Steven P. Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple who helped usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies, and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age, died Wednesday. He was 56.
The death was announced by Apple, the company Jobs and high school friend Stephen Wozniak started in 1976 in a suburban California garage.
A friend of the family said that Jobs died of complications from his long battle with pancreatic cancer, with which he waged a long and public struggle, remaining the face of the company even as he underwent treatment. He continued to introduce new products for a global market in his trademark blue jeans even as he grew gaunt and frail.
He underwent surgery in 2004, received a liver transplant in 2009 and took three medical leaves of absence as Apple’s chief executive before stepping down in August and turning over the helm to Timothy D. Cook, the chief operating officer. When he left, he was still engaged in the company’s affairs, negotiating with another Silicon Valley executive only weeks earlier.
By then, having mastered digital technology and capitalized on his intuitive marketing sense, Jobs had largely come to define the personal computer industry and an array of digital consumer and entertainment businesses centered on the Internet. He had also become a rich man, worth an estimated $8.3 billion.
Tributes to Jobs flowed quickly Wednesday evening, in formal statements and in the flow of social networks, with President Barack Obama, technology industry leaders, and legions of Apple fans weighing in.
“For those of us lucky enough to get to work with Steve, it’s been an insanely great honor,” said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder. “I will miss Steve immensely.”
A Twitter user named Matt Galligan wrote: “RIP Steve Jobs. You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”
Eight years after founding Apple, Jobs led the team that designed the Macintosh computer, a breakthrough in making personal computers easier to use. After a 12-year separation from the company, prompted by a bitter falling-out with his chief executive, John Sculley, he returned in 1997 to oversee the creation of one innovative digital device after another — the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. These transformed not only product categories like music players and cellphones but also entire industries, like music and mobile communications.
During his years outside Apple, he bought a tiny computer graphics spinoff from director George Lucas and built a team of computer scientists, artists, and animators that became Pixar Animation Studios. Starting with “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar produced a string of hit movies, won several Academy Awards for artistic and technological excellence, and made the full-length computer-animated film a mainstream art form enjoyed by children and adults worldwide.
Jobs was neither a hardware engineer nor a software programmer, nor did he think of himself as a manager. He considered himself a technology leader, choosing the best people possible, encouraging and prodding them, and making the final call on product design.
“He was the most passionate leader one could hope for, a motivating force without parallel,” wrote Steven Levy, author of the 1994 book Insanely Great, which chronicles the creation of the Mac. “Tom Sawyer could have picked up tricks from Steve Jobs.”
Jobs was the ultimate arbiter of Apple products, and his standards were exacting. Over the course of a year he tossed out two iPhone prototypes, for example, before approving the third and begin shipping it in June 2007.
After dropping out of Reed College, a stronghold of liberal thought in Portland, Ore., in 1972, Jobs led a countercultural lifestyle himself. He told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.
Apple’s very name reflected his unconventionality. In an era when engineers and hobbyists tended to describe their machines with model numbers, he chose the name of a fruit, supposedly because of his dietary habits at the time.
Coming on the scene just as computing began to move beyond the walls of research laboratories and corporations in the 1970s, Jobs saw that computing was becoming personal — that it could do more than crunch numbers and solve scientific and business problems — and that it could even be a force for social and economic change. He was offering not just products but a digital lifestyle.
Regis McKenna, a Silicon Valley marketing executive to whom Jobs turned in the late 1970s to help shape the Apple brand, said Jobs’ genius lay in his ability to simplify complex, highly-engineered products, “to strip away the excess layers of business, design, and innovation until only the simple, elegant reality remained.”
Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, and put up for adoption by his biological parents, Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, a graduate student from Syria who became a political science professor. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.
Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell, survives him, as do his three children with Powell, his daughters Eve Jobs and Erin Sienna Jobs and a son, Reed; another daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, from a relationship with Chrisann Brennan; and his sisters, novelist Mona Simpson and Patti Jobs.
In 1975, he and Wozniak, then working as an engineer at HP, began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, a hobbyist group that met at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, Calif. Personal computing had been pioneered at research laboratories adjacent to Stanford, and it was spreading to the outside world.
“What I remember is how intense he looked,” said Lee Felsenstein, a computer designer who was a Homebrew member. “He was everywhere, and he seemed to be trying to hear everything people had to say.”
Wozniak designed the original Apple I computer simply to show it off to his friends at the Homebrew. It was Jobs who had the inspiration that it could be a commercial product.
In early 1976, he and Wozniak, using their own money, began Apple with an initial investment of $1,300; they later gained the backing of a former Intel executive, A.C. Markkula, who lent them $250,000. Wozniak would be the technical half and Jobs the marketing half of the original Apple I Computer. Starting out in the Jobs family garage in Los Altos, they moved the company to a small office in Cupertino shortly thereafter.
In April 1977, Jobs and Wozniak introduced Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco. It created a sensation. Faced with a gaggle of small and large competitors in the emerging computer market, Apple, with its Apple II, had figured out a way to straddle the business and consumer markets by building a computer that could be customized for specific applications.
Sales skyrocketed, from $2 million in 1977 to $600 million in 1981, the year the company went public. By 1983 Apple was in the Fortune 500. No company had ever joined the list so quickly.
In 1980 Jobs had lured Sculley to Apple to be its chief executive. A former Pepsi-Cola chief executive, Sculley was impressed by Jobs’ pitch: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”
In the wake of some disappointing sales, the two men became estranged and a power struggle ensued, and Jobs lost control of the Lisa project. He left Apple in 1985.
In 1996, after unsuccessful efforts to develop next-generation operating systems, Apple, with Gilbert Amelio now in command, acquired NeXT for $430 million. The next year, Jobs returned to Apple as an adviser. He became chief executive again in 2000.
Once in control of Apple again, Jobs set out to reshape the consumer electronics industry. He pushed the company into the digital music business, introducing first iTunes and then the iPod MP3 player. The music arm grew rapidly, reaching almost 50 percent of the company’s revenue by June 2008.
In 2005, Jobs announced that he would end Apple’s business relationship with IBM and Motorola and build Macintosh computers based on Intel microprocessors.
By then his fight with cancer was publicly known. Apple had announced in 2004 that Jobs had a rare but curable form of pancreatic cancer and that he had undergone successful surgery. Four years later, questions about his health returned when he appeared at a company event looking gaunt.
Apple began selling the iPhone in June 2007. Jobs’ goal was to sell 10 million of the handsets in 2008, equivalent to one percent of the global cell phone market. The company sold 11.6 million.
Although smartphones were already commonplace, the iPhone dispensed with a stylus and pioneered a touch-screen interface that quickly set the standard for the mobile computing market. Rolled out with much anticipation and fanfare, iPhone rocketed to popularity; by end of 2010 the company had sold almost 90 million units.
If he had a motto, it may have come from The Whole Earth Catalog, which he said had deeply influenced him as a young man. The book, he said in his commencement address at Stanford in 2005, ends with the admonition “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
“I have always wished that for myself,” he said.