A world without Steve Jobs

August 25, 2011

By John Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

In a way, Steve Jobs might have saved the best “One Last Thing” for last: The legendary and now former Apple CEO has left his company in fine hands and on a path of prospects as great as his final years at the helm have provided.

There is no question that the Man of the Hour is now Tim Cook — Apple’s man of the future. He and Jony Ive have been Jobs’ two right hands for ages. While Jobs himself is irreplaceable, nobody is indispensable. The lines of succession and responsibility have been carefully crafted and are as sleek as any piece of hardware Apple has ever designed.

Cook is no showman in the mold of Jobs, but that doesn’t matter. Jobs’ prime days were well behind him before his last two public appearances this year, at the WWDC and, serendipitously, at the Cupertino town council to pitch for Apple’s new headquarters.

But Apple doesn’t really need a showman anymore, or even a legacy, though Job’s shadow will be long, and his shoes impossibly large to fill. That sort of thing was important when Apple was looking past minuscule market share for some respectability, to make the leap from the small sandbox of extreme loyalists to a beachhead in the mainstream of consumerism.

Apple is now the epitome of mainstream. Can one even call it a computer company anymore? Cook’s biggest strength is moving products from gestation to the hands of over-eager customers. Apple’s biggest problem these days: The company can’t keep up with the demand of its iPads. Tablets of most of its competitors are gathering dust or being sold at fire sale prices, as Hewlett-Packard was forced to do when it exited the business entirely. And for that course, Cook is, you will pardon the expression, an executive chef extraordinaire.

I have already been asked too many times since yesterday evening to place Jobs in the pantheon of CEOs. The answer is quite simple. Jobs is the single most important figure in high tech’s digital era, and only time will tell if he is considered the greatest overall — bigger than the likes of Gates, Hewlett, Packard and other titans.

But Jobs is more than that. He is perhaps one of the greatest CEOs of any kind, a name which will be remembered generations from now even if the particulars of his achievements and personality are obscure — a Henry Ford of the Internet era, if you will, running the General Motors of the post-war boom.

It is also important to remember that, while it is clear that Jobs’ health is waning and he won’t be part of the daily grind, the notoriously-particular Apple co-founder is chairman of the company and will kibbitz as he sees fit. He will not undermine Cook, in any way, shape or form, but he will be there.

At this point, as the dust on yesterday’s inevitable announcement settles, my thoughts turn not to an Apple without Jobs but to a world without him. The morbidity of the death watch is an unseemly subject, but it is the elephant in the room. The criteria he had set for stepping aside cannot mean anything other than he is winding down because he must.

Jobs’ final thing was to compartmentalize his health and assure shareholders with winks and nods that there would be life after him, even if the tech press wasn’t in on the secret.

In a world where what’s good for Apple is also usually good for America, that is one of Jobs’ most remarkable achievements.

Follow +John C Abell on Google+.

Photo: Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs stands beneath a photograph of him and Apple-co founder Steve Wozniak from the early days of Apple during the launch of Apple’s new “iPad” tablet computing device in San Francisco, California, January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Kimberly White

5 comments

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Jobs is a great man, and has certainly left a mark. He will be missed. But the world will move on, we have more pressing issues right now. Steve, please be blessed and may God bless you and your family and thank you for all your hard work, and may God grant you good health.

Posted by Dahc | Report as abusive

Just one thing about putting Jack Welch with the likes of Gates, Hewlett, Packard and Jobs. Jack Welch pushed GE from being a manufacturing company to being a finance company, surfing on the 20 year financial bubble which has just burst; where is GE now ?
More appropriate titans would be Sam Walton or others in the real world.

Posted by DidierLouvet | Report as abusive

Jobs is the greatest industrialist since Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

His two greatest quotes:

“It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy”

and

“Real artists ship”…

Posted by vaporland | Report as abusive

You can’t compare Steve Jobs with Bill Gates. Microsoft made most of their money selling their Windows Operating System, most of whose ideas were taken from the Mac such as the use of graphical user interface and what you see is what you get computing.

The desktop computer as we know it today exists because of Steve Jobs. From the Apple II, he invented the Macintosh which made widespread use of the mouse. That wasn’t a Gates invention.

Microsoft’s other money maker: Office has been very successful because nobody else has stepped forward to come up with something better. If you read Guy Kawasaki’s (a former Apple Executive) “The Macintosh Way” even he bashes Microsoft’s Word and Excel spreadsheets as being best sellers for the Mac because there was nothing better out there.

Posted by mahadragon | Report as abusive

@DidierLouvet Excellent point. Walton didn’t occur to me, but it is a much better broader comparison — creating enormity from nothing, with tools in plain view — and he is easily overlooked for some reason.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive