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Steve Jobs' magic touch

Adarsh Gopalakrishnan | Updated on August 30, 2011

While Apple may polish and refine products and services in segments Steve Jobs envisioned, does it have the talent and focus to think up new ideas to galvanise it over the next decade?



Steve Jobs is celebrated for a lot of things. He revolutionised the computer industry by seeking to make the personal computer more affordable and accessible. He brought the same magic to the music industry through the iPod and the iStore. A third revolution in personal computing may be underway with the tablet format led by the iPhone and the iPad. Jobs is famously temperamental, a demanding and out-spoken manager; this led to his ouster from Apple in 1985. Following his comeback in 1996, software built by his company NEXT was a big part of Mac's comeback as a viable operating system platform. The Operating System is also the core of the IOS which power iPhones and iPads. However, if there is one trait of Steve Jobs which stands out, it is his sheer conviction in his ideas.

His most important idea was to minimise separation between the software (which is the operating system) and the hardware (Macbook, iPod, iTouch) in technology products. This conviction led to a slide in Apple's fortunes after he quit in 1985, as the products were unable to compete with lower-cost personal computers running on Microsoft.

Great innovator

Ironically, his conviction has been at the core of Apple's comeback with the tight integration turning out to be among the key elements for the success of the iPhone, iPad and Macbook range of laptops. Much like great innovators before him Jobs always looked creating new product segments rather merely refining existing ideas. Jobs' uncommon approach to product conception and design is captured by this quote “For something (making technology products) this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

At 56, Steve Jobs decision to quit comes as no surprise given his frail health following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2004. Investors have been antsy over succession plans following his liver transplant in 2009. Over the last five years Jobs has taken numerous breaks from the company due to ill-health. Now his long-time deputy Tim Cook, who has filled in for him during those occasions, gets a chance to step up and take the helm, backed by talent such as industrial designer Jonathan Ive and software and hardware heads Scott Forstall and Bob Mansfield. This brings us to another one of Jobs' underrated traits.

While the man came off as a visionary-genius to most investors and consumers, he surrounded himself with the right people who brought their individual brilliance to a set of skills to complement Job's vision. All said, Jobs' vision brought together Cook's supply-chain skills, Ive's design genius and Forstall's programming (among other) strengths to give us hit products. Investor joy has been evident, with Apple shares shooting up from $9.5 to $383, up almost 4,000 per cent over the last decade comfortably outperforming the S&P and peers such as Microsoft and HP.

Importance of saying ‘No'

Steve Jobs was also at the helm of animation studio Pixar, whose hits include the Toy Story series, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo prior to its acquisition by Disney. He is now among the largest shareholders in Disney and sits on its Board. Following his exit from Apple in 1985, Jobs moved on to create Next. Apple floundered and was on the verge of collapsing before Jobs was re-inducted in 1996. On his re-induction Jobs famously said “The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

Since then, there has been no looking back for the company, which has changed the face of the music, mobile telephony and computing over the last two decades. Jobs legendary focus has transformed traits such as few product variants that would cripple lesser companies — into Apple's great strength.

As he puts it “It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We're always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” The big question the company faces, while it may be able to polish and shine products and services in segments which Steve Jobs envisioned: Does it have the talent and focus to think up new ideas to galvanise it over the next decade?

Published on August 27, 2011

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