Jobs’ Passing Is a ‘Cultural Milestone’

October 6th, 2011 - 61 Comments

John Jordan, clinical associate professor of supply chain and information systems, reflects on the accomplishments of Steve Jobs:

The passing of Steve Jobs is a cultural milestone; his greatness is unquestioned. He was responsible for five seismic changes in the computing landscape: the original Macintosh, Pixar studios (home of “Toy Story”), the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. For all the justified talk of Jobs being a visionary, however, his name is on 313 different Apple patents, demonstrating an attention to detail rare in a chief executive.

Why are people bringing personal notes and tributes to Apple stores?  With Steve Wozniak, whom he treated shabbily, Jobs helped invent the personal computer. But it is only in the past decade that the computer has become truly personal, part of our daily life: iPods are in our ears, iPhones in our pockets, and iPads get read in bed. This intimacy, the quality of computing that stops being called computing, results from Jobs’ attention to design. He studied calligraphy as a teenager, and his love of typography helped defined the graphical user interface. The iPod has no screws or fasteners visible, and Apple’s signature white plastic cases are actually clear, with white backing. Even something as non-essential as the magnetic case for the iPad 2 is incredibly clever. The net result of such fastidiousness is tools that become fun to use, not alien forces to be wrestled into submission.

But such triumphs were not inevitable. Perhaps the most salient point of Jobs’ career is that his greatest moments emerged from personal failure. After the original Mac failed to sell in large numbers, Jobs was forced out of the company he co-founded. Apple drifted for more than a decade, and when he returned, Jobs’ first move was to tighten relations with Microsoft, disappointing the us-against-them crowd and, incidentally, obtaining a desperately needed cash infusion. The turnaround that followed was among the greatest success stories in the history of American business.

In part, technology had advanced to the point where Jobs’ vision could be executed: processors got fast and cool enough for slim designs. Flat-panel displays replaced bulky CRT monitors. Miniaturization of components, increased storage density, and ubiquitous wi-fi made the hand-held computer known as the iPhone possible. But Apple was never only about the technology, it was about human imagination and aspiration. When Jobs talked about “insanely great,” he referred both to the hardware and to the people at the company responsible for it.  He will be remembered as an icon alongside Henry Ford, a man largely responsible for the dawn of an era.

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61 Responses to “Jobs’ Passing Is a ‘Cultural Milestone’”

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