One Year Later, What Was Steve Jobs’ True Legacy? [Opinion]



Steve Jobs has changed the world four times, by my reckoning. One year after his death, is the world different? What is his legacy? Is it the company that he started, journeyed outward from in disgrace, and ultimately returned to in triumph? How about the devices he had an enthusiastic hand in bringing to market? The business of music and film? What is the world now that it would not have been without Steve Jobs?

It’s all of those things, of course. Jobs’ legacy is not something we can distill into a simple slogan or tagline. Steve Jobs worked for a world in which the design, manufacture, and marketing of consumer electronics enhances our lives in a very human way.

Let me explain.

Steve Jobs took Steve Wozniak’s original hack-a-puter and turned it into the Apple, then the Mac. He made personal computing a reality. Without Steve, there would be no Mac, and possibly no mouse or graphical user interface. The digital music revolution would not have happened in the same manner. The ubiquity of the iPod brand and the ease of the iTunes music ecosystem created the music industry that we know today. Would Pixar be producing movies with the perfect blend of high technology and art without Steve Jobs at the helm? I think not. Finally, the move to a post-PC world started at Apple with the revolution of the iPhone, and the further extension of the iPad. Both devices are powerful, portable, connected computing devices that anyone can use.

He did not invent these things; many, many other talented and amazingly creative people did. Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards. He then put these devices and processes out into the world and marketed them as a lifestyle choice. Because, for Steve Jobs, it always was.

Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.

The Apple brand is like no other. People don’t use Apple products thoughtlessly. From my first Performa 638CD, I have been an Apple fan. I’m not a supporter because I’m blindly led by marketing or “cool” culture. I use these products because they make sense to me. They provide a level of user experience that is second to none. When I got the first iPhone, I brought it out to the bar to show my friends. One in particular, a really smart guy, explored the interface with his fingers. The first thing he noticed was the “bounce back” effect when scrolling to the top or bottom of an email or web page. His comment? “That’s what Apple does best. They make things that feel human.”

Think Different. A marketing slogan? Certainly. A way of being? Yes, and one that was fully expressed by the work Steve Jobs engaged in. Steve Jobs saw himself as one of a select few remarkable individuals, the same ones in the very personal Think Different campaign. Hubris? Perhaps, but the fact that the world is remembering the day that Steve Jobs passed from the earth may just prove him right in the end.

Think Different is a way of being.

Consider your typical day. You carry around enough computing power to put the largest supercomputers of just a couple of decades ago to shame in your pocket. You probably carry around a second or third device of the same or more computing power. You connect to friends and family all over the globe, in real time, with these always on, always connected devices. Your less tech-savvy family members have them too, perhaps because you helped them choose, but probably because they decided that they wanted in on the modern digital lifestyle.

I still have a Newton. It still works. I also own a Mac 512k. It runs, as well. My iPad 1 continues to entertain and inform my household, as well as the latest model Macbook Air I’m typing these words on. While consumer electronics are part of a societal culture of planned upgrade and will continue to have an environmental impact far beyond the current moment, the products made at Apple are of a quality that is rare in our mass-produced world. The devices are engineered, obsessed over, and made as true objects that meet in the intersection of design, engineering, and manufacturing. The materials are solid, the way they are put together is beyond believable, and that they cost as little as they do speaks volumes to the entire process as espoused by Steve Jobs. These are items we can believe in; tools that fit us.

Humans interact with tools. It’s one of the ways we became successful in our evolutionary niche, this use of tools. The tools we use have always evolved through continuous iteration and refined manufacturing. Whether we’re talking about a stone knife or the crazy sci-fi iPad, the tools that we all end up using that get passed along to other members of our human family, are the ones that are uniquely suited to us and our humanness. There is a reason that the iPhone-style smartphone has reached its current level of ascendency. It is a tool that fits our modern humanity like no other device. Steve Jobs had a talent for stripping away more and more of the technology, and leaving more and more of the humanity.

There is a reason that the iPhone-style smartphone has reached its current level of ascendency. It is a tool that fits our modern humanity like no other device.

Truly, Jobs’ legacy is the fact that we live in the world he envisioned, over time, with his own unique perspective on what it means to be human. Our lives are inextricably tied to the end result of his ability to influence the design and creation of the very stuff of our daily existence. Try to go one day without using or seeing a computer, a smart phone, piece of digital media. Our very way of life is Steve Jobs’ legacy? You bet it is.

  • Jonathan Ober

    I posted on my fb wall today a thank you for the way that Jobs has impacted my life. I still remember some of the early drawing and animation programs on the macs that we were taught in middle school. One day we were learning a new program and asked to draw something simple. I ended up making a castle, dragon, knight and damsel in distress…our teacher wanted a house made with simple shapes. :) Apple and inherently Jobs, created in me a creativity and drive that led me to pursue art education and ultimately web design and development. I have had several Apple products over the last decade that have helped my work life as well as my personal life in how I work day to day.

  • _mick_

    Well said, Rob.

  • Shaun Green

    Steve turned Apple into a highly successful and profitable company and launched some great products. I think he will be remembered as a legendary figure in American business along with the likes of Ford and Rockefeller. But I do not agree that he “changed the world”. He made some great gadgets that certainly make life more fun but that’s were I would draw the line. A scientist who finds a cure for a killer disease changes the world, a political leader who delivers his country from the tyranny of apartheid into the light of freedom and democracy changes the world. Even an average Joe who runs marathons to raise money for his local hospital or charity or hospice changes the world in a small way. But business leaders no. They create great products, they create great wealth. IMO Steve could have done so many great things with Apple’s wealth. He could in fact have changed the world with it, but chose not to. That’s his choice. It warrants no criticism only comment.

  • iSteve

    Steve’s legacy is the new world order. I wish there was a way to bring him back….

  • TheDashboard Development

    That guy sucks…and the company too – They are ruthless, overpriced, draconian, mind reading weirdoes – None of those geniuses, iNuts and blind followers will survive in the real world. Apple is done and dusted, from now on it is going down the drain… Today, i hate everything about apple, mac and all the hype about that clown called steve. BTW: Cult of Mac wouldn’t exist without him…Sad World it is.