I remember when Steve Jobs came back.
I was working in Indianola then, and was still very much one of the Mac faithful, despite it being a very dark time.
There was no reason that his return should have brought hope. Apple was, in fact, in bad shape. (Wired’s famous “Pray” cover was during this era — after Steve’s return, even.) And Steve’s latest venture, NeXT, while apparently technically competent, wasn’t exactly revolutionizing the world. (Nor yet was his side venture, a little company he’d bought from George Lucas named Pixar.)
But bring hope it did.
At first, the signs Apple was different, was more Apple than it had been being, were superficial. For all its grammatical offensiveness, “Think Different” just felt right. As did the underdog-fodder “Here’s To The Crazy Ones.”
And then came the more concrete signs. It was easy to believe change had arrived when the first iMacs appeared, with their convention-defying bubble shape and friendly colors. But we knew things were different when that same design aesthetic started appearing in everything from power strips to kitchen appliances. Apple was relevant again.
Over the next decade, relevant would become an understatement. Apple not only influenced, it shaped and eventually dominated. The company never returned to its first-Steve-era place as the leader of the home computer market. Instead, it made that fact unimportant. Rather than try to recapture that particular market, Apple simply repeated the same trick — creating new markets, and dominating them. And, this time, it learned lessons that had cost it the PC market, and avoided the same mistakes.
We’d been mocked. Now, the Apple logo was ubiquitous, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world. For the faithful, it was vindication. For Steve, I can only imagine.
I have confidence in Tim Cook. He has demonstrated that he can provide strong business leadership for Apple.
And right now, Steve remains on as chairman at Apple. His voice is still present; his insight still contributed.
And this is good.
Because while I have no question that Apple and its current leadership will have no problem maintaining the same levels of business acumen and technological genius, it’s the intangible I worry about.
Steve’s greatest unparalleled and world-changing skill since his return has been the ability to see what is, and to see what it could be. To look at a Walkman and see an iPod. To look at a cell phone and see an iPhone. Apple’s future is ultimately going to rest in whether the company can continue that almost-counter-intuitive innovation.
The news may have struck me differently on a different day, but yesterday, after hearing about the failure of a Soyuz rocket that morning and some of the vagaries of my personal life, it hit me hard when I heard on my way to church last night that Steve had resigned.
And it ultimately came down to this —
The world seems a little less magic.