Steve Jobs' death came as a shock Wednesday. He was a modern-day genius who changed technology and, by doing so, changed popular culture and society. (I wrote about this recently in this blog post.)
As we look back on Jobs' legacy, we get another shock: The iPod is only 10 years old. It's hard to remember a world without it. Not so long ago, my children were listening to music on a Sony Walkman, which seemed so compact and convenient, capable of playing 40 minutes or so of consecutive music on a cassette tape. The CD version of the Walkman seemed like the ultimate in personal listening. Now, I have hours of music on an iPod shuffle that is barely larger than a postage stamp. It was Jobs' visionary creativity that gave us these devices and others. The iPod led to the podcast, which makes all sorts of radio programs and other information or entertainment available at our convenience. The iTunes store revolutionized how we buy music, as well as movies and television shows.
I've been using Apple products for more than 25 years and have always found them preferable to the alternatives because Jobs demanded products that were not only technically competent but also easy to use, intuitive, practical and elegant. In the process, he created one of the most successful companies in American history. The company had its first office and manufacturing facility in the Jobs family garage.
Here's another shock: Jobs' genius was so little appreciated that he was actually forced out of the company he had co-founded. During his exile beginning in 1985, he went on to other imaginative ventures, including NeXT computers, which was later bought by Apple. When he returned in 1996, Apple was losing money, and consumers were leery of Apple products, fearful that the company might soon be bankrupt. But Jobs directed the development of the odd-looking iMac and then a whole range of new products, including the hugely successful iPhone. Jobs took big risks — the iMac was ridiculed at first because it had no floppy disk drive. Critics said consumers wouldn't by a computer without a floppy drive (Apple's original Mac had led the change from 5.25-inch floppies to the less floppy 3.5 inch disks), but the critics were wrong.
It seems doubtful that Apple will be able to maintain its creative boldness without Jobs, but I hope his sense of inventiveness, perfectability and user-friendliness has so pervaded Apple that the company will remain an innovation leader.