Steve Jobs is probably the first person in Apple’s history to suddenly wake up one morning and realise that there are better things in life than shiny toys. In Steve’s case there is his health.
A long time ago we warned Jobs that creating fantasies for fanboys was a largely pointless exercise when your health was on the rocks.
In a letter to the Board, Jobs said that he had always said if there ever came a day when he could no longer meet his duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, he would be the first to let them know. “Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee,” he said.
With the news that he has pushed forward the publication of his autobiography there are some fears that Jobs might be getting very sick.
Jobs co-founded Apple 35 years ago with his school chum Steve Wozniak after dropping out of Reed College. The pair’s breakthrough product, the Macintosh, on which Jobs oversaw development, was introduced in 1984.
But although Jobs was credited with the Mac’s success he was also instrumental in preventing it gaining wide scale acceptance, refusing to allow the technology to be cloned, like the PC.
In 1985 his autocratic rule was challenged and he was fired as chairman in a power struggle on the company’s board. He then started NeXT Inc., a company that developed a sophisticated computer workstation, and later co-founded Pixar Animation Studios.
He returned to Apple, initially as an adviser in 1996, as part of the company’s acquisition of NeXT. The outfit had suffered badly and was unable to dent the reign of Microsoft.
He was drafted back in and shifted the company away from its traditional nice looking PC model, to gizmos and toys such as the iPod. Pushed with clever marketing, Jobs made it appear as if the gadgets had never been invented before. Many still believe that he invented the portable MP3 player.
But Jobs’ masterstroke was to move into the mobile arena first with the smartphone. Smartphones had been around but they had never had Apple’s design applied to them. That, coupled with a fanatical base and a sympathetic press, enabled Jobs to create a mobile hysteria around smartphones.
It was dubbed Jobs’ ‘reality distortion field’ where whatever the man said was considered to be absolutely true. It resulted in a company which was less about viable technology and more of a shallow 21st century cult where products were a replacement for religious satisfaction. Jobs’ Apple managed to keep the cult exclusive by keeping prices high and regularly refreshing products.
Just as interest in the iPod started to die off, Jobs came up with the iPad which successfully dusted off the tablet idea which Microsoft and indeed he had failed to convince the world was viable.
In doing so, Jobs created the “mobile boom” which lead to the development of more mobile consumer gadgets. This boom caught the industry on the hop and it has been slow to find an answer. This is mostly because rivals lacked the slick marketing and the fanatical Apple fanboy base and Tame Apple Press which Apple cultivated.
So far no one has managed to replicate Jobs’ success at this and it is not for a lack of technology.
Jobs also developed a cult of personality based around himself and turned the company into an incredibly secretive and proprietary outfit. He was one of the few CEOs who ignored the trends in open source development and touted total control over products. As a result his iTunes software store became more censored than China as he fought to appease the US Bible Belt.
All this success came at a price. Jobs was sick and took long medical leave in three bursts since 2004. His problem was pancreatic cancer. He had the neuroendocrine tumor removed in 2004 and said afterwards all the cancer was gone, and he did not require chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
In a normal universe, Jobs would have quit and spent loads of money getting better. However the cult of personality which had developed around Apple had forbidden that. Even rumours that Apple’s messiah was under the weather was enough to send the outfit’s stock price falling.
The belief, which had been cultivated by Jobs, was that the business could not do without him. As a result health reports were suppressed. In 2009 it was revealed how sick he was getting, and shareholders were furious that they had not been told.
When information was released, the Tame Apple Press insisted that although pancreatic tumours, which are highly lethal and which kill 95 percent of patients within five years, Jobs had a neuroendocrine tumour which was different. Jobs went missing on sick leave and had a liver transplant. However at the time the world was not reporting some important facts. Only that 44 percent of the patients who were treated for such a tumour with a liver transplant were alive five years later. The age of the patient was crucial and Jobs at 55 just makes the cutoff.
Nevertheless the Apple cult of personality insisted that Jobs had got better and the operation was widely reported to have worked right until this year when Jobs again took time off.
Jobs’ impact on Apple was vital and if other companies match his move into mobile, he could have a dramatic long term effect on the IT industry. However the real danger for Apple is that the reality distortion field around its products will crumble over time.
As such, Jobs has left the company at its peak and it will need to come up with some pretty good moves to match what he managed.
Those who have come to believe that Steve Jobs is their personal saviour, might have difficulty accepting Tim Cook in the same role. It is easy to buy a pile of tat from a man who you think is Jesus, however Tim has an uphill battle convincing anyone that Elijah’s mantel has fallen to him.
Needless to say we expect Apple’s shareprice to suddenly become more realistic today.