Friday, Aug. 26, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Steve Jobs’ resignation Wednesday as Apple’s CEO was not a major surprise — he has been battling a rare form of cancer for several years — but it was still a shock.
Like the company he co-founded, Jobs has become an icon in the computer industry. Jobs has become the prototypical Information Age CEO, known for wearing jeans and a T-shirt while making flashy presentations about his company’s latest must-have device.
Jobs, who will stay as the company’s chairman, co-founded Apple in the late 1970s with a few partners and launched into the nascent personal computer industry. It seems like a lifetime ago, but before Apple, a mouse was just a rodent, and it took a fair amount of technical know-how to run a “desktop” computer, which would take up most of the actual desktop.
Jobs and Apple helped changed that, making well-designed computers that were much easier to use. The famed Macintosh computer, released in 1984, was stunning. It revolutionized desktop computers with its color graphics, mouse and facile operating system. Users didn’t need to know how to run a disk operating system or write computer codes that looked like hieroglyphics.
Apple computers were a hit and became a mainstay on college campuses and in many professions because they were visually driven and easy to use. Apple carved out a place for itself in the industry and has paced innovation.
Over the years, other companies have struggled to keep up with Apple’s ideas. For example, Microsoft, the industry leader, was pushed to change its computer operating system, the industry standard, by creating Windows, an operating system that acted like Apple’s.
Jobs has rightly been hailed as a visionary. But Jobs also has his share of critics. He has been blasted for placing tight controls on Apple’s devices and what runs on them. His management style has also been criticized. He has a reputation as a brilliant but mercurial boss. His management style clashed with other leaders, and in 1985, Jobs was forced out of the company before returning a dozen years later.
Once again paced by Jobs, the company has gone on to great heights, particularly in the last decade. Apple has released a wave of “i” devices — the iPod, iPhone and iPad — that have once again changed how people use computers and how they communicate. The iPhone is the hallmark of a generation of pocket-sized devices that allow people to make phone calls, surf the Internet and receive text messages and emails — from just about anywhere in the world. The devices also allow people to run sophisticated apps — including word processing, database and mapping programs — that only a few years ago were confined to desktop and laptop computers.
The question for Apple is if it can keep innovating. Jobs said he is confident in his successor, Tim Cook, who has been filling in for him during his prolonged illness. The company also says it has several projects in development.
There is, however, no doubt that Jobs has been a titan in the industry, and he has made his mark on society. A decade ago, things such as the iPhone and the iPad, never mind “apps,” were only a dream. Now, there’s not only Apple producing such devices, but a host of other companies as well. They have become an indispensable part of life in America, thanks in no small part to Steve Jobs.