Apple marks Steve's passing on its UK website, seen on the iPad, his last great creation
The world today mourned the death of Steve Jobs, the mercurial genius who revolutionised the music, mobile phone and computer industries with products that are a delight to use.
Steve's death was not a total surprise: he resigned as Apple's chief executive in August during his latest period of medical leave. But it was still a shock. Many still expected him to take part in Tuesday's launch of the latest iPhone 4S. Little did we realise his time was almost over.
Steve's story since he returned to Apple 15 years ago is the stuff of legend. Apple was in crisis. Many were writing the company off. But Jobs had a vision. Apple should focus on what it was good at. Only Apple would make Macs - ending the days of getting a cheaper 'cloned' Mac from another company. Great design would win back the fans - and new converts.
In time, Steve's vision reaped unimaginable dividends. The original, colourful iMacs created a stir. The iPod and later the iTunes store transformed the music industry, making Apple the world's biggest music retailer and stealing Sony's position as the master of music on the go. (Walkman RIP.) The iPhone made smartphones mainstream, and put the internet into our pockets. And the iPad proved the tablet computer had a future after ten years of failure by other tech brands, notably Microsoft.
Steve's greatest strength was his ability to see things from the user's point of view. In an industry renowned for making complicated products that need huge instruction manuals, Apple under Steve took a different approach. My experience is typical. Back in 2008, I tried to find my way round London with a BlackBerry and a Sony Ericsson phone. I couldn't work out how to get a map on either device, and was forced to looked up an A to Z map in a shop. Days later, on my first iPhone, I was just one touch away from my location and destination on the map app. In the same way, the iPad got me to the BBC home page in seconds, compared with five minutes on my Windows laptop, as I explained on this blog: Greased lightning: why I love my iPad.
Steve wasn't perfect. (Few people are.) By most accounts, he was very difficult to work for, with his punishing drive for perfection. I'd normally condemn such macho leadership, but I can't dispute the extraordinarily postive legacy Steve has left. And Leander Kahney, in his book Inside Steve's Brain, disputes the legend of Apple staff being 'Steved'. He quotes Jobs' former personal assistant Jim Oliver who says his old boss's outbursts were exaggerated by critics.
Critics say that Apple under Steve simply took advantage of other companies' innovations. They argue that Apple didn't invent the MP3 player, the smartphone or the tablet. True, but this misses the point. Jobs saw how all these things could be so much better - better to look at, to touch and to use. Anyone who endured a pocket PC powered by Windows Mobile circa 2001 or 2006 couldn't fail to see the Steve effect when they used the Apple equivalent in the iPhone and the iPad. Not everything Apple did under Steve was as good: I tried Mobile Me three times, and found it an abomination each time. (As Steve acknowledged when announcing iCloud in June.) But I'll forgive it one big #fail...
The other main accusation is that Apple is a 'walled garden' - with the accusers comparing the company's restrictive approach with the open approach of Google's Android mobile operating system. The accusation is accurate, but misses the point. Apple products generally 'just work'. Apple designs the hardware and operating system and approves the apps. Most users don't care that they can't tweek everything. It reminds me of a clash between the car and tech worlds circa 1998. A PC company was contrasting the revolutionary progress of the tech world compared with the car industry's snail-paced developments. An auto executive pointed out that if his industry was like the PC market, customers would be forced to reinstall the engine after popping a CD in the stereo. In short, most people want things to 'just work'. And that's Steve Job's greatest legacy: things just work. And are a joy to use.
Rest in peace Steve. And thanks for everything.