As my way of celebrating the Mac's 25th birthday last week, I postedwhere I referred to Steve Jobs as "Apple's young chairman." Jobs, who personally supervised much of the Mac's development effort, isn't quite so young anymore, but he's just as creative and even more influential.
Jobs' genius is not that he creates cutting-edge technology. Instead, he and others at Apple take advantage of the innovative technology around them by creating products that delight people by their elegance and, in some cases, seeming simplicity.
Apple didn't invent the mouse or the graphical user interface. But it was the first company to put them into an affordable, elegant and easy-to-use computer. Apple's pioneering efforts helped create the demand that Bill Gates took full advantage of by morphing his own operating system from its MS-DOS command-line roots to various versions of Microsoft Windows.
Even though Windows always outsells the Mac, its mass market appeal never translated into the type of user enthusiasm that Apple enjoys. The Mac always seemed to be just a bit more reliable, a little easier to use and a tad sexier. Those "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" commercials get it kind of right. The PC is functional--the Mac is cool. For what it's worth, when I go to industry events, I notice that a pretty high percentage of the tech industry's movers and shakers carry Macs. Based on what I see at conferences and the product placement I see in TV shows and movies, one would think Apple had closer to 90 percent market share instead of the other way around. And by the way, I'm writing this post on a PC running Vista.
Fast-forward to October 23, 2001, when Jobs introduced the iPod. Again, Apple didn't invent the storage, battery, and compression technology that made the device possible nor was it even the first company to market a digital music player. But once again, it did it in such an elegant way that it defined the genre. The same can be said of the iPhone that revolutionized the smart-phone industry and remains the gold standard by which other smart-phones are judged.
But what about Jobs?
It is sadly ironic that Jobs is on medical leave as we look back on Macs first 25 years. And it's not the first time he stepped away. In 1985, the Apple board of directors forced him to leave the company. After his first departure the company started to lose its luster with a decline in creativity and a dearth of interesting products that lasted until Jobs returned in 1997. If he does leave the company again, he'll be an extremely hard act to follow.
While I hope for his speedy recovery and return to Apple's helm, there is certainly a possibility that he might not be able to return. And if he does, there will be a time--perhaps 25 years from now--when Apple will have to carry on without him.
I hope that Steve Jobs gets to enjoy the 26th anniversary in good health from the CEO office at Apple.