When we heard the rumors that Apple will not be launching the promised super-sized iPhone 6 this fall, we took a moment to reflect on the legacy of Steve Jobs, Apple’s legendary founder. As the company struggles to maintain its edge over competitors like Samsung and Google, we thought of Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography of Jobs, and the way Jobs’ presence (or lack thereof) continues to shape our relationship to technology.
It’s hard to overstate how much Jobs has influenced our world, from revolutionary products he championed, like the original Macintosh computer and iPhone, to his signature black turtleneck and presentation style, to his exacting passion for perfection in every detail. Isaacson’s biography is filled with surprising and intimate details from Jobs himself, as well as interviews with his family members, friends, and colleagues. Taken together, these revealing accounts create a rich, complicated portrait of Jobs’ early life and the forces that shaped his sometimes visionary, sometimes tyrannical persona.
From a young age, Jobs thought of himself as someone chosen, special. His sense of exceptionalism came at least in part from his adopted parents.
Steve Jobs knew from an early age that he was adopted … “[My parents] were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said ‘We specifically picked you out.’ Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me. And they put an emphasis in every word in that sentence.”
Jobs’ passion for detail has become an integral part of Apple’s persona. Whether you love or hate Jobs’ aesthetic, you probably didn’t realize how much his father imbued him with an appreciation for details most people would overlook.
It was important, his father said, to craft the backs of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. “He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see.”
Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley brought Jobs into contact with computers from an early age. His time in the Hewlett-Packard Explorers Club sparked what would become a lifelong love of technology.
“I saw my first desktop computer there. It was called the 9100A, and it was a glorified calculator but also really the first desktop computer. It was huge, maybe forty pounds, but it was a beauty of a thing. I fell in love with it.”
Throughout his youth, Jobs struggled with formal schooling. At college, he finally adopted a drop-out and drop-in approach to his education.
“The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”
One of these courses instilled in Jobs an appreciation for humanistic details that would become a hallmark of Apple’s design.
“At the calligraphy class he had audited at Reed, Jobs learned to love typefaces, with all of their serif and sans serif variations, proportional spacing, and leading.”
After dropping out, Jobs worked at Atari before teaming up with his childhood friend, Steve Wozniak, to form Apple Computer in his parents’ garage.
Jobs knew how to appeal to Wozniak. He didn’t argue that they were sure to make money, but instead that they would have a fun adventure. “Even if we lose our money, we’ll have a company.”
Jobs wasn’t Apple’s only founding genius (he wasn’t even the only one named Steve). Steve Wozniak singlehandedly designed the original Apple I and Apple II computers, but it was Jobs’ marketing savvy and consumer focus that made Apple a household name.
Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention that he would have been happy just to give away, and Jobs would figure out how to make it user-friendly, put it together in a package, market it, and make a few bucks.
From the start, Jobs’ sensibilities were imprinted all over Apple, from the look of the original Apple computer to the name of the company itself.
“I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’”
Jobs kept insisting that the machine should look friendly. As a result, it evolved to resemble a human face.