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With the passing of Steve Jobs last night, the world’s papers are carrying lengthy obituaries, personal essays by his colleagues, and business stories about Apple’s future now that its founding genius is gone.
What will stand erect like an indestructible monument are the things Steve Jobs created that changed our lives: The Macintosh; the iTunes store that induced people to pay for music and other content; Pixar, which forever changed animation; the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. These were more than technological feats, but Apple products were beautifully designed, as well. For three decades, even as he got older, Steve Jobs and Apple remained “cool.”
Foreign Policy’s David Kenner reminds us of the Jeff Bezos statement that credits Jobs with “reinventing reading,” creating personal devices that “helped spawn an industry of digitized books and magazines.” If you have purchased an e-reader in the past few years, whether it was an iPad or not, you owe that experience to the vision of Steve Jobs. And if you bought an app to read your favorite newspaper on that e-reader? Well, some of us journalists may one day thank Steve Jobs for creating a new viable business model that saved the news industry.
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See also Alan M. Webber’s recent must-read piece in the weekly Monitor on "The Apple Effect." The reason for Apple’s success, Mr. Webber argues, is that Jobs and his colleagues focused more on how people use computers than on what the computer itself is capable of doing. As Webber writes, “The company is built on the proposition that the status quo is the enemy. That big and boring and dull – whether as a description of a company's products and services or as a way of working – are simply bad. Bad for innovation, bad for people, bad for customers, bad for business.”
Now the question on many people’s minds is whether Apple can thrive after its detail-oriented founder has left.
Nick Wingfield nimbly addresses this question in The New York Times, and concludes that Jobs’s successor as head of Apple, Tim Cooks, needs to set a fine balance between following the vision of the company’s founder and adjusting to the ever-changing environment that will come in the years ahead. Mr. Wingfield offers this quote from David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard University.
“He’s got to send a signal to troops that the heart of Apple won’t change. Otherwise he risks losing talent.
“At the same time, Tim can’t be another Steve Jobs,” Mr. Yoffie continued. “At some level, the company will have to evolve. The way it evolves and the types of changes are yet to be understood, probably by Tim himself.”
There is great uncertainty about whether Mr. Cooks has what it takes, and Apple’s share prices tumbled on German stock exchanges today after news of Jobs’s death.
But the Daily Telegraph notes that Cooks is inheriting a company with a strong market presence that has learned to create products with less and less guidance from its visionary founder.
Apple has delivered results in the past by diving into fragmented, stagnating industries – notably music and telephones – and re-imagining them through technological innovation. Many experts say TV and its confusing array of options is ripe for an Apple-like "simple is beautiful" makeover.