Steve Jobs, who as Apple's founder and twice CEO revolutionized the use of computers, phones, and music players before popularizing digital tablets, died today after a seven year battle with pancreatic cancer and related ailments. He was 56.
Jobs' family put out a statement saying he was with loved ones when he passed away:
Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family.
In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family. We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve's illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories.
We are grateful for the support and kindness of those who share our feelings for Steve. We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief.
Apple's board of directors also released a statement:
We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.
Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.
His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.
It was just six weeks ago that Jobs relinquished his duties as CEO, handing the reins to longtime COO Tim Cook. "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know," he said in his resignation letter. "Unfortunately, that day has come."
Jobs took a total of three medical leaves after being diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004. That year, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor. During his second absence, in 2009, Jobs received a liver transplant. He returned from that leave to finalize the development of the iPad, which became a spectacular success. More than 29 million of the tablet devices have sold, and the iPad now brings in more revenue for Apple than the Macintosh.
But Jobs' health problems were not over. He took an indefinite leave in January of this year from which he would never fully return, although he remained closely involved with the company's affairs for months, including after he formally relinquished his duties as CEO.
The scope of Jobs' achievements is hard to put into words. His accomplishments eclipsed not only his peers in the tech industry but indeed those of his contemporaries in global capitalism. He earned a lifetime's worth of fame, fortune and indeed reverence just for his achievements at Pixar, the groundbreaking digital film studio where he was owner and CEO, and at NeXT, where he shepherded the development of a world class, industrial strength operating system that was acquired by, and helped save, Apple Computer.
But it was in his split career at Apple that Jobs made his greatest mark on the world. After Jobs joined with high school friend and virtuoso electrical engineer Steve Wozniak to form Apple, the pair introduced the Apple II, which joined the homebrew computer world's garage friendly technology and empowerment ethos to the branding, packaging and design of mass market retail. The Apple II was a sensation and runaway bestseller.
The high point of Jobs' first term at Apple was clearly the Macintosh, the first popular computer to sport a graphical user interface. This is when Jobs solidified his reputation as a demanding, obsessive, high pressure boss. Jobs segregated the Mac team into a skunkworks operation that saw itself as rebelling against the relative cost and bloat of the competing Apple Lisa project. Jobs applied ruthless pressure to the crew, insisting not only that the machine function with a paltry 128k of RAM but that the machine's interior circuitry be as elegant and beautiful as its plastic and glass shell, and that it ship with absolutely no interior expansion slots (a facility for RAM expansion was slipped under his nose).
Jobs was forced out in 1985 after a clash with CEO John Sculley and with his board. Some said his eccentricities — putting his bare feet up on desks, cursing at subordinates, that kind of thing — finally got to be too much for the company's other overseers. Then came NeXT computer, an elegant and impossibly expensive computer with impressive Unix underpinnings, and Pixar, which he acquired as an orphan from LucasFilm and patiently funded for nine years until it began making money with the 1995 release of the animated feature Toy Story.
Jobs' triumphant return began in 1997, after Apple bought NeXT to provide the heart of its next generation operating system. Financially and creatively, Apple was on the ropes, and Jobs seemed to be have the most credible ideas on how to turn it around at a time when many people agreed with competitor Michael Dell when he famously said Apple's best course of action was to "shut down and give the money back to the shareholders." This video of Jobs' closing Q&A and keynote at Apple's 1997 developer conference, after he'd been brought in to advise the company but before he assumed the title of CEO, illuminates his thinking well.
After taking control of the company — Jobs accepted the position of "interim" CEO, replaced the board, and eventually dropped the "interim" from his title — Jobs began a steady, focused revival of the company. He pared down the crowded product line, and began releasing iconic, well designed products that returned the company to profitability and that ultimately changed how people thought about technology.
First came the iMac, an all in one computer encased in colorful, translucent plastic and designed to help people get online more quickly. Then came the iPod, a beautiful and easy to use MP3 player that became a key profit driver for Apple. And then the iPhone, now the most popular phone in the country, and the iPad. In between were elegantly refined laptops, operating system releases, desktop computers, routers, and set top boxes that put the competition to shame.
Apple is now the second largest company, by market capitalization, in the United States. But Jobs' most enduring legacy probably won't be the company he built so much as how he led it. Not just because he set in motion a leadership institute on the Apple campus, or cooperated with biographer Walter Isaacson. At a time when people's confidence in the competence of American corporations is at a nadir, Jobs showed how a focused and persistent company could realize a remarkably humanist vision in the midst of comically inept competitors and unbelievably delusional received wisdom and make a killing doing so.
There are any number of amazing quotes and anecdotes that shed light on Jobs' approach to life, some of which you can find below or here. But the one that seems to be most on people's minds tonight is Jobs' 2005 commencement address at Stanford, which you can view here. Here's an excerpt:
All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
- New York Times: "Jobs... helped usher in the era of personal computers and then did nothing less than lead a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced."
- Wired, Steven Levy: "The most celebrated person in technology and business on the planet." (Levy wrote "Insanely Great," the definitive chronicle of the creation of the Macintosh, and wrote for many years as a MacWorld columnist.)
- Gizmodo: "After his return to Apple, the company began shipping iconic product after iconic product. Products that defined a decade. The iMac, OS X, the iPod, iTunes... the iPhone, the iPad. All of these were deeply human products. They reflected his understanding of how technology was used not only in the workplace, but in the home."
- Bloomberg: Jobs "built the world's most valuable technology company by creating devices that changed how people use electronics."
- Walt Mossberg: "In my many conversations with him, the dominant tone he struck was optimism and certainty... he'd surprise me by forcefully disagreeing, explaining how the world looked from [the other] point of view."
- Brian Lam: "He replied, 'You're just doing your job.' And he said it in the kindest way possible. Which made me feel better and worse."
[Photo, top, via Apple. Photo of Jobs on stage in June 2011 via Getty Images]