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Steve Jobs: The Visionary Who Redefined the Digital Age

Updated on September 18, 2019

Introduction

The name Steve Jobs is synonymous with innovation and has developed a legendary status in the high-tech community. Jobs, along with electronics wizard Steve Wozniak, founded the giant Apple Inc. company in his family’s garage. Jobs would become the chairman and CEO of the company and thanks to his innovative approach to design, branding, and product development, Apple products have revolutionized human communications, imposing a redoubtable standard of aesthetics and innovation in the technology market.

Apple’s first products, Apple I and Apple II, brought Jobs and Wozniak both commercial success and fame. This was followed by years of research during which the company developed the Macintosh and other products. Wozniak and Jobs left Apple in 1985 for different reasons, and Jobs founded a new company, NeXT, developing computers for niche markets, such as business and higher education. Additionally, he became involved with Pixar as chairman and majority shareholder.

Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 when Apple acquired NeXT. He became CEO and saved the company from its downfall by urging the development of a new line of innovative products that differentiated it substantially from all competitors. Some of the most popular Apple products are the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, iTunes Store, and the Apple Store. Though Steve Jobs is now gone from us, the company he co-founded lives on.

Early Life and Education

Steve Paul Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco, to Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne Schieble, and was given up for adoption shortly after his birth. His biological father, a Syrian Muslim, met Schieble while pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Schieble came from a Catholic family and her conservative parents were very strict. When Schieble became pregnant in 1954, she decided to give the baby up for adoption to avoid scandal in the family. She accepted Paul and Clara Jobs as adoptive parents for her child only after they promised that he would attend college.

Steve Jobs grew up in a happy and loving family. Although not as educated as his biological parents, Paul and Clara provided him with a safe and supportive environment where his unique personality could strive. Steve received his first exposure to electronics through his father’s tinkering with cars. His biographer recalls Steve’s comments about his father’s guidance: “My dad did not have a deep understanding of electronics, but he’d encountered it a lot in automobiles and other things he could fix. He showed me the rudiments of electronics, and I got very interested in that.”

From an early age, Jobs was regarded as highly intelligent but solitary. He took advanced classes but had the tendency to clash with authority figures and was bullied often. Jobs struggle to adapt to the social climate of his school compelled Paul and Clara to move to a neighborhood with schools more suitable to Steve’s abilities and interests. The family settled in Los Altos, California, where there was a large population of highly educated families from the engineering sector. Jobs enrolled at Homestead High School. Surprisingly, in this period he developed varied new interests, such as music and creative writing. He also developed strong friendships with people interested in engineering and electronics, the most notable example being Steve Wozniak.

In 1972, Jobs enrolled at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, where he found a new passion for Eastern mysticism. After attending a few courses in college, he decided to drop out. He had particularly enjoyed a course on calligraphy but considered the school to be very expensive and unfit for him. He returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he rented a modest cabin and started to work as a technician at Atari, Inc. in Los Gatos, California. In 1974, Jobs traveled to India with his friend from Reed, Daniel Kottke, seeking spiritual guidance in various ashrams and visiting holy places. They also experimented with psychedelics, which Jobs later described as one of the most important experiences in his life. Jobs spent seven months in India and upon his return to the United States, he continued to practice Zen Buddhism, especially through meditation.

After his extensive explorations in counterculture, Jobs sought a new job at Atari, where he impressed the company’s engineers with an innovation which had actually been developed by Wozniak. This led to a partnership between him and Wozniak that concretized when they decided to sell another of Wozniak’s inventions. The success of their clandestine business inspired Jobs to get deeply involved in electronics again.

Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak

Co-Founder of Apple Inc.

By 1976, Wozniak had continued his series of innovations up to the Apple I computer, which he wanted to sell with Jobs’s help. After thorough consideration, Jobs, Wozniak, and their friend Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) in the garage of Jobs’s home in Los Altos. Wayne abandoned the project in its first phases, and Jobs and Wozniak remained the main co-founders of the company. While Wozniak focused on inventions and engineering, Jobs focused on sales, marketing, and funding.

In 1977, Apple II was ready to be presented to the public. It became the first consumer product sold by Apple Computer and it quickly reached the top of the most successful microcomputers. The design belonged to Steve Wozniak, while Jobs took the responsibility of developing an original case for the product. Their collaboration was a total success. Jobs’s salesmanship skills and Wozniak’s technical talent made them wealthy quickly. At only 23 years old, Jobs was worth over $1 million; by age 25 he was worth $250 million.

The immense professional success was shadowed by Jobs’s personal struggles. On May 17, 1978, his girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, with whom he had had a turbulent relationship for years, gave birth to Jobs’s baby girl. Jobs immediately denied paternity, but a DNA test established him as the baby’s father. He was forced to pay Brennan a monthly alimony, which was a meager sum compared to his newfound wealth. Despite his initial reluctance to assume paternity, Jobs slowly developed a strong relationship with his daughter Lisa.

After 1978, professional success also came with much turbulence. Apple II was followed by Apple Lisa. Although innovative and awaited with enthusiasm, Apple Lisa did not sell very well. In 1982, Jobs, disillusioned with Lisa, started to work on the Macintosh computer.

In January 1984, Apple introduced to the public the Macintosh computer, the first mass-market personal computer featuring an integral graphical user interface and mouse. This was a great moment for Apple’s portfolio and the product was launched with great enthusiasm in the tech world, but it was hardly a commercial success due to the prohibitive cost that hampered its influence on the market. Meanwhile, Bill Gates and his company, Microsoft, emerged as Apple’s greatest rival, and the rising competition led to clashes within Apple, especially between Steve Jobs and CEO Mike Sculley as they had different visions regarding the future of the company. Despite Jobs’s predictions, Macintosh failed to establish itself as a viable choice against the PC, which proved that Jobs’s vision did not match the reality of the market. Naturally, this led to Sculley gaining more influence within Apple.

In May 1985, Sculley proposed the reorganization of the company’s board in an attempt to diminish Jobs’s influence within the company. Separately, Jobs devised his own stratagem to remove Sculley from Apple, but his plan was halted by the board. Meanwhile, Sculley secured the votes for the reorganization. In September 1985, totally displeased with the situation, Jobs resigned from the company he had co-founded. Devoted to Jobs, five other Apple employees resigned as well.

Steve Wozniak had also left Apple after being severely hurt in an airplane accident. After his recovery, Wozniak decided to not return to Apple, but over the years he continued to represent the company at official events and remained a shareholder. He and Steve Jobs maintained a friendly relationship throughout the years.

Apple I computer on display at the Smithsonian.
Apple I computer on display at the Smithsonian.

The NeXT and Pixar Era

Steve Jobs founded NeXT Inc. in 1985, and the company’s first product, the NeXT computer, was introduced to the public during an extravagant launch event in San Francisco, California, in October 1988. In 1990, the company released the NeXT workstations, which were a technological success but a commercial failure as the advanced design situated them at a prohibitive cost even for the educational institutions that they targeted. Jobs specifically wanted NeXT products to cater to niche markets, especially business and higher education.

In 1986, Steve Jobs became involved in the entertainment industry when he funded George Lucas’s computer graphics division, which was later renamed Pixar. In 1995, Pixar produced the animated movie, Toy Story, in partnership with Disney, and Steve Jobs was credited as executive producer. The film enjoyed both critical acclaim and commercial success, and Pixar thrived in the following 15 years, producing numerous box-office hits. In 2005, Pixar was acquired by Disney and Jobs became The Walt Disney Company’s largest single shareholder and joined the board of directors. NeXT remained, however, Jobs’s main preoccupation all throughout the 1990s.

In 1995, NeXT released an improved NeXtcube, marketed as the first computer that allowed interaction between computer users, and which included an innovative system that allowed file sharing through email. Jobs was convinced that what he called “interpersonal computing” was going to be a revolutionary step in human communications. Besides his desire to establish his company as a portent of technological innovation, Jobs was very concerned with the aesthetics of the NeXT products. Although NeXT became a widely recognized brand and the world welcomed its innovations with eagerness, the company sold below expectations. In 1997, NeXT was acquired by Apple Inc. and its last product, WebObjects, a web application development platform, served to build the Apple products.

While busy growing NeXT, Steve Jobs managed to set his personal life in order as well. In 1989, he fell in love with Laurene Powell. She was a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and they met when he gave a lecture at the school. Jobs later recalled his first encounter with future wife, stating that Laurene “was right there in the front row in the lecture hall, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her…kept losing my train of thought, and started feeling a little giddy.” They married in 1991 and had three children: Reed (1991), Erin (1995), and Eve (1998).

Steve Jobs Video Biography

Search for His Biological Family

Throughout the years, Steve maintained a fixation for finding his biological parents. He managed to discover the name of his birth mother but only contacted her after Clara Jobs’s death to not hurt her feelings. Jobs tracked down and met his birth mother, Joanne Schieble. After the emotional first meeting, mother and son had no hard feelings and developed a friendly relationship. She apologized for giving him up for adoption and said she had been pressured into signing the adoption papers.

Jobs also slowly uncovered his family’s history. After he had been given up for adoption, his maternal grandfather died and his mother wed Jandali. Schieble and Jandali had another child, Mona, but eventually divorced. Mona and Steve would eventually become close, often spending Christmas together. Upon discovering who his biological father was, Steve Jobs realized he had met him several times. Jandali had once managed a Mediterranean restaurant near San Jose where many of the tech people came in and ate, including Steve Jobs. After learning of the chance meeting with his biological father, Jobs recalled, “It was amazing…I had been to that restaurant a few times, and I remember meeting the owner. He was Syrian. Balding. We shook hands.” The two never restored contact.

My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.

— Steve Jobs

Returning to Apple

When Apple acquired NeXT, Jobs returned to the company he had co-founded as CEO. He immediately ended the company’s unprofitable projects. Under his guidance, the NeXT technology was incorporated into Apple products. Sales increased significantly, and the new products distinguished themselves on the market due to their aesthetic designs and Jobs’s effective branding.

Steve Jobs directed the company towards digital appliances, and Apple gradually introduced on the market the iPod portable music player, the iTunes digital music software, and the iTunes Store. In June 2007, the company branched out with the introduction of the iPhone. Jobs’s excellent salesmanship skills became one of Apple’s greatest assets. Due to his perfectionism, the company became a hallmark of innovation and trendsetting.

Steve Jobs’s dedication to aesthetics and branding remained the main feature of his work. According to his friend and business partner Steve Wozniak, Jobs was not preoccupied with engineering and he didn’t do any original design. Friends and employees of Apple agreed that Wozniak was the inventor and the innovator, while Jobs was the marketing genius. Although indeed Jobs had little involvement in the technical and engineering aspects of product development after his return to Apple in 1997, as CEO of the company he was directly involved in product design and numerous other aspects of the company’s life.

Health Issues and Death

In October 2003, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since he distrusted modern medicine, he refused to undergo surgery, preferring to rely on alternative medical practices, such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. Although his condition was curable, his refusal to accept medical intervention for nine months led to a severe decline of his health. In July 2004, he finally agreed to the surgery. It seemed that the tumor was successfully removed, but Jobs’s appearance indicated otherwise and many concerns were raised about his health. In 2005, Jobs gave a now-famous commencement address at Stanford University in which he spoke of death as "very likely the single best invention of life," one that "clears out the old to make way for the new." Rumors intensified over the next years, and in January 2009, Jobs announced that he would take a six-month leave of absence to address his health issues. Tim Cook took his place as CEO of Apple.

In April 2009, Jobs underwent a liver transplant and the prognosis for his health was optimistic. He resumed his work at Apple but just a year and a half later, in January 2011, he announced that he had been granted a medical leave of absence. Although he continued to participate in some meetings and events of the company, by August his health no longer allowed him to do so and he announced his resignation as Apple’s CEO. Tim Cook was named his successor.

Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, at his home in Palo Alto, California, due to a relapse of pancreatic cancer. He was surrounded by family and friends during his final days. A small private funeral was held for Mr. Jobs. A week after the funeral a memorial service was held at Stanford University which was attended by high-profile politicians, Silicon Valley moguls, and Hollywood celebrities.

References

Blumenthal, Karen. Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. Feiwel and Friends. 2012.

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster. 2011.

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon & Schuster. 2014.

Apple Confidential: The Real Story of Apple Computer, Inc. The Denver Post. Accessed August 25, 2018.

Jobs at 17: Nerd, Poet, Romantic. October 19, 2011. Rolling Stone Magazine. Accessed August 25, 2018.

Steve Jobs Regretted Delaying Cancer Surgery 9 Months, Biographer Says. October 20, 2011. ABC News. Accessed August 25. 2018.

Steve Jobs: 10 Products that Define this Tech Legend. Inventions and Discoveries. Accessed August 25, 2018.

The Three Faces of Steve in this exclusive, personal conversation, Apple's CEO reflects on the turnaround, and on how a wunderkind became an old pro. November 9, 1998. Fortune.

Accessed August 25, 2018.

The once and future Steve Jobs. October 11, 2000. Salon.com. Accessed August 25, 2018.

Comments

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    • Erudite Scholar profile image

      Jeff Zod 

      4 weeks ago from Nairobi

      I agree with you Doug, Jobs was one of a kind.He is in the same league as Tesla, Babbage, Turing, Bell among other prominent inventors.

    • dougwest1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Doug West 

      5 weeks ago from Missouri

      Jeff:

      Job's successor, Tim Cook, is a good businessman but may not have the same visionary thinking as Steve Jobs. I like my Apple phone.

    • Erudite Scholar profile image

      Jeff Zod 

      5 weeks ago from Nairobi

      Steve Jobs was a genius and a visionary. Apple is on of the most successful companies in the world. Thanks for this biography Doug. It is very interesting.

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      13 months ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks, Doug. Jobs was a fascinating person. He certainly did a lot for the computer industry. His ideas still help innovation along today.

      Thanks.

      Sincerely,

      Tim

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