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Steve Jobs: RIP in Technology Heaven

I was sad to hear the news of Steve Jobs’ passing today.  I suppose we all knew things weren’t well with him when he resigned as CEO a few weeks ago.  When you have the Big C, your chances of a long life are slim.  Yet, 56 seems such a young age.  And we are never ready for the sudden numbing news like we got today.

Anyway, we lost a real pioneer and the electronics and computer industries will miss his insight and leadership.  And leadership was what he was all about.  All really successful companies have someone like him to point the way, boost enthusiasm, and identify the marketing qualities to create the right products, at the right time.   Steve was not an engineer but he understood electronics and computers and he certainly had the marketing sense of a genius.

I first met Steve Jobs back in the 1970s during the early personal computer days.  He came by the Heathkit booth at the Computer Faire in San Francisco to get some quarters in change for the Pepsi machine.  His long hair and ratty T-shirt aside, he was definitely a real “personality”.  Intense and hyper.

I later met him at an Apple facility in Cupertino as we discussed a potential Heathkit kit version of the Apple II.  That didn’t go so well.  Steve was rude and arrogant, but he was very young and his ego was running on his recent big success with the Apple II.  It was interesting to watch him as he definitely was the power within Apple.  He dominated despite his abrasiveness.  His behavior made you want him to be wrong, but he was not.  He knew what he wanted and he was almost always right about products and marketing.  Something you don’t learn in school.

You could see the creativity right from the start.  While those of us at Heathkit and most other personal computer pioneering companies were using the minicomputer model of separate computer and terminal, Steve Jobs and his buddy Steve Wozniak integrated the terminal with the computer, and added color.  A real innovation.  And that was followed by the even more creative Mac with its mouse and icon-based GUI.  And the innovation has continued until now.

Later in the 80s, I spent a day interviewing with Apple for an engineering position.  I saw that it was a really different company.  I still to this day cannot describe in words what Apple is or how it works, but I know it was Steve’s influence and leadership that made it that way.  I did not accept a position there, but I came away with a feeling that the company was focused and motivated thanks to Steve.

As for Apple products, they are always the best.  I bought an early Macintosh in 1984 and used it until 1999.  It just ran out of steam and I could not get any more than 4MB RAM in it.  But it served me well in my small publishing business.  Today, my wife and I still use Macs.  We have the latest iMac with 21 inch screen and LionOS.  Still a great machine.

I also bought one of the first iPhones in 2007.  This was typical of the Apple products that made a major leap forward. I upgraded to a 3GS in 2009 and now I am on the threshold of getting one of the new 4S models.  The smartphone industry and Apple customers may think the 4S is a disappointment, but I have the sense that it was the “right” product at the right time to stay competitive and save even bigger news for an even greater success later.  Maybe I will get a 4S just in honor of Steve.

All companies (states and countries, too) need a visionary with strong leadership qualities.  Those qualities are hard to come by and hard to identify especially early on.  Tim Cook is probably a great guy but he is no Steve Jobs.  Goodbye, Steve.  And good luck and best wishes to Apple for continued success.

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