Apple visionary Steve Jobs dies

  • Article by: PATRICIA SULLIVAN , Washington Post
  • Updated: October 6, 2011 - 10:44 AM

He led cultural transformation, changing way we live.

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Steve Jobs, the brilliant, mercurial co-founder of Apple, who introduced simple, elegantly designed computers for people who were more interested in what technology could do rather than how it was done, died Wednesday at age 56.

Jobs suffered from a rare form of pancreatic cancer and had a liver transplant in 2009, and he stepped down as Apple's chief executive last August. Apple announced the death but did not say where he died.

An original thinker and astute businessman who helped create the Macintosh, one of the most influential computers in the world, Jobs also reinvented the portable music player with the iPod, launched the first successful legal method of selling music online with the creation of iTunes, and reordered the cellphone market with the wildly popular iPhone. The introduction of the iPad also jump-started the electronic-tablet market and now dominates the field.

Cool, charismatic and calculating that people would be willing to pay a premium price for products that signal creativity, Jobs had a genius for understanding the needs of consumers before they did. It also made him a very rich man, worth an estimated $8.3 billion.

Jobs was the first crossover technology star, turning Silicon Valley renown into Main Street recognition and paving the way for the rise of the nerds, such as Yahoo founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

As a 21-year-old college-dropout entrepreneur, Jobs led Apple to multimillion-dollar success in five years. Forced out of his own company by the time he was 30, he started another computer firm, Next, whose technology was used to create the World Wide Web. Jobs also took over a foundering computer animation company and turned it into the Academy Award-winning Pixar, maker of "Toy Story." He returned in 1997 to save Apple from near-certain oblivion, overseeing the creation of one innovative digital device after another -- the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad -- to transform entire industries.

Known for his complex and combative temperament, Jobs didn't discuss his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and surgery in public for more than a year, asserting that his preference for personal privacy outweighed the rights of shareholders to know about his health. In late 2008, he took a medical leave, and he had a liver transplant the next year. In January, he took another medical leave. On Aug. 24 he stepped down as Apple's chief executive but became chairman of board.

His constant innovations led Business 2.0 to call him "easily the greatest marketer since P.T. Barnum." One of his employees, noting that Jobs is able to persuade people to believe almost anything, coined the phrase "reality distortion field" to describe his ability to warp an audience's sense of proportion. Jobs described the Macintosh computer, for example, as "insanely great."

Maybe it was. It was designed for the home user, not the computer-science nerd. During a 1979 visit to Xerox Parc, where the computer mouse was invented, he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak learned that computer users did not have to use arcane commands to get the computer to perform; they could simply point their mouse to open a file.

"It was one of those sort of apocalyptic moments," Jobs told the Smithsonian Institution. "I remember within 10 minutes of seeing the graphical user interface stuff, just knowing that every computer would work this way someday. It was so obvious once you saw it."

He was the ultimate arbiter of Apple products, and his standards were exacting. Over the course of a year he tossed out two iPhone prototypes, for example, before approving the third.

To his understanding of technology, he brought an immersion in popular culture. In his 20s, he dated Joan Baez; Ella Fitzgerald sang at his 30th birthday party.

Steven Paul Jobs was born Feb. 24, 1955, in San Francisco to University of Wisconsin graduate student Joanne Carole Schieble and a Syrian exchange student, Abdulfattah Jandali. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

He grew up in the suburbs that would later be dubbed "Silicon Valley," and he showed an early interest in electronics. As an eighth-grader, he boldly telephoned William Hewlett, co-founder and president of the Hewlett-Packard computer firm, for some parts he needed to complete a frequency counter he was assembling. Hewlett was impressed enough to give Jobs the parts and offer him a summer internship.

Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., for two years before dropping out. He said of that time, "I returned Coke bottles for the 5-cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity ... turned out to be priceless."

In the summer of 1974, still searching for his calling, he went to India, shaving his head and studying meditation. But within months, he became ill with dysentery and was forced to return home.

In 1975, he began associating with a group known as the Homebrew Computer Club. Steve Wozniak, a technical whiz, was trying to build a small computer and Jobs became fascinated with its potential. In 1976, he and Wozniak formed their own company.

Apple's very name reflected his unconventionality. In an era when engineers tended to describe their machines with model numbers, he chose the name of a fruit, supposedly because of his dietary habits at the time.

The Apple I was sold as an all-in-one device, carrying a price tag of $666. About 200 were sold. Jobs saw a gap in the existing computer market, with no product targeted for home use. The redesigned Apple II came out in 1977. In one of the most phenomenal cases of corporate growth in U.S. history, the company's sales grew to $200 million within three years and almost single-handedly created a market of home users.

In 1985, after tangling with John Sculley, an executive he brought in to run the company, Jobs resigned. He was 30. He told Stanford graduates in 2005 that it "was the best thing that could have ever happened. ... It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."

He added: "Death is very likely the best invention of life. All pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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