By Sarthak Shankar
Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson, Hachette India, Pp 630(HB), Rs 799
Apple has today become a household name whose products seem to have the scintillating quality of being a class apart while still being ubiquitously owned and used. Walter Isaacson tells the story of the man behind Apple’s success: Steve Jobs.
We all know that Steve Jobs was adopted and that he started Apple in his father’s garage. The saga of the Reed dropout—his adventure with the calligraphy class is too well known. But, there is lot more to this Cupertino giant than meets the eye.
Steve Jobs’ adoptive parents were Paul Reinhold Jobs and Clara Hagopian. Paul Jobs had been born and raised in German Town, Wisconsin, and, when he met Clara he had just been “mustered out of the coast guards after World War II.” His wife, Clara was of Armenian descent and she had been born in New Jersey. Her family later moved to Wisconsin where she would meet Paul Jobs and with him adopt Steve Paul Jobs. When later asked about his parents Steve Jobs enthusiastically named Paul and Clara Jobs as his parents.
Jobs’ biological parents were Joanne Schieble and Abdulfattah “John” Jandali. While Schieble was a graduate student at University of Wisconsin, Jandali was a Muslim teaching assistant there. They fell in love and, in February 24, 1955, had a baby that they put up for adoption – the father of Apple; Steve Jobs.
Isaacson mentions that Job’ parents had told him early on in life that he had been adopted. This realisation led him to believe that he was unique, “Abandoned. Chosen. Special. Those concepts became a part of who Jobs was and how he regarded himself.” Jobs, like all other geniuses, was a renowned trouble maker and his teachers often struggled to keep him in check.
In high school he met Stephen Wozniak, who would go on to become Job’s invaluable partner and friend. Their chemistry was perfect; Wozniak was an engineering prodigy while Jobs was good at using Wozniak’s skill to earn outstanding profits. One cherished story of the duo revolves around their creation of a device “blue box” that could be augmented onto phones that would allow people to make calls to anywhere for free. “Every time I’d design something great, Steve would find a way to make money for us” said Wozniak. The pair was at the epicenter of the ongoing hippie culture and their combined passion led them, slowly but surely towards building computers for the masses. In 1976, Jobs and Woz—along with a third member who shortly thereafter exited the company—created Apple. They along with some friends spent months on end in the Jobs’ family garage building the grandfather of the modern computer—the Apple1. It was highly rudimentary by today’s standards, but back then—“it was the first time in history” Wozniak later said, “anyone had typed a character on a keyboard and seen it show up on their own computer screen right in front of them.”
People regard the Apple1 as the first ever consumer computer and of course the revolution created by Apple1 made Apple a force to be reckoned with in the technological community. Apple 2 was destined to be an even greater revolution, but due to Jobs’ obsession with perfect beauty, even in the unseen parts, the project was derailed by about a year. Around that time Jobs had fathered a baby with his girl friend, a baby who he — like his own father — would abandon. Another obstacle was that Bill Gates had entered the computer scene. Initially Microsoft just produced apps for the Apple computers. At the advent of Apple 2, however Gates created the Windows1. Windows1 was an operating software that seemed to just be an incomplete version of the then Apple OS. However, it would run on just about any computer, it was cheaper, not as classy, but still as workable as the Apple OS.The end result being that Microsoft came to dominate the OS market. “This exposed an aesthetic flaw in how the universe worked: the best and most innovative products don’t always win.”
Jobs didn’t have the time to mourn his brainchild though, and he wanted to start working on a new project that he—surprisingly—named after his baby daughter Lisa. By now, however, the Apple team was done with its share of Jobs’ dictatorship. Almost as an answer to their prayers Apple had started working on yet another, low end device — the Macintosh which served as a lightening rod for Jobs. Eventually he was ousted from the Lisa and pushed on to the Macintosh team. Still Jobs not exerting perfect control was bound to be trouble. And later, when a power struggle to the then Apple CEO John Sculley, Jobs left to find his own, new path. He founded another company NeXT that gave Jobs yet another taste of defeat as the launched product appealed to no one who could afford it. Jobs next bought PIXAR animation studios, that under him went on to release iconic animation hits such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo to name a few.
While all this was going on, Jobs’ romance life had not missed a beat. In 1989 he met the woman that was capable of holding him till death did them apart. “Smart yet unpretentious. Tough enough to stand up to him, yet Zen—like enough to rise above the turmoil. Well educated and independent yet, ready to make accommodations for him and a family. Down to earth, but with a touch of the ethereal. Savvy enough to know how to handle him, but secure enough to not always need to.” This was Laurene Powell, Jobs’ leading lady. And in spite of a little vacillation, Jobs managed make the right choice and marry Powell.
Steve Jobs has often been compared to Jesus because, like the messiah he came back from the dead when Apple needed him most. Weeks before Apple would file for bankruptcy Steve Jobs came back to Apple as an advisor. But what’s in a name, for Jobs brought a team of creative personnel as well as his own genius to the fray. He cut the production of the scores of Mac variants and dedicated Apple to the production of just four types of Macs. In due time he became an interim CEO and then finally became the CEO of Apple.
Well into his forties Jobs still had a lot of adventure left in him. In 2001 jobs demoted the computer to a digital hub and decided to introduce the world to the iPod — a thousand songs in your pocket. The rest as they say is history. Jobs offered the entire package: iPod plus iTunes plus Apple Mac to give consumers access and control over the world’s storehouse of music. The iPod’s success speaks for itself, it created history. Jobs single handedly performed the Herculean task of convincing the entire music industry to sell individual songs in the iTunes Store and later did the same to book authors and magazines. The end product being a titillating package of consumer entertainment. Today iTunes gives its users access to around the world entertainment in the form of music, movies, TV shows, pod casts, books, you name it. The sales of the iPod told a trail-blazing story, the sales of Apple products went over the roof. Today, whatever Apple does seems to set the industry benchmark. The 21st century was witness to the release of the wonder machines such as iPhone and iPad as well which all went on to make Apple the most valuable company in the world. In early 2011 he met and advised President Obama on what to do regarding the stagnant economy.
On a 2010 summer, Jobs weakened to the bed, wondered that perhaps there is such a thing as an afterlife. A few moments later he admitted that he may be getting ahead of himself and that life and death might just be like a simple on-off switch. At that he joked “Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”
Steve Jobs’ life tells the story of a man that kept pace with the future unto his deathbed. He went from an abandoned child to become the man that played an instrumental role in shaping the 21st century. Regardless of your philosophical bent or even your interest in technology, Steve Jobs’ life has a story to tell and it definitely deserves to be heard.
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been the chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He also wrote the biographies Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. He also co-authored the Wise Men; Six Friends and the World They Made.
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