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Apple mastermind Steve Jobs dies at 56
Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, the Silicon Valley pioneer who revolutionised computing, mobile phones and the music industry, has died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.
The iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and the tiny, but ubiquitous, apple – it was him. Steve Jobs, the man who gave the world some of the most popular technology gadgets of the start of the 21st century, passed away on Wednesday aged 56. The co-founder and long-time leader of Apple Inc. had stepped down as the company’s CEO in August after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” Apple’s board of directors said in a statement. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives.”
In an email to all employees, Tim Cook, who took over from Jobs at the head of Apple, said the company had “lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. […] Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
Jobs’s family expressed their sadness in a separate statement: “Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family. In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family.” The family also said a website would be provided for tributes and memories.
Apple’s inspirational leader counted legions of followers, as well as numerous detractors who criticised his obsession with secrecy and control. But all agreed that he had become the most emblematic figure of technological innovation of the past three decades.
The trouble maker
Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco and co-founded Apple with lifelong friend Steven Wozniak in 1976. At the helm of the company Jobs found immense wealth and recognition. In a 2009 issue, US magazine Fortune named him “CEO of the decade”.
But the tributes that poured out from across the globe on the announcement of his passing would have been difficult to imagine in the 1960s. Adopted shortly after birth by the Jobs family, the boy was not a model pupil.
"We set off explosives in teacher's desks. We got kicked out of school a lot," recalled Jobs in an interview with the Smithsonian Institution in 1995.
Never a fan of school, Jobs quickly turned to computers. Not far from his home in Palo Alto, California, he took up his first summer internship at the headquarters of computer giant Hewlett Packard, where he befriended Wozniak.
While completely immersed in the world of computers, Jobs managed to enroll at Reed College, a small, liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. He began attending classes in 1972, but dropped out after one semester. He remained around Reed for a few months and sat in some poetry and calligraphy classes, but his mind and heart were elsewhere: the area in California that would become known to the world as Silicon Valley.
When he left Portland to return to California, Jobs landed a job with the famed video game maker Atari. There he renewed his friendship with Wozniak, and the two began working on a few side projects, including a phone that made free long-distance calls. At this time Jobs travelled to India where the future Apple boss would be drawn to Buddhism.
Like so many other Silicon Valley legends, Jobs and Wozniak built their first computer in a garage. Jobs sold his car and Wozniak his scientific calculator to create their own company – Apple – in 1976. Legend has it that the name was chosen in reference to Jobs’ favorite fruit.
Their first creation, the Apple I, was well received. It was one of the first computers designed for the general public. But it was the wide success of the Apple II, released in 1977, that was behind the inventors’ fortune. By the age of 26, Steve Jobs was already a millionaire. The Apple II became the first mass-produced personal computer to reach global consumers. Five million of them were sold worldwide.
But Jobs’s relationship with Apple turned sour in 1985. Board members considered him too demanding and difficult to work with – an image that stuck with him throughout his career. They decided they could do without the charismatic boss. History would prove them wrong.
With Jobs out, Apple began began a seemingly irreversible decline even as its rival Microsoft rose to prominence. By the time Jobs was called back in 1996, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In the meantime, the man with the black turtleneck had gone from millionaire to billionaire. He used his time away to found the computer company NeXt. And in 1986 he bought an animation studio from Disney and renamed it Pixar. This last acquisition proved especially fruitful. Pixar’s success in children’s movies, like Toy Story (1995), meant huge profits for Jobs. When he returned to the helm of Apple, the company was willing to bend to his infamous temper.
The genius of Steve Jobs was to understand the importance of design before anyone else. When he launched the iPod in 2001, most critics agreed it was not the best digital music player on the market. But it was easily the best-looking. This fundamental difference gave rise to the iPod generation, and became the symbol of the new Apple.
The iPod propelled Jobs to celebrity status, and not just among tech-savvy youths. Apple’s annual technology conferences were transformed into real fanfares and the chief executive’s performances were instant hits. His "one more thing", spoken before the unveiling of the latest Apple innovation, became emblematic.
Rallying behind Jobs, Apple became an unstoppable force. After reinventing the way people listened to music, the company tackled the mobile phone industry with its iPhone. Released in 2007, it was an immediate global phenomenon, selling 6.1 million handsets in just over a year.
This success fused Jobs and Apple into what seemed like a single entity. So much so that, for over four years, the company concealed its boss’s illness for fear of investors’ reactions. In 2004, Steve Jobs told his employees that he had pancreatic cancer, but it was not until January 2009 that Apple publicly acknowledged the problem.
Jobs retired for six months to undergo a successful liver transplant. The incident illustrated how much the market value of the Apple brand depended on Jobs. At the end of 2008, when rumours about his illness were at their peak, Apple’s shares lost half their value in a few months.
The scenario was repeated when Jobs finally stepped down as CEO in August 2011. The trading of Apple stocks had to be halted for a few hours because of its rapid dive.
From the iPod to iPad, Jobs conjured up the future and sold it to the world. He built the best publicly-traded technology company on the market. Tim Cook faces a tremendous challenge in filling the immeasurable void left by his passing.