Steve Jobs passed away today, and the world lost a true visionary. Steve lived life at full speed and accomplished amazing things. I can’t think of another company that was so influenced by the thinking of one person. His quest, always, was to search for the “insanely great” ideas. Some who think I’m too critical of some of Apple’s offerings need to know that my expressions are driven by sadness when some people at Apple forget to leap way beyond expectations.
I’ve known Steve since before the Apple II. In those days, I was involved with PCC (People’s Computer Company) in Menlo Park, CA, and Steve would come by once in awhile before he and Woz built their company (as I recall he was at HP then). The Homebrew computer club met at the Stanford Linear Accelerator and Woz was giving away the designs for what became the Apple 1. with Jobs’ influence, one of the most impressive ventures in the history of computing grew from those meetings.
Much has been written about the fateful visit to Xerox PARC when Jef Raskin and Steve came to see what we were doing (without permission, by the way). That visit sparked a dream of how computers could be made to be used smoothly by non-experts with the aid of a graphical user interface, mouse, etc. Shortly thereafter Apple went on a hiring spree and got Larry Tesler, Gary Starkweather, and a host of other PARC brainiacs to jump ship and move to this company in Cupertino. While it is fair to say that we at PARC were busily inventing the future, Jobs knew how to stimulate the design of a product that could be marketed to the audience of ordinary people for whom computers had previously been too mysterious. With the launch of the Macintosh at the 1984 Superbowl, the “computer for the rest of us” was announced. This box didn’t even look like a “computer.” It represented a breakthrough in design that, aided by ideas that migrated from Xerox, created a brand new platform for the industry to adopt.
When asked about the small market share Apple had against the IBM clones, Steve said that General Motors sold more cars than BMW, and he is happy being in the BMW business.
Not that there weren’t missteps along the way. The Apple 3, Lisa, Newton, and eMate are a few of the more notable devices that never caught on, although the 1987 launch of the Newton (of which I still have several) set the stage for the mobile revolution of today, decades before we were ready for it.
I had the pleasure of consulting for Steve on several projects over the years, and visited the Apple campus nearly every week. I learned to appreciate his mercurial mind that pushed and pushed and pushed until he got what he wanted.
I will miss him a lot, and I promise to continue looking at Apple’s offerings very closely. Anything that isn’t “insanely great” will be challenged by me. Steve would do it himself, but his spirit is engaged in other tasks.
So long, Steve…