For years, Steve Jobs had a larger-than-life impact on the world of technology, design, music and other fields. Unlike some modern technology entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs took an unusual path to business success. Let’s consider some of the highlights of his story. For a more in-depth introduction to Jobs, I highly recommend reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. I am currently reading the book and have found it highly engaging (it is also my main source for this article).
In some ways, Jobs started in the right place and time to take best advantage of the digital revolution. Following his adoption by Paul Jobs and Clara Jobs, Steve Jobs grew up in Mountain View. In addition to gaining an appreciation of craftsmanship from his father, Jobs had countless experiences with HP engineers and others who resided in California at that time.
Jobs had an open mind about new ideas and a willingness to bring ideas together in unusual ways. At times, his experimental outlook frustrated those around him (e.g. his ever-changing and usually very strict diets). However, this approach also shaped his view of products. During his studies at Reed College and beyond, Jobs learned about calligraphy, Eastern religion, design and many other topics. Even though Jobs dropped out of college, he continued seeking out teachers (e.g. his 1974 trip to India) and mentors to help him grow his skills.
During the 1970s, Jobs was one of many people in California interested in designing new technology. While his Jobs’s partner and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had expertise in engineering, Jobs understood the importance of building a consumer-friendly product. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs was keen to build an integrated computer. This consumer-use focus continues to set Apple products apart from other products (e.g. the 1975 Altair device which Isaacson describes as: “just a $495 pile of parts that had to be soldered to a board that would then do little”, pg 59)
The Early Apple Years
Following some early success with building and selling electronics (e.g. the Blue Box which made it possible to make free phone calls), Jobs and Wozniak began building computers. In 1975, Jobs presented the first computer to a group of technology hobbyists. It did not go well. As Isaacson puts it: “The audience was not very impressed. The Apple had a cut-rate microprocessor,” (pg 66) when Jobs presented an early computer to the Homebrew Computer Club. That early experience may be one of the reasons that Jobs became skeptical about market research and surveying potential customers.
Fortunately for us, Jobs was determined to sell his product and soon found customers. By the early 1980s, Apple Computer was a growing company. The Apple II computer was starting to sell well. During the 1980s, Jobs’s record was mixed. On the one hand, he was known for his outstanding dedication to product quality and often demanded improvements. Unfortunately, Jobs’s approach to work generated enemies. His erratic approach to work and dedication were major sources of project conflict in building and launching new products.
Looking back on his early years and return to Apple, Jobs’s excitement for technology changed the world. Apple computers have rightly earned recognition for excellence. The company’s reputation for outstanding design is one of his lasting legacies. In 2015, the newly released Apple Watch has won the 2015 iF Design Awards.
Written by Bruce Harpham