stock-options for himself and his cronies; he was subsequently cleared of the charge.


Image: Jobs at the grand opening of the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York on May 19, 2006.
Photographs: Seth Wenig/Reuters
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Further, Apple has more than once found itself embroiled in controversy over the treatment of workers in foreign, particularly Chinese, factories affiliated to the company as suppliers.

In the most recent controversy, that surfaced late this month, labourers working on iPhone screens at Wintek's plant in China reportedly suffered serious neurological damage owing to the company's use of toxic chemicals.


Image: Jobs introduced the iPod Nano in San Francisco, California on Sep 5, 2007.
Photographs: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
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Apple reportedly holds that such events are tragic aberrations, an unfortunate consequence of contractors deviating from its strict labour standards.

But critics, mostly labour experts, claim that such arms-length supplier arrangements are a known pathology of globalisation, and intended to insulate and shield western brands from culpability.


Image: Jobs shows Apple's ultra thin notebook computer, 'MacBook Air' on Jan 15, 2008.
Photographs: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
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A greater controversy currently engulfing Apple relates to Jobs' deteriorating health.

Jobs, who was diagnosed with a rare strain of pancreatic cancer in 2004, and has had a liver transplant, is seriously ill, as a recently shot video by Radar Online indicates - even though, according to most folks, he seemed to be in better shape at the iPad 2 launch than he did in that infamous video.


Image: Jobs waves at the end of a special event in San Francisco on Sep 9, 2009.
Photographs: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
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Shareholders are  worried about Apple's future.

Many institutional investors have demanded that Apple disclose its succession plan, but the demand was  nixed at the shareholders meeting late February.

But folks persist in their rather morbid questioning, will Apple perform equally competently in a post-Jobs world?

Of course, it will - and probably for a longer stretch than one imagines.

The company has a tested and proven executive team at the top and a loyal, almost cult-like, following   in the market place.


Image: Jobs poses with iPhone 4 on June 7, 2010.
Photographs: Reuters
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And one must not forget that the roadmap for the next 12 to 18 months is undoubtedly already in place, vetted by The Man himself.

But it is the wrong question.

The issue is not whether Apple will continue to be competent after Jobs, but rather if there would ever be anybody at Apple, or indeed the industry, with Jobs' uncanny ability to envision the 'next big thing', his indomitable will to realise that nascent vision, or his messianic zeal that reportedly sought to bend the world to suit the task at hand.


Image: Jobs introduces the iPad 2on March 2, 2011.
Photographs: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters
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Steve Jobs marked his 57th birthday on February 24.

Despite his recent appearance on stage, few doubt his health is deteriorating.

Whatever fate may decree, history will record that the gaunt, frail man in his signature blue jeans and black turtleneck that I met a few times at Apple product launches did succeed in his goal - of putting a dent in the universe.

At least, in the converging universe of telecom, computing and consumer electronics.


The author is the founde and principal analyst of Mobile Perspectives, a US-based research and analysis firm serving the mobile industry.


Image: Jobs applauds at the conclusion of the launch of the iPad 2 on March 2, 2011.
Photographs: Beck Diefenbach/Reuters
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