Steve Jobs could see what others couldn’t

Freedom Newspapers

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Steve Jobs and his family. Last week he announced he was stepping down, for health reasons, as Apple Inc.’s CEO. He no longer will oversee day-to-day operations at the world’s most successful technology company, but will serve as the company’s chairman of the board.

We can think of no better characterization of Jobs than this quote from Igor Sikorsky, the Russian-American aviation pioneer: “The work of the individual still remains the spark that moves mankind forward.”

That was Jobs, from his earliest days. He co-founded Apple in 1976 in his parents’ garage in Los Altos with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (who would soon leave). By the time he created Apple, Mr. Jobs had done little more than drop out of Reed College in Oregon and travel to India.

As it turned out, the “two Steves” were perfectly matched. Mr. Wozniak was a genius at circuits, designing the Apple I and Apple II computers almost entirely himself. Jobs’ genius was seeing around a corner, several years ahead, to what consumers needed and wanted, then relentlessly pushing the Apple team to fulfill his uncompromising vision. He eschewed focus groups, understanding that a focus group or a market survey can never describe the heretofore unseen, undeveloped, unimagined but transformative Big Idea.

From our individual-liberty viewpoint, we also would point out Jobs’ accomplishments demonstrate what can be done when government, which had no idea what the kids were doing in Silicon Valley, gets out of the way and lets talented people create.

The Apple II still is an icon of the early personal computer revolution. Ever restless, Jobs soon took over the company’s Macintosh development team, hoisting a pirate flag above its building. It was a group mostly of workaholic twentysomethings like himself. Revealed to the world with the famous “1984” commercial at the 1984 Super Bowl, the Mac revolutionized computing with its graphical interface and intuitive operations.

Jobs nabbed John Sculley from Pepsi-Cola to be Apple’s CEO. In 1985, Sculley fired Mr. Jobs. Jobs, without skipping a beat, left and founded NeXT Computer, a product ahead of its time but too expensive. And in 1986, he bought Pixar, which revolutionized animated movies, beginning with 1995’s “Toy Story.” Pixar was sold in 2006 to Disney for $7.4 billion.

Apple under Sculley and his successors flourished for several years then floundered, nearly going bankrupt in the mid-1990s. Jobs returned as “iCEO,” as he called it, in 1997. The world watched: Would he, could he, do it all again? Oh yes, Sikorsky, and it was more astonishing than the first. The iMac all-in-one computer was introduced in 1998. Then in 2001 came the iPod, which revolutionized how we enjoy music. In 2007 came the epitome of the smart phone, the iPhone; and in 2010 the iPad, the wildly successful tablet computer.

It was the best second act in the history of industry. As Jobs has said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” He certainly has. And we hope he will continue to do so for many years to come.