I just heard the very sad news of your passing, and although it wasn’t entirely unexpected, it still came with the kind of shock that seems surreal for someone whom I never knew personally, but who had such a profound impact on me and so many millions of others around the world — and on the world itself.
I first saw one of your Apple computers when I was a wee lad. My elementary school class made a field trip to the local university, and I remember walking into a computer lab and seeing an Apple II sitting off in the corner. I was too young to really appreciate what it was, but that first experience proved prescient, as computing technology would become a dominant theme in my life.
In college, I became familiar with both Intel 286 and 386 PC machines while working at my university’s English department computer lab, and also with early word processing programs like WordPerfect 5.1 (for DOS, no less). They worked well enough, but when I also got to work on your Macintosh SE, it opened my eyes to how graphically oriented computers could change the way we interacted with machines. Yeah, I know you didn’t invent the GUI, but you were the one who brought it to market and in the process changed the paradigm of desktop computing.
So it was also not without some irony that the desktop publishing skills I learned while using your Mac was the very thing that led to my becoming employed with IBM in the summer of 1991. Of course, most folks have long since forgotten the series of IBM and Apple partnerships, some successful, most not: The Taligent OS, the Kaleida multimedia system, the IBM/Apple jointly-designed PowerPC chip, which several generations of Macs later used.
But I never forgot, and I also never saw IBM and Apple as being that competitive with one another. In fact, I rooted Apple on while, as before Linux really took root, the Apple platform offered the only real and viable alternative to the desktop OS beast that was Windows. And I always took great comfort in the Apple V. Microsoft jabs that you and Bill Gates would take at one another. It was healthy competition for the industry, as you all at Apple always seemed to keep Gates and company looking over their shoulders. And I never saw that $150M infusion Microsoft provided Apple in the late 1990s as a loss. In fact, that was one of the classier moves Microsoft ever made — they knew having a competitor was good for the marketplace.
After the dot com bust of 2000, who’d have known you were really just getting the Apple innovation engine revved up, however. In September 2000, you released the first beta of Mac OS X, “Kodiak.”
In October 2001, when the world (and America) could really use some kind of a lift, you gave us the iPod. In 2006, you delivered the first MacBook Pro. And then, having decided it wasn’t enough to revolutionize the computing and entertainment industries, you introduced the iPhone in June of 2007, after which the mobile phone landscape was dramatically altered. And I haven’t even yet gotten to the iPad.
I fear to add up all the money I’ve spent on your products this past decade, but I probably could have put a pretty hefty down payment on a new car with all I’ve contributed to Apple’s share price.
But it’s okay. Because you gave us technology that we mere mortals could use to be productive, to stay in touch with friends and family, to entertain ourselves, to have fun, to work hard. Yes, they were beautiful, but they also just worked, and they didn’t crash every other time we turned them on.
Overnight, Twitter reached a new record of usage as people shared their sentiments and memories. The cable TV network anchors were bowing down this morning. CNN even ran a collage of your brilliant onstage product introductions from over the last decade, which for many of we marketers were “must sees.”
But today…today, I’m just sad.
I, like so many, knew this day was going to come, but I don’t think any of us wanted it to. Kind of in the same way we couldn’t wait for your next marketing launch.
I hope the universe has carried you to a peaceful and harmonious place, Steve.
Because the places you carried all of us while you were here on earth helped make us better people, and the world a better place.
And even as you did all this, you reminded us all at your Stanford commencement speech that we all could do the same, but that we’d better get on it, the clock was ticking:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
Everything else is secondary.