Is there anything anyone can really add to the already significant outpouring of grief upon hearing of the passing of Steve Jobs yesterday? Not really. It was all said already when he stepped down as Apple’s CEO, and it has now been captured as well by many of Jobs’ close associates and those he was both friend and enemy to over his many, many years as a visionary.
I use the word visionary carefully. It is a terribly overused platitude and more often than not applied to too many people indiscriminately and inaccurately. And yet, when it comes to Steve Jobs it is the only word that can adequately (perhaps even inadequately) describe the man and the tech legend he already has become. The Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg refers to him as one of the three most important people in high tech—both historically and as someone whose imprint touches everything we now do, especially from a mobile perspective. Can anyone disagree? I know I can’t.
Much of Steve’s history has already been retold a number of times in the last 24 hours, but the story that I believe best describes Steve is one that made the rounds some time ago. Back in 2001 Dean Kaman, the inventor of the Segway, invited a group of tech visionaries to see a prototype of his new toy, Jobs among them.
Yes, many found the technology exciting, but Jobs was supposedly quiet at first, and then could no longer restrain himself: “I think it sucks!” he said. Why? “Its shape is not innovative, it's not elegant, it doesn't feel anthropomorphic…You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.”
Does anyone doubt he said the same exact thing when the first iteration of an Apple MP3 player and an Apple mobile phone were shown to him? And is there anyone in any segment of high tech that doesn’t owe him a thank you for it?
The iPhone in particular is a special piece of hardware for those of us who have been in the mobile industry for a long time, as I have been. The mobile market was a dull and slow moving industry (though we worked hard to convince ourselves it was exciting) before Jobs put that magical imprint not only on the iPhone and mobile apps but ultimately on the entire mobile industry itself.
Jobs drove mobility, not only in the consumer space but more importantly, in the enterprise space. In retrospect I didn’t give the iPhone much of an enterprise chance—and I was wrong! Mobility in the enterprise was ignited by Jobs; the iPhone changed the game and for that I’m truly grateful.
Thank you Steve, for being an impossible act to follow.
Truly, a visionary—truly the real deal.