Jobs' true genius lay in integrating great ideas in ways not envisioned before
Life for Apple after Steve Jobs' death on Wednesday will never be the same. Following his passing away, he has been eulogised as being the prime example of the pursuit of the Great American Dream — a technologist, a visionary innovator and a man who transformed consumer culture.
Time will have to elapse before a more balanced review of Jobs' life and times is made, but it is evident that his true genius lay in integrating great ideas, not necessarily technologies, to deliver a compelling user experience in ways not previously explored.
The other striking aspect of Jobs' life, lived in the cruel world of high-stakes business, was his ability to rise from the ashes after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of his arch-rival, Bill Gates of Microsoft, in the battle to build a personal computer.
Consider this: The Apple II, with 4 kb of RAM, cost $1,298 in 1977, while the souped-up version of the machine, with all of 48 kb of RAM, cost $2,638. The latter machine, in terms of today's dollar value, would have cost almost $10,000, enough to buy 20 iPad-2s today.
Of course, the increase in processing power of computers that we use in our daily lives was not of Jobs' making. But the point is that he lost the fight for the PC in the early 1980s, but still managed to come back in the early years of this decade with the iPod, a music device that was in a league of its own. Not only that, Jobs spun the iPod into a lucrative business model by plugging the device into the iStore.
Jobs' genius lay in offering music song by song to music lovers while also reasoning with the music record labels that their expectations of super profits were way too unrealistic in a world in which music-sharing on computer networks was threatening to finish their dominance anyway.
Coming to think of it, when mobile phones became ubiquitous, Apple was not even on the scene. It was only when they started getting smarter that Apple entered the scene and transformed it beyond recognition.
Even here, in markets such as India, the iPhone still lags other devices in terms of market share, mainly because of its premium pricing, which is true of all Apple products.
The tight integration of Apple's products — in its range of computers, the iPods, the iPhones and the iPads — in which the operating environment of the device is closely aligned to the device itself, has restricted Apple's reach to the wider community that holds it in awe, but cannot afford one.
Ironically, lost in the hour of grief and euphoria is the fact that Apple's pedigree draws from a larger pool of technological innovation which lies outside the private realm. For example, Apple's core is based, at least in part, on the Unix kernel, parts of which were developed on campuses, far removed from the hustle of the market.
Apple's critics say that the proprietary ownership of the ecosystems of its devices, while enabling it to make “super-normal” profits, also restrain it from reaching out to a larger audience.
The tight control on patents to protect its turf – seen most notably in its ongoing battle with Samsung, which ironically supplies it the core chip for the iPhone – is built into its business practices, they say.