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10/7/2011
10:36 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Steve Jobs: 11 Acts Of Vision

For Steve Jobs, the term 'visionary' doesn't go far enough. Consider these acts of vision--and the will that it took to make them real.




Steve Jobs has been praised as a business leader, an innovator, a man who changed the way we live. The word used most often is "visionary."

Take it from President Obama, who characterized Jobs thus in a statement:

"By building one of the planet's most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity," said President Obama. "By making computers personal and putting the Internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun."

The term "visionary" doesn't go far enough. Plenty of people have visions of something better; Jobs had the will and means to make his visions real.

Jobs had the ability to make the right choice more often than not. And when he went wrong, he learned from his mistakes.

How did Jobs do it? As he told Wired in 1996, vision is the product of a broad education.

"Creativity is just connecting things," Jobs said. "When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people."

Such diversity of experience, however, Jobs believed was too rare. "A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences," he said. "So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."

Jobs had dots to spare.


The Apple II changed everything. It was the personal computer that mattered. Yes, it came after the Altair 8800, but as Jobs later said of the iPhone, the goal is not to be first but best.

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When Steve Jobs saw Xerox PARC's prototype graphic interface, he said it was obvious all computers would one day work that way. "It didn't require tremendous intellect," said Jobs in a Smithsonian Institution interview. "It was so clear."

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Conceived by ad men at Chiat/Day and directed by Ridley Scott, Apple's board of directors hated it. Jobs, though he didn't create it, supported it, along with then Apple CEO John Sculley and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It remains one of the most highly regarded TV ads and demonstrates Jobs's grasp of marketing. Jobs would later revisit the theme of rebellion in Apple's Think Different ad campaign in the late 1990s.

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Founded in 1985 by Steve Jobs following his departure from Apple, NeXT Computer made powerful Unix-based workstations. They were high-regarded but sold poorly. Yet NeXT's influence is still felt. Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT machine in 1991 to create the first Web browser and the first Web server. And NeXT's NeXTSTEP software became the basis for Mac OS X and iOS. That heritage is still evident in the Cocoa API used for Mac OS and iOS programming: Cocoa classes begin with the letters "NS," for NeXTSTEP. If NeXT failed as a company, it succeeded in helping Apple develop a modern operating system.

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From 1995 through the middle of 1997, Apple licensed its operating system to third-party computer makers. Steve Jobs ended the program when he resumed leadership of Apple in 1997. Jobs managed to make the destructive act of elimination into something creative: Getting rid of the clones made Apple special again. He also pushed computers forward by eliminating the floppy drive before the industry was ready and by eliminating the CD/DVD drive in the MacBook Air.

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Apple's retail stores are the envy of the computer industry, which may explain why Microsoft has started opening its own similar looking retail stores. Apple's stores bring in new customers--about half the Macs sold in Apple's fiscal Q3 2011 were to customers who had not previously owned a Mac.

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Steve Jobs's attention to detail is evident in the way Apple products are packaged. Pretty much anything from Apple feels special because of the way it's packaged. It feels like someone cared enough to use the very best. Not everyone can use cardboard and plastic to foster an emotional bond with a product.

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The iPod made digital music file management easy, helped marginalize music piracy, and encouraged customers to embrace what was initially a mostly locked-down system. It established the computer, and thereby Apple, as the gatekeeper of digital content.

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Mobile phones before the iPhone just weren't as good as the iPhone. Those that came after tried to match the iPhone, and most are still trying. The iPad is the same story, writ large.

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Computers used to be all about processor power. But design matters just as much, if not more, these days. The MacBook Air has been selling well because it's computing distilled to its essence, with the speed of flash memory and the portability that comes from dispensing with bulky CD/DVD drives and hard disk drives. It's a machine tuned to the age of digital software delivery. Apple's competitors are frantically trying to copy it.

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Steve Jobs leaves behind more than ideas and products; he leaves three children that he had with his wife Laurene, and one child from a previous relationship. He leaves family and friends, colleagues and admirers. His personal legacy is a different sort of triumph, but no less important than his professional accomplishments.

"In his public life, Steve was known as a visionary; in his private life, he cherished his family," the Jobs family said in a statement. "We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve's illness; a website will be provided for those who wish to offer tributes and memories."

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Which of the Jobs decades was most remarkable? That may depend on whether you feel more amazed by the Apple II or the iPad. Jobs leaves a 56-year timeline like no other.

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Apple's iPhone 4S Magic: Siri

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