Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died Wednesday after battling cancer and related conditions for seven years. He was 56. Jobs, who reigned as Apple CEO for 14 years, resigned his post in August 2011 and was replaced by Tim Cook, who previously was the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Jobs, in turn, was elected as chairman of Apple’s board of directors.
Both as the founder of the first successful personal-computer company and as the man who transformed a nearly-bankrupt Apple into one of the most successful companies on the planet, Jobs established himself as an American icon of business and technology.
Apple: The early years
If Steve Jobs had never returned to Apple after 1985, he’d still be remembered for the Macintosh.
Jobs didn’t create the Mac project—it was started by Jef Raskin in 1979—but he took it over in 1981 and brought it to fruition. Jobs didn’t write the code or design the circuit boards, but he was the one who provided the vision that made it all happen. As original Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld wrote, “Steve already gets a lot of credit for being the driving force behind the Macintosh, but in my opinion, it’s very well deserved … the Macintosh never would have happened without him.”
Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh in 1984 introduced the graphical user interface to mainstream desktop computing. The Mac ran on a 32-bit processor (compared to 16-bit processors for other PCs at the time) and had 128K of memory. It was an immediate success: more than 400,000 Macintosh computers were sold in the first year.
The Mac’s impact wasn’t just felt on people who bought it in the ’80s, though: in hindsight, it quite literally redefined what a computer was. Microsoft introduced its Windows program as a reaction to it; by 1995 Windows had duplicated Apple’s graphical interface. Essentially every personal computer in existence now follows most of the paradigms introduced by the original Mac more than a quarter-century ago.
The Mac capped off a series of accomplishments for Jobs in the early days of Apple, which he co-founded in 1976 with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. The company famously started in Jobs’s garage, where the company assembled its first computer, the Apple I. Its first mass-produced product was the Apple II, which was released in 1977. Designed by Wozniak, the Apple II featured a rugged plastic case, an integrated keyboard and power supply, support for color displays, and a 5.25-inch floppy drive. The Apple II was a wild success, ushering in the personal computer era, and carried Apple through the mid-1980s.
In the early ’80s Apple tried to build on its success with an Apple III targeted at business users, but it was a resounding failure. The story goes that Steve Jobs wanted the computer to run silently—a good example of Jobs’s attention to product detail—so he ordered that it be built without an internal fan. Unfortunately, customers found that the Apple III overheated frequently.
At the end of 1980, Apple went public; its IPO created hundreds of millionaires at the company. In exchange for $1 million of pre-IPO stock, Xerox gave Apple access to its PARC facilities, where Jobs and others saw the progress Xerox was making with the graphical user interface (GUI). That visit led to the Apple Lisa—a Mac-like computer that sold for nearly $10,000, and was never a success—and then the Mac.
Jobs was also a driving force behind the famous “1984” television commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, that debuted during the Super Bowl in January 1984. Jobs and his personally-recruited CEO John Sculley thought the iconic ad was excellent, and purchased 90 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time for the spot. Apple’s board of directors was less convinced of the advertisement’s greatness, and Apple’s advertising agency Chiat/Day resold 30 of those seconds to another advertiser. The ad ran, and the Macintosh went on sale two days later.
Eventually, the Macintosh’s increasingly sluggish sales performance strained the relationship between Jobs and Sculley. Sculley favored introducing more IBM compatibility; Jobs was opposed. Jobs and Sculley each went before Apple’s board and lobbied for the other’s removal. Eventually, on May 31, 1985, Apple announced that—following its first-ever quarterly loss and a round of layoffs—Steve Jobs was leaving the company he’d co-founded. He left with a net worth of $150 million and started his next venture, Next.