Steve Jobs dies, leaving Apple without its co-founder and visionary innovator

October 6, 2011

Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs died at age 56 from pancreatic cancer, the company announced Thursday, leaving the technology giant without its visionary. As Patricia Sullivan reported :

Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple Inc., who introduced simple, well-designed computers for people who were more interested in what technology could do than in how it was done, died Wednesday at age 56.

In a brief statement, Apple announced the death but did not say where he died. Mr. Jobs, who suffered from a rare form of pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant in 2009, stepped down as Apple’s chief executive on Aug. 24.

An original thinker who helped create the Macintosh, one of the world’s most influential computers, Mr. Jobs also reinvented the portable music player with the iPod, launched the first successful legal method of selling music online with iTunes and reordered the cellphone market with the iPhone. The introduction of the iPad also jump-started the electronic-tablet market, and it now dominates the field.

Calculating that people would be willing to pay a premium price for products that signaled creativity, Mr. Jobs had a genius for understanding the needs of consumers before they did.

He knew best of all how to market: “Mac or PC?” became one of the defining questions of the late 20th century, and although Apple sold a mere 5 percent of all computers during that era, Mac users became rabid partisans.

Mr. Jobs was the first crossover technology star, turning Silicon Valley renown into Main Street recognition and paving the way for the rise of the nerds, such as Yahoo founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

And by changing the way people interacted with technology, Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates transformed their era in much the same way Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller revolutionized theirs with the mass-produced automobile and the creation of Standard Oil.

The life and accomplishments of Steve Jobs extend beyond his role in turning Pixar and Apple into the iconic companies they are today. They include his innovative and disruptive inventions and leadership philosophy. As Hank Stuever explained :

Remember a few years ago, when your Apple store on any given Saturday afternoon ceased being the clean, technological zendo you once admired — the place you bought your iMac — and instead became a crowded bazaar of idealized wonder and hopeless waits at the Genius Bar?

The movement spread. People built their lives around the objects Steve Jobs gave them: the MacBook, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. What happened with Jobs and Apple over the past decade is one of the rare participatory phenomena of our disconnected and no-longer-common culture. It was as if this generation’s defining event took place in a shopping plaza and then up in the “cloud,” and this time everyone (that is, everyone who could afford Apple products) got to go to Woodstock.

People stopped lining up for concert tickets and started lining up for new phones. This was the future right in front of you. It was sleek, responding to your touch. Imagine explaining an iPad to someone from 1984. They might get it, they might not.

Jobs died Wednesday at age 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer that his wasting form came to wear as familiarly as his preference for outdated jeans and black turtlenecks. When news of his death broke around 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast, a good number of us sought immediate solace (to say nothing of information) from our Apple stuff. The rippling tweets and shares fanned outward.

Swipe, swipe, touch. The nighttime news anchors, fearful of the obsolescence that dogs them at every turn, turned to ­social-media feeds for confirmation of a shared sense of loss; they invited hipster tech writers and thinkers who scorn old-media ways to make themselves available to grieve analytically on the air. (The digital air, that is; in Jobs’s world, we sacrificed the broadcast band to the broadband.) You can easily imagine newspaper assignment desks, similarly afflicted with professional hypochondria, scrambling reporters to Apple stores to gather quotes from the bereaved.

That is what Steve Jobs gave us: the future. A sense of ourselves moving forward into this century, which has proved especially hard to do, with its lack of employment opportunities and its addiction to panic. He gave us a look at the future and all the ambivalence and worry that comes with it. It was the most elegant form of social disruption, and now your kids won’t glance up from their iPhones. They’ll never need to.

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