Leading article: The sad loss of one of a kind

Friday 07 October 2011 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The late Steve Jobs revolutionised no fewer than six different industries: personal computers, mobile phones, music publishing, animated films, digital publishing and tablet computing. So while the word innovation is overused nowadays, there is no one about whom it can be more aptly deployed than the founder of Apple.

When Mr Jobs died on Wednesday he had some 313 patents to his name. Among them were point-and-click mouse techniques and the technology behind touch-sensitive screens. His iMac computer pioneered the intuitive approach, technology that was ready to use straight from the box. His iPod did not just change music on the move; with iTunes and download sales, it turned the whole music industry on its head. His iPhone defined the concept of the smartphone. And his ultra-thin MacBook Air and then his iPad brought an everyday portability to computing with devices that were thin, lightweight and easy to carry.

Asked once what market research he did, Mr Jobs replied: "None. It's not the consumer's job to know what they want." He designed what he wanted, assuming that others would like it too. And they certainly did.

His genius was unconfined. When he was (briefly) pushed out of Apple in the 1980s, he bought a graphics company, turned it into Pixar and produced Toy Story, which grossed $350m. He also founded NeXT computers, one of which was used to develop the first version of the world wide web.

All this grew out of a 1960s San Francisco counterculture worldview. Mr Jobs summarised his philosophy, not long before his death, with a quote from that hippie bible, The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was the mix of romanticism, design flair and business ruthlessness that made him an exemplar for all chief executives, and which grew Apple into the most valuable technology company in the world.

Mr Jobs is now being called a visionary who "will be remembered with Edison and Einstein". There is hyperbole in that. But it is beyond doubt that he took technology from the province of geeks and democratised it. He is irreplaceable, one media guru pronounced yesterday. It is not hard to agree.

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