"It was sponsored by that guy from Apple computers." - Homer Simpson, 1996.
Today the word of Information Technology mourns the passing of a giant in the field, Steve Jobs. The Apple logo, and technical innovations such as the iPod and Macs, have become synonymous with the information age and the very idea of western capitalism. No one more than Jobs incorporated the ideal of the capitalist system. Adopted by a working class family, Jobs grew up to co-found the world's largest technology firm and amass a personal net worth of $8.3bn. He also embodied a middle-class aspiration of incorporating creativity and design into his firm's USP. Apple's innovations were as much artistic and design triumphs as they were technical and financial successes.
It is difficult to overstate the influence Jobs has had. His early Macs where the first computers to use a mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which allowed them to move away from the previous Command Line Interface and bring personal computing to the less technically minded. It is very telling that Apple's OS operating system has the most logical names for features (Finder and Trash versus Explorer and Recycle Bin); this is because they were the first into this brave new territory and were able to coin the names. As well as defining the personal computer, his firm still sets the benchmark in modern computing. All modern smart phones are modelled heavily on the original iPhone design, and the iPod is the baseline by which all personal MP3 players are measured.
Jobs' financial successes are also many. When he returned to Apple in 1997, he took the firm from being literally a joke (see the 1996 Simpsons episode Homerpalooza for proof how much of a joke Apple was before Job's return), to eclipse the behemoths Microsoft and IBM and become the world's largest technology company, with a market capitalisation of over $350bn. More than any other CEO, Jobs led from the front, his personality being inseparable from the brand and his trademark keynote addresses a defining feature of their new product launches. Apple more than any other technology company has fans as opposed to customers, and devotees would queue for hours to see the man in person and catch a glimpse of the latest products.
Tributes to Steve Jobs outside the Apple Store on Regents Street, London
Under Job's leadership Apple have become a powerhouse of creative and technical accomplishments. The brand has a reputation for being original and for being the best choice for digital artists, graphic designers, and many others in fields where computing and creativity go hand in hand. Always with a keen eye for good business ventures, they have sponsored smaller firms to great technical innovations. It is telling that it was Jobs who first saw the possibilities that Pixar offered when he bought the company in 1986. It is difficult to say which direction the company will move in now, but it is clear that the new CEO, Tim Cook, has some very large shoes to fill.
I started by saving that Steve Jobs epitomised a western capitalist ideal and I will conclude by returning to this point. The foundation stone of western capitalist society is the belief that personal individualism can be expressed through mass produced consumer products. Apple is the pinnacle of this, as being an apple customer makes a statement about you as a person. No other innovator or company has been the alternative, rebel in the market (against the mainstream Microsoft) whilst being the larger, dominant, top-dog firm. The mark Steve Jobs left behind will be felt by his firm and his fans, and his accomplishments will belong to the ages. Truly today we have lost a great innovator and businessman.