RIP Steve Jobs. RIP Apple?

RIP Steve Jobs

Some people in life influence us beyond their usual remit. All of us have one teacher from school, for example, who impacted our life positively and perhaps inspired our dreams, ambitions and even careers. Whether you are an Apple fan, somebody who admired Steve or feel like you have no connection to either at all, let me assure you – your life has been positively impacted by Steve Jobs. Can any individual truly say that Steve Jobs has not changed his or her life? I would challenge any individual who believes otherwise.

History of Steve Jobs.

Steve started Apple at the age of 21 and grew the company with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne selling assembled computers. Steve demonstrated his ability to convince influential figures to join him, the story goes that he convinced John Sculley, then President of PepsiCo, by asking him “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”. The appointment ultimately turned against him when Sculley later fired Steve in 1985 for his erratic behavior. Steve picked himself up by founding a new company NeXT Computer which focused on building a highly advanced workstation with the trade off of the workstation being expensive to build and buy.

When Steve was at NeXT

Steve focused his work at NeXT and Pixar without significant involvement in Apple again until 1996. Between 1986 and 1998 Apple suffered significantly to the point where in 1996 Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Steve’s involvement in Apple was rekindled around 1996 and two years later the company had turned around and with the launch of the new iMac range returned to profitability.

Without Steve on board Apple clearly suffered and following his return to Apple can it’s rise be seen as just a coincidence? Without Steve, Apple is a ship without a captain.

Steve’s Impact.

Steve’s impact cannot be underestimated. Many visionaries look at the world and ask ‘how can I solve a problem?’. In fact for a lot of investors this question is the sole criteria – if a novel idea doesn’t solve a problem then they conclude there is no market for it. Steve, however, went above and beyond this. Instead of asking the usual question, Steve’s expert talent was his ability to answer the question ‘How can I make this the best?’. Take the iPod as an example. Sony had phenomenal success in the 80s and 90s with their personal music player series Walkman. The industry subsequently faded until the invention of MP3 which revolutionized the form in which music could be stored. Steve didn’t just look to remake the Walkman legacy he masterminded a wider renaissance starting with the iTunes software at the desktop level and culminating with turning the way we buy music on its head through the iTunes store. Apple rebuilt their empire around taking what already existed – in this case: portable music, digital MP3 files, desktop music software and high-street shopping – and then reforged this industry into not just something better – but the best that it could be. Steve’s spirit as a perfectionist helped lead this revolution.

Faceless Apple

For the next generation youth, Apple along with other companies founded in the golden era, e.g. Cisco, Microsoft etc. will be faceless corporations that ‘just exist’. The magic that has surrounded Apple and Microsoft is quickly fading and clearly the death of Steve Jobs is a big catalyst to that effect. Just like IBM was a big company ‘which made computers’ when I was growing up, Apple is now a big company which makes computers. Indeed many of us saw at the recent iPhone 4S keynote delivered by Tim Cook, which left us craving the energy and black turtle neck sweater of jobs. Like the iPhone 4S itself, the underperforming Tim Cook was a disappointment.

How can Apple hold on to their magic without Steve?

End of an Era

I can now say with some certainty that Steve’s death represents not only the end of an era, but that the impact for Apple will be insurmountable. Whilst it’s possible that some great products will continue to be developed out of Cupertino, when a company loses a visionary of Steve’s influence – it is fair to say the death knell has sounded. One only needs to look back at what happened with Steve absent for the 10 year period at NeXT to see how this will influence Apple . Indeed many journalists and industry experts already believed that Steve stepping down as CEO recently would cause collapse within Apple.

The added difficulty that Apple now faces is this: their recent product launches Lion and the iPhone 4S have been underwhelming. In fact the launch of the iPhone 4S was such a let down within the industry that it had a direct and significant impact on Wall Street, the share price of Apple dropped 4.71% at the keynote announcement. Yesterday the iPhone 4S had not even become a trending topic on Twitter, yet now there are 5 items in 10 relating to Steve, a clear sign that Apple was Steve and Steve was Apple.

Can Apple pull off these same tricks without him?

Apple Moving Forward

For me it’s difficult to see how Apple can respond to this shock and continue Steve’s legacy. As much as I’d love for it to be true, the evidence is stacked against them. The additional problem that now faces Apple is that they are right in the spotlight. Everybody from inside the industry and out are looking at Apple for their next show but the protagonist of their story is no longer here (may Steve RIP). Don’t get me wrong I love Apple products, and have owned them since the mid 80s when they were extremely unfashionable, but how does Apple recover from this? Will Apple ever be a truly great contender again?

I’d love to think so. But I doubt it.

Steve, you brought so much joy to many people across the world. We thank you.
Matthew Slight
@mattslight
www.matthewslight.com