Apple CEO Steve Jobs, said to be the heart and soul of the company he co-founded, has stepped down for medical reasons. He will keep his chief executive title and participate in "major strategic decisions" at Apple.
Jobs underwent an operation for pancreatic cancer in 2004 and received a liver transplant in early 2009. But he is clearly finding it increasingly difficult to cope with his health and business problems.
Investors reacted to the news immediately: Apple's shares took a tumble in Europe. This often happens when a large business is virtually entirely dependent on a charismatic personality.
Many business moguls began their careers without either having a higher education or money, and often in fairly shady initial enterprises.
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), one of the richest Americans in history, dropped out of school when he was 11 years old and left home at 16 to ferry passengers (and, some say, smuggled goods) between Staten Island and Manhattan.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), one of the most prolific inventors ever, had only three months of formal schooling and sold candy in thick-bottomed boxes he invented himself. Buyers thought there were two layers of candy, while in fact there was only one.
Steve Jobs' early life story was similar. He dropped out after struggling through just one semester at Reed College in Portland, but not because he wanted to start earning money. He did not see any point in studying and was full of energy. He used to say, "Do what you love to do and make a difference."
I somehow doubt he loved crashing at his friends' places, collecting and returning Coke bottles to scrape money together for food, and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple. But it all helped him survive until he found a job as a technician at Atari, a popular video game manufacturer.
Jobs could have remained a hired manager were it not for Steve Wozniak, an electronics hacker whom he befriended in 1970. Rumor has it that the two Steves entered the business world via the back door. Wozniak invented the Blue Box, an electronic device that simulates a telephone operator's dialing console, to make free calls, and Jobs convinced him to market it. They started selling Blue Boxes to college students.
The $666 eye-catcher
Initially, Wozniak and Jobs worked as follows: Wozniak invented things and Jobs marketed them. But was Jobs only a marketing genius?
His nose for business told him the kind of new things Wozniak needed to invent and how he ought to approach it if the invention was to become popular. A marketing genius differs from an ordinary salesman in his ability to offer the public not what it needs today, but what it will need in the future. Henry Ford once said that if he'd asked his customers what they wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse.
But Jobs and Wozniak were not in the car business. In the 1970s, the world was entering its first digital revolution. The partners sensed this before anyone else did, and offered the market a mass-produced personal computer.
The key word here is "mass-produced," because there were PCs before them but they were clumsy and aimed at professionals or electronics-geeks. Information was fed into such PCs through a series of lengthy manipulations with special switches, and blinking lights let the users know an answer was ready.
Jobs convinced Wozniak to create a fundamentally new device, a PC with a keyboard and a display. They sold their prize possessions, Job's Volkswagen and Wozniak's expensive calculator, to raise money for their venture. The empty garage was turned into a laboratory/production line. The new invention was called Apple I and sold on the local market for $666.66.
Some thought the price had something to do with the Number of the Beast, but it didn't.
Wozniak himself later explained the real reason for choosing it, saying: "I simply like triple digit numbers with all the things I'm involved with, the cost of making the Apple 1 was around $540 or there a bouts and we agreed on the best markup, retail price above the cost of building it, which worked out to $666. Jobs then tacked on the 66 cents to make it an eye-catcher price for the ads with the sale and promotion publications of it to the public."
In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak registered Apple Computer. This was the beginning of a rapid rise to business success boosted by their first computers, Apple I and Apple II. But then they flopped with Apple III and Lisa, and these mistakes were followed by Wozniak crashing an airplane in a premature takeoff in 1981. He permanently stopped working full-time with Apple in February 1987.
In the early 1980s, Apple's main rival, IBM, created an IBM PC using the DOS operating system, made by what was, at the time, an obscure firm called Microsoft. A few years later, IBM-Microsoft took over the PC market, leaving Apple a small niche of expensive professional computers. In 1985, Jobs left the company following an internal power struggle and an announcement of significant layoffs.
The last rise
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he encouraged the creation of products that did not directly compete with IBM: an all-in-one Macintosh desktop computer iMac, a portable music player the iPod, and a multi-touch display cell phone the iPhone. They were unveiled in breathtaking shows with Jobs, the hero of the day, appearing dressed-up like popular blockbuster heroes.
Jobs has become a recognized master not only of foreseeing the public's desires but of molding them. Half the world - at least its higher-earning part - loves the iPhone, a glamorous hybrid of a PC and a cell phone. But do you know many iPhone owners who use even half of its incredible functions? I don't.
The latest Apple products were revealed amid intrigue, mystery, leaks and the search for those who leaked this "vital" information. The general public still wonders how the gadget guide site, Gizmodo, learned the details of the new iPhone 4 before its official presentation. Did they really find a misplaced device, as they claim, or did they steal it? Maybe Apple organized the leak to fuel public interest?
The world is waiting eagerly for a new batch of Apple toys. But will it get them now that Jobs has left?
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.