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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Here is the memory that came up when I heard Steve Jobs was dead, the image that’s probably stuck in my mind, the cover to the mental photo album that will inevitably be retrieved whenever someone talks about him.

It’s January 2010. He’s sitting in a chair, black leather, comfy, Le Corbusier. He’s got this lonely Eero Saarinen table next to him – a mutant white tulip that failed to bloom properly –  but he’s ignoring it. He’s got his dumb, eternal mock turtleneck and blue jeans flooded a few inches above his running shoes, and his left ankle is dangling in an ungainly fashion over his right knee.

He’s talking to you. But he’s not looking at you. His gaze – normally directed to some abstract space in the auditorium that he senses but that you can’t see – is given to the gadget in his lap. The gadget’s screen is projected into a larger screen on the back of stage, maybe 11 times as tall as Steve Jobs. Look at him: He’s like someone petting a beloved cat in his lap, only his pet is the iPad, and all his coddling is to show us what he thinks the future of computing is.

And the 18 or so months that have passed since the iPad launched have proven him right. The iPad still controls 80 percent of the North American tablet market, and is steadily eating away at the PC market – of which Apple has long been a fringe company commanding at best a 5 percent market share.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Yes, fringe. But one of Steve Jobs’ legacies is exploring the power of the fringe. In any given year of the past decade, Dell and HP may have sold more PC units running Microsoft Windows than Apple did, but neither company has sold them at the profit margin of Macbooks. The bottom-line financials are the same with iPhones vs. Android phones, and iPads vs. other tablets (including the Kindle Fire, which Amazon is selling at a loss).

The iPad was the culmination of one man’s lifelong vision of what dealing with a computer should be. Let’s face it: Computers, as designed by humans, may offer many conveniences but from an intuitive and emotional perspective, they are largely a pain in the ass for humans to use. There was a huge market opportunity for someone to alleviate that pain. And if the legacy of Bill Gates was to make that pain ubiquitous, the thing we will remember Steve Jobs for is that he showed us that a computer doesn’t have to be so painful.

Many words will be spilled about Steve Jobs in the coming days, but I suspect not enough will be said about his fundamental accomplishments. For example, as much as Jobs cared about what we wanted, he never listened to what we said we wanted. Apple famously shunned focus groups for its engineers’ instincts – but more importantly, at its best, Apple let us decide.

The fonts on the first Macintoshes were frivolous indulgences. Now they are part of the language of web design. The desktop and its cartoon icons felt at first like a hackneyed cliché. Now they’re a foundation of our digital realities. In part tribute, part robbery, Microsoft copied these innovations, not knowing it was disseminating Apple’s vision into a future where Apple would thrive.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

That future can be measured in ways that, if not gratifying to hardcore Apple fanboys, would make Wall Street analysts – and CEOs around the world – take note. Apple’s stock trades at $378 a share, which means little until you consider its market cap is $350 billion against Microsoft’s $216 billion. Its fiscal revenue of $109 billion will dwarf Microsoft’s revenue in its last fiscal year. It’s taken more than three decades, but Apple has finally beaten Microsoft, by any meaningful measurement.

And Apple did it because Jobs beat Gates at the long-term game. Bill Gates’ legacy will be the Gates Foundation – an admirable organisation with long-term goals built on Microsoft’s profits in the 80s and 90s. Windows will be a footnote in Gates’ legacy, he’ll always be about how he spent the money he made. But technology, and what it could do, will be Jobs’ legacy. Jobs will be remembered less for his cash than his innovations. And I suspect that’s how he’d want it.

I don’t want to undermine what Gates has done in the past few years. He’s applied his considerable wealth to many of the world’s problems. But here’s the thing: You can change the world by donating money, or you can change it by re-engineering how it works. Gates did the former, and Jobs did the latter. Both are good, but I know which route most geeks would choose.

Steve Jobs didn’t just change how we interact with personal computers, he defined it. He bridged the gap between what personal computers are and what personal computers could be. Jobs was always like Ash in Army of Darkness, trying to usher a medieval age into modernity before its time. So the first Macintosh prefigured the Macbook Pro, and the Newton heralded the iPad – in only anyone would listen.

In the process, he redefined coding, he redefined computing, he redefined design.

Yeah, there will be many paeans written to Steve Jobs. Then there will be the inevitable reports of how he abused co-workers verbally and how he was hard to work for.

But he also gave me the first computer I ever loved, and several that followed. You may smile at that admission, but I doubt anybody in business today would have minded trading places with him.

Kevin Kelleher is a Reuters columnist.

37 Responses to “Jobs gave us computers without pain”

  1. Shafayet Chowdhury

    Eve’s apple only created this world. Steve’s apple made it better.

  2. russel

    He was a pioneer of computer technology. He cannot be compared with anyone. He did his job well (The generation will truly feel his absence.):(

    May his soul rest in peace.

  3. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    A real visionary the likeness of whom we might not see soon.

    He has touched millions; his premature passing away is painful for all.

    Hope there is someone who carries on his ‘vision’ and innovation.

    Good bye, GENIUS!

  4. Azizur Rahman

    I don’t disagree that he was a genius. But, he was more of a marketing genius than a tech genius. He understood how to create demand and market products.

    Personal PCs, MP3 players or thin form factor (Notepad) PCs were there before he came out with different Macs and Pads. I am of the opinion that his latest marketing gimmicks with i* stuff are just like ‘drugs’ to young generation.

    Only time will tell how much damage we have done to our auditory faculty from listening to loud music through our iPods. iPad and ipods contribute very little to the development of our mental faculty and I wonder how much they make one productive. Possession of these products is more like the ‘in thing’ for lots of people who seek recognition and belonging to the cult and group. That’s just my opinion and I am sure I am in the minority.

    Also think how manufacture of these products contribute to imbalance in trade, promotion of substandard work conditions in Asian countries.

  5. Shamsur Rahman

    It is very sad news that Steve Jobs has died. He was a true visionary who achieved greatness and fame.

  6. Sabbir Karim

    Steve was a pioneer who demonstrated how passion and principals can motivate a single human to lead a worldwide transformation. A true inspiration to our generation and future generations.

    May he rest in peace and may God bless his soul.

  7. csa

    Steve Jobs was, without a doubt a genius of the highest degree. Apple products have brought joy to many people, and helped to break down boundaries through the social networking sphere. He was one of the most brilliant men alive, and the world is a little darker without him.

  8. kamal

    This is about a visionary, a man who changed tech as we know – like it or not his products work extremely well.

  9. Arunabh

    And all the world’s computers shed a tear.

    Rest in peace Jobs!

  10. Mustafiz

    Are you not forgetting the music industry via iPod and iTunes, Pixar that redefined animation movies, publishing business through iPad and finally how we interact in mainstream and social media through iPhone? So kindly rephrase your statement. It’s more than just computers, Steve Jobs has defined how and the manner we interact with the world. If you are still unsure then please watch SIRI on YouTube which indicates things to come that will influence the way we live our days.

    This comment was uploaded through iPhone.

  11. elma

    Steve Jobs provided both the tools and the platform for creativity and creative people of his century. I bow to his wisdom.

  12. dina khan

    Steve Jobs defined and then redefined the world in which he lived. His legacy deserves respect and celebration.

  13. chowdhury shabab ahmed

    Men come and go and that is the cycle of Life but the difference with Steve Jobs’ death is, he will not be missed because he has left his technology legend for Man to use.

  14. Shoumya C

    Steve Jobs was an innovative and creative individual who introduced us to a new world of technology and communications allowing users of all ages to easily maneuver various software programs via the Mac, while his iPod opened up music, the internet, videos, etc. to both young and old alike. He will be greatly missed.

  15. Sonia Sharmin

    What a huge loss. Since my first Apple Mac in 1989 to the present day no one else has provided such essential and joyful technology that has supported me and countless millions in their daily work and play.

  16. Hassan

    This is very sad news! Steve will be missed by many! His innovation and technologies had broken the barriers to entry in software industry, especially by encouraging small and innovative software developers to upload their software in iPod and iPad! May God rest his soul in eternal peace!

  17. Sabrina

    3 Apples changed the world. The 1st one seduced Adam and Eve, the 2nd fell on the head of Sir Issac Newton and the 3rd was offered to the world in the form of a half bitten one by Steve Jobs and has changed the way we listen to music, work, etc. Also showed that technology can be beautiful and not look like lego. He was a true pioneer. RIP Steve.

    • Syed Imtiaz Ali

      Most appropriately summed up Apple Story!

      I hope someone as creative and selfless that Steve carry the mantle and continue with the innovative works.

      May he rest in peace in the hereafter.

  18. Alam Khan

    Rarely has one man’s vision changed so many things in our lives. Whether you are a fan of Apple products or not, whatever devices you use, Steve Jobs helped create them. Pushing boundaries and creating products and interfaces that are truly brilliant. Constantly changing the rules of the game, and leaving his contemporaries’ efforts looking distinctly average.

  19. Rana

    Steve was a true visionary who achieved greatness and fame. I would hope that one of Steve Jobs legacies would be that Apple donate or sponsor cancer research.

    RIP Steve Jobs.

  20. Tanvir Siddiqui

    Stunned. Sad. Like millions I feel part of the Apple family.

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