This week, Apple released the news that its CEO and founder, Steve Jobs, is taking an indefinite medical leave. Almost immediately, speculation ran rampant over the future of the company and the fate of Jobs, who is perceived in equal parts titan, celebrity and artist. If you ask me it’s all a bunch of hogwash. Armchair diagnoses are a crock and frankly, ghoulish. But there is something we can talk about. We can talk about Apple, the man who invented it, and why it is going to be just fine for some time to come. 

From 1985 to 1996, Apple slogged along without Steve Jobs at all. Though the company put out a number of revolutionary products during that era, including the much lampooned but ahead of its time Newton, this is about the time that Microsoft rose to prominence and gobbled up 95 per cent of the computer market. Without him, they were a company on the run. Almost immediately after his return, profits started to rise, at first slowly, then exponentially, with the release of the iPod. It is extremely easy to argue that Apple sans Jobs is Apple without its soul. 

That said, in 1985, Steve Jobs was a renowned hothead (he still is to some extent), going toe to toe with the company’s board over his top priority, the development of the Macintosh. John Sculley who left Pepsico to become Apple’s CEO in 1983 quickly became Jobs’s fiercest adversary. Scully, representing Apple’s board, was taking on IBM, then a kind of computing mountain. Steve Jobs, on the other hand was making machines that would change the way people work and communicate; in this sense, there was no competition. But the board, of course, wanted IBM’s customers. The two came to blows and Jobs was ousted not long after the Macintosh was introduced. 

So what’s different now? For one, Apple is a company that accepts that it is in a class all its own. In some areas, even, there is no competition. Strangely, since its introduction in 2007, the iPod Touch is virtually unrivalled; there is no market for touch-screen, wifi-enabled music players with a vibrant app platform. The iPad’s competition is growing, but for the better part of 2010 it sat alone in the tablet market. Everyone else competes with Apple, not the other way around. Fundamentally, this makes Apple a completely different company than what it was in 1985. 

Also, Jobs is a different man. Though still somewhat of a tech shaman, his years away from Apple seemed to soften him, to make him a better businessman. When he eventually returned, the company’s stock only went up. First came the iMac, then the iPod, the iPhone and finally the iPad. With iTunes, the music industry was reinvigorated and, in my humble opinion, saved from the brink of disaster. Another of his more interesting acquisitions over the years has been Pixar, a company he helped found and through which he became the largest shareholder at Disney.

But after his recent brushes with disease, it has become clear to those who follow Apple that he has taken a marked step out of the limelight over the past few years. His famous keynote presentations, once billed as a Jobs-only show, started featuring more key players in the company’s creative stables. He is preparing Apple for its next generation of success. In the end, whenever it may come, that may be his greatest success as a businessman: he built a company that can stand on its own.

1 Comments | Add a Comment
a class all its own: shit on the inside, polished turd on the outside. its amazing how the increasingly ignorant masses can be swayed by marketing alone. if you ever opened up a mac (and my guess is you wouldn't even know how to do that) you will find the cheapest chips inside, the same ones inside a cheaper pc. steve wozniak was the real "genius" and groundbreaker with the appleII.
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