When he died on Oct. 5, 2011 at the age of 56, Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple, had 241 patents registered in his name or as co-inventor. The most successful and revolutionary of these innovations have become indispensable to millions of people worldwide – for their work, for their leisure time, for the way they interact with others. (For more on Steve Jobs, read What We Can Learn From Steve Jobs.)
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Regarded as a genius on par with such influential inventors as Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, Jobs was also a miraculously successful executive. From its inauspicious origins in his parents' Los Altos, California, garage in 1976, Jobs built his company Apple into one of the world's most valuable corporations in dollar terms today. The lives of so many of us have been irreversibly changed for the better by the innovations of Steve Jobs.
Among his most famous innovations are:
Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak created the Apple I, a personal computer with no monitor, no keyboard and no mouse. The original selling price when it was launched in 1976 was $666.66.
Launched in 1977, Apple II was an improved and updated version of the previous model, this time with a keyboard, monitor and a new operating system. Wozniak had contributed much to its design and new features which made it easier to use and expandable. The Apple II was one of the first mass-produced, widely popular and profitable personal microcomputers.
With the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, called Mac for short, personal computing took a giant leap forward with its innovative graphics interface and mouse, an efficient, easy-to-use substitute for the keyboard, although the keyboard was also part of the package. The Mac was not initially a commercial success, but several other enhanced, expanded and improved models of the Mac, including a portable, were launched in the ensuing years with huge profitability. (To learn more about innovation and its effect on a company, see Which Is Better: Dominance Or Innovation?)
Ever restless and looking for new opportunities, Jobs bought an obscure computer graphics firm from the director of "Star Wars," George Lucas. Branding the firm Pixar, Jobs retooled the company as an animated film studio. Pixar went on to win 26 Academy Awards and numerous other honors for the production of such films as "Toy Story," "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo," all major box office successes. In 2006, Jobs sold Pixar to The Walt Disney Company for $7.4 billion, thus making him the largest Disney stockholder.
In one of those rare ironies in the business world, Steve Jobs was fired in 1985 from his own company by John Scully, the executive Jobs hired to manage the firm. While Jobs concentrated on the development of new products, Scully won a power struggle and ousted his former boss. Jobs, however, launched a new firm – NeXT – producing innovative computer workstations and accompanying operating systems, and power graphics. Marketed especially to students and universities, the firm was not successful. Apple struggled in the absence of Jobs, bought NeXT for $429 million in 1996 and rehired Jobs in 1997 as CEO.
Nothing like it had ever been seen before: a compact desktop computer contained in a clear plastic cube. Launched in 2000, a major innovation on The Cube, besides the design, was the absence of a cooling fan. The heat generated by the Cube was dissipated from the top of the encasement. Although it won awards for its design, The Cube provided nothing by way of benefits or features than what was available on other competing personal computers.
The iPod, launched in 2001, was basically a computer hard drive with some functional embellishments, with a set of earbuds and a control system. It enabled its users to store and playback music and songs on its hard drive. The songs could be bought online at the iTunes retailer for as little as 99 cents. (For more on Apple, check out The Apple Ecosystem.)
Launched in 2006, the MacBook laptop computer had all the capabilities of a desktop computer. Eventually, the MacBook outsold all competing laptops.
Fitting snugly into the palm of your hand, the iPhone, released in 2007, could send and receive telephone calls, play movies, retrieve your e-mail, surf the net, and send and receive text messages. Numerous other smart phone applications were added as subsequent models were released.
The iPad Tablet
Another revolutionary innovation by Steve Jobs, the iPad tablet had many of the capabilities of a laptop computer. The iPad is thin and lightweight, with a touch-screen interface, audio capability and internet connectivity.
The Bottom Line
Not since Edison has an American inventor so widely and profoundly influenced our lives with his innovations. We may now carry with us in a convenient, highly portable device, the iPad, one of Jobs' latest ideas, which gives us access to movies, books, newspapers and magazines. (To read more on the visionary Steve Jobs, see Steve Jobs: Legacy Of A Tech Guru.)