The front page of the Apple website on 6 October 2011.
(Click image to go to Apple.com)
Arguably no one has had a greater impact upon the way we use computers and other ‘smart’ devices than Steve Jobs who died yesterday in his home in Silicon Valley, California. Apple Computer Inc (now Apple Inc) – which Jobs incorporated with Steve Wozniak on January 3 1977 – was one of the first two companies to successfully launch a ‘plug and play’ low cost desktop computer, the Apple II. (The other was Commodore Business Machines with the Commodore PET.)
Apple, after launching the Apple Mac in 1984, became the first company to successfully exploit a computer whose screen resembled a desktop – a graphical user interface. The GUI had been developed at Xerox Parc, but Xerox’s own attempt to market a computer with a such an interface (the Xerox Star) was an expensive flop and Apple’s first attempt with the Apple Lisa was to fare little better.
In 1985, Jobs was removed from his position as head of Apple’s Macintosh division by John Scully, whom Jobs had himself recruited to the post of Apple CEO. Jobs resigned from Apple, sold all but one share of the company he had founded, and went on to form NeXT Computer. His hands-on approach to the design of the Next Cube was typical of Jobs’s strong focus on the aesthetic, but also meant that the first NeXT workstation was not to reach the market until 1990. NeXT computers were a technologist’s dream, but for its first 8 years NeXT was a business failure. The first WWW server was a NeXT Cube and the first Web browser was written on a NeXT computer.
By 1993, NeXT had only sold 50,000 machines and the company switched its efforts to developing and marketing the NeXTSTEP operating system, a strategy which enabled the company to become profitable. In 1996, Apple – which had been haemorrhaging cash – bought NeXT for $429 million, acquiring Jobs in the process. Jobs became CEO of Apple refocussed the company on developing the Macintosh which he reinforced with a much improved operating system, OS X 10.1, based on NeXTSTEP.
During Jobs’s long exile from Apple he became CEO of Pixar which he had bought (as The Graphics Group) from Lucasfilm. He intended that the company operate as a high-end graphics workstation developer. After years of unprofitability, Pixar contracted with Disney to produce a number of computer-animated feature films, which Disney would co-finance and distribute. The first film produced by the partnership, Toy Story, brought fame and financial success to the company when it was released in 1995.
Over the next 15 years more box-office hits followed: A Bug’s Life (1998); Toy Story 2 (1999); Monsters, Inc. (2001); Finding Nemo (2003); The Incredibles (2004); Cars (2006); Ratatouille (2007); WALL-E (2008); Up (2009); and Toy Story 3. In 2006, Disney agreed to purchase Pixar in a stock swap and Jobs became The Walt Disney Company’s largest single shareholder with some 7% of the company’s stock.
Since returning to Apple, Jobs has headed the company as it launched one hit consumer product after another: the iPod portable media player (2001) – cumulative sales by 2008 – 220 million; the iPhone (2007) ‘smart phone’ – 130 million sold to date; and the iPad tablet computer (2010) – 30 million sold to date. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all run iOS, a mobile version of the Mac operating system. In August 2011, Jobs stepped downs chief executive of Apple. He had been battling an unusual form of pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant in 2009.
Behind The Water Tower is focussed on railways, not information technology. However the fact that day after day we can post stories with no interruption from hardware malfunctions, operating system crashes or virus attacks is in no small way due to the absolutely rock solid Apple Mac and Apple iPhone technology platforms which we employ and which are Steve Job’s enduring legacy.