It was inevitable. After years of declining health and seven months after taking his second extended leave from daily operations as Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO, Steve Jobs has resigned from the post at the company he helped found. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will take over for the most iconic wearer of turtlenecks since Carl Sagan.
Of course, Jobs was bound to step down as CEO of the company. Even if he wasn’t a younger man in ill health, Jobs isn’t immortal. He is not, contrary to the fervent belief of Apple’s more enthusiastic fans, more than a man. Panicked investors, whose sky-is-falling attitude caused shares in Apple to dip 5% after Jobs’ announced his resignation, would do well to remember this.
It also is important to remember that Steve Jobs will continue in part to be the face of Apple, staying on in an advisory role — and, health permitting, he will undoubtedly make public appearances to help promote new products and initiatives to the public.
But now is the time to marvel at what Jobs was able to accomplish during his second stint with Apple — a tenure that saw the San Francisco native transform a computer company that was little more than a punchline in the mid-1990s into the most valuable technology company in the United States. These are Jobs’ greatest hits from 1996 to 2011.
iMac and OS X
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he brought his other brainchild, the computer technology company NeXT, with him. Apple bought NeXT for $429 million, a major purchase that turned out to be one of the company’s most profitable as the NeXTSTEP operating system was what eventually would transform into the OS X operating system.
It was OS X that dramatically changed consumers’ perception of Mac computers as being unwieldy to use compared to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows machines. OS X, of course, never would have made an impact without an attractive device to sell it, and it was the simple-to-use, candy-colored iMac line that made Apple’s products desirable for the first time since the mid-’80s. It was these products that cemented Jobs as permanent CEO by 2000 rather than just an interim executive.
iPod and iTunes
The media player that put a portable hard drive in 297 million pockets and the digital distribution business that transformed an industry — the impact of the iPod and iTunes on modern business can’t be understated. While both products were designed by teams of individuals, Jobs was instrumental in the creation of both, with his influence driving the simple, usable interface used in the classic iPod and the iTunes store.
Jobs made took what appeared to consumers like complicated technology, and he made it simple to plug in and use. He also did more to transform the music recording industry than even Napster, bringing record sales fully into the digital age.
iPhone and the App Store
The only thing the iPod couldn’t do by 2007 was make phone calls. Considering that some 100 million iPhones have been sold since then, phone calls clearly were something iPod users wanted to make.
The iPhone’s legacy is more than just great business, though. The device has been responsible for making touchscreen technology ubiquitous for the first time in history, taking it beyond niche applications like PDAs and video game devices, a major shift in the way people interact with technology. It was Jobs that pushed Apple to pursue touchscreen technology.
The App Store, in turn, transformed how people access and think of computer programs, making both development and commerce accessible to everyone, even people still mystified by using a web browser. No small feat.
Even though he helped grow Mac sales far beyond what anyone might have predicted 15 years ago, Apple’s computers still are no match for the sales of Windows-based PCs made by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Lenovo and Acer. Thanks to the final major product to release during Jobs’ reign as CEO, however, Apple no longer needs to beat the PC market at its own game.
The iPad tablet has, much to the chagrin of an entire industry, splintered the consumer computing market. Rather then buying laptops and desktop computers, people are buying tablets. Not even tablets, though. Just iPads. For the second time in a decade, Jobs helped his company define and dominate an entire segment of the technology industry.