When Apple launches a new product, you can be pretty sure that it will dominate the headlines for days. There are few news stories that can overshadow such an event because Apple has become so good at turning its product launches into just that: events.
Sadly, the one thing guaranteed to do it happened this week. Just 24 hours after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new iPhone 4S, his predecessor Steve Jobs, the man who developed the theatre and spectacle of the company’s announcements, succumbed to the cancer he had been suffering with since 2003.
It was only in August that Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO, taking on the role of Chairman instead. Although he had taken a number of leaves of absence from the company in recent years, usually prompting wobbles in Apple’s share price, he being so tied to its vision and ethos, he’d always returned (most recently against doctor’s orders to launch the iPad 2) seemingly with as much drive as ever.
However, two months ago he wrote in his resignation letter: “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. Unfortunately, that day has come”.
I think most of us knew what that meant. Any man who can brush off pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant is going to have to be very ill indeed to admit that they can’t carry on. But still, I’m not sure any of us quite expected Jobs’ death to come so quickly and it is incredibly sad that a man with such a talent and flair for business died aged just 56.
As the news spread, tributes began to pour in, and such a respected figure was he that even the protesters occupying Wall Street, campaigning against the capitalist system of which Apple is part, felt the need to mark the sadness of his passing.
What this means for Apple as a company isn’t yet clear. Those wobbles in share price have become less pronounced more recently, and as Tim Cook (who had been established by standing in for Jobs whenever he was away) is generally seen as a suitable new leader, the company itself seems perfectly stable in business terms. Also, Apple’s long lead times on new products means that we’ll be seeing new devices that Jobs had a hand in producing for some time yet.
And so influential was he for many new entrepreneurs now rising up the ranks, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Spotify’s Daniel Ek, his outlook will likely continue to resonate for many years to come.
Just the fact that I’m writing about him here, and assuming that you’re not wondering why I’m talking about some tech guy in a music publication, shows what influence Jobs had. Because, of course, he did do hugely important things for the music industry too. Whatever you think about it, this business would be a very different place without iTunes. By adding a music store to Apple’s music software in 2003 as a means of feeding the already dominant iPod MP3 player, digital music was gradually brought to the masses.
The iTunes Store still has around 75% market share in the digital music space despite facing competition from countless rivals over the years, including all the traditional players in music retail. That’s a huge achievement, and it seems unlikely any of its competitors over the years could have achieved something similar had the Apple platform never existed – either because they are targeting a niche audience, or because their technology is a turn off to many. Apple have always approached digital music with a mainstream agenda, and with a technology the masses can use.
And, of course, all this was just a tiny part of Jobs’ overall achievements. Earlier this year, Wired published this great piece on Steve Jobs’ life in business, how he thought and how he worked. Reading it, it’s hard not to be impressed and inspired by him.
This is taken from my editorial for CMU, which you can read in full here.