This week, on 5th October 2011, the World learnt the sad news of the death of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.
I found myself feeling surprisingly saddened to hear of his death, even though I did not know him and his death had long been anticipated. I think this was for two reasons; firstly because he was only 56, and secondly because it just shows that one can have all the financial and career success in the World, but no amount of either can ensure a long life.
The internet was awash with tributes to the “magician” of Apple computing, and as I read some of these articles I realised what an impact he had had on so many people’s lives. I learnt of his death through BBC radio, but via my iPad, a device he had invented. I continued reading tweets and Facebook posts about his death on my iPhone as I went into work, the iPhone device he had invented. And, when I got to work, I set about reading emails and preparing lectures on my Apple PowerBook, a device he had invented.
I am old enough to remember the beginning of the Apple Mac, which really started the whole “Apple revolution” in computing and consumer products. I was an undergraduate student studying Physics at Imperial College when, in 1984, the Apple Mac was launched.
To say it was revolutionary would be an understatement. It was the first commercial computer to use a mouse and icons, rather than typing in long-winded commands on a keyboard. It’s ease of use, the accurate rendition of text and graphics and many other features quickly made it the most sought after computer of its day.
I did not buy my first Apple computer until 1993, when I bought an Apple Macintosh LCIII. It was actually the first computer I had ever owned, prior to this I had always used computers at work, be they terminals connected to a microVAX or stand-alone Sun workstations running Solaris, Sun’s version of Unix.
A few years after buying my LCIII I bought my first laptop, an Apple PowerBook, with a grey 10-inch screen. By this time, Linux, the free version of Unix developed by Linus Torvals had been launched. Because the software I used for my astronomy data analysis in my research could not run on a Mac, I started using both a Mac and a PC running Linux. I would use the Linux machine for data reduction, and my Mac for everything else.
This was the mid 1990s, by which time the company Steve Jobs had co-founded was in dire financial straits. They were losing money, had suffered a number of disasterous failed products like the Newton, and had even licensed the Mac operating system to third party vendors in a desperate attempt to stop their ever shrinking market share.
Apple were in such a downwards spiral that they brought Steve Jobs back to the company, despite his acrimonious departure only 11 years before. Very quickly, the vision and sheer knack for inventiveness that Steve had always shown was rescuing Apple. Under Jobs, re-installed as CEO in 1997, Apple brought out the iMac, with its eye-catching translucent body. The iMac revolutionised the way computers were perceived, making them trendy and attractive for the first time.
In 2001 Apple brought out the iPod, which soon captured the lion’s share of the market for portable mp3 players. In the following year, it changed the Mac’s operating system to Mac OSX, a Unix based operating system that enabled me to ditch my Linux machine and start using a Mac for data reduction as well as all the other things I was already doing on it.
In the decade since 2001 Steve oversaw the development and launch of killer-product after killer-product; the iPod touch, the iPhone, the iPad, and a suite of beautiful desktop and laptop Macs. By 2011 Jobs had turned Apple around from a company on the verge of bankruptcy to the second largest company in the World, second only to Exxon-Mobil.
I read two wonderful tributes to Steve Jobs on the internet a day or so after his death. The first one read –
Three apples have changed the World. The first was given to Eve in the garden of Eden. The second fell on Newton. The third was given to us by Steve Jobs. Thank you Stve, RIP.
Thee second one was from the mother of a child with cerebral palsy. She told of how the iPad had transformed her son’s ability to communicate with the World. We often forget the transformational abilities technology can have on people’s lives, from being able to make video calls to loved ones to being able to update friends around the World on our status or whereabouts.
There is no doubt that Steve Jobs changed the lives of millions of people through humanising technology, and creating “insanely great devices”. The World is going to miss his passing, but we are lucky to have had his genius to enrich our lives.
The title of this article is a reference to the origins of the Apple logo. The story is that the bitten Apple is a tribute to Alan Turing, the founder of much of modern computing, and the leader of the Bletchley Park team who cracked the enigma code in the 2nd World war. In 1954, Turing committed suicide due to the shame of having been convicted for a homosexual act (a crime at that time in England and Wales). To sweeten the bitter taste of the cyanide, he injected it into an apple. Whether this is the reason for the Apple logo’s appearance is hotly debated on the internet, but the general consensus seems to be that the story is not true. I hope one day either Jobs’ relatives or the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will be able to deny or confirm the story.