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Steve Jobs - Afterthoughts five years on

Hardy Graupner
October 4, 2016

Steve Jobs, the visionary and business genius, died five years ago on October 5, 2011. He left the world's most valuable company shortly before his death. Apple has since been doing fine without him. Was he overrated?

Steve Jobs presenting Apple iPhone
Image: picture alliance/dpa/J. G. Mabanglo

Let's be clear: Nobody ever said Steve Jobs was loved by everyone. Some even hated him for his quirky lifestyle, his often eccentric ideas, and the way he avoided publicity beyond his spectacular product shows. But never mind. Haters gonna hate.

Towards the end of those shows, he'd invariably utter his legendary "and one more thing …" Those attending would immediately know that the most important part of the event was only just beginning, meaning that Jobs was about to reveal another breath-taking gadget for Apple-hungry consumers that would almost invariably turn out to be the company's next big money spinner.

Consumers around the globe felt that a man of tremendous foresight and vision had left life's stage five years ago. On a tribute page, a web user by the name of Sidharth echoed the feelings of a great many of his contemporaries.

"Steve changed the world, not once or twice, but several times," he said. "His genius raised the bar for customer-centricity and gave us something to look forward to. He created magic and almost single-handedly kept the wow factor alive."

No matter how you view Steve Jobs the person, you have to acknowledge his powerful leadership, says Ian Fogg from data analysis provider IHS Markit.

"Leadership is to influence and motivate others to achieve great things," Fogg told DW. "It's exceptional leadership to create an institution, Apple, with those principles embedded."

Simplicity counts

Whole books have been written about Jobs' seemingly endless achievements, a biographical drama movie about him followed in 2015. Basically, his greatest merit was his ability to see things through the eyes of the ordinary customer, meaning that he realized the need and business potential of making devices simple to use.

Wired.com writer Michael Calore pointed out Jobs had "made it his mission to humanize personal computing, rewriting the rules of user experience design, hardware design and software design."

He had that in him right from the start when, together with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs pursued the idea of a personal computer for the mass market. Yes, there were PCs before, but the Mac eventually became the first successful PC to feature a mouse and a graphical interface, making it that much easier for users to handle the device instead of fiddling around with a command-line interface.

Market experts have rightly pointed out that Apple has not become so big because of any technological edge it might have had over its major rivals. No, it never had that. But it's that focus on user-friendliness that's made the company so successful, with ease-of-use the core of Jobs' long-time strategy.

Look at the iPod with its simplified user interface, which hit the market in 2001 and "changed the way everyone now buys and listens to music," Techrepublic contributor Eric Eckel commented.

Jobs' vision in pushing for the iPhone was even more impressive. There were mobile phones before, as well as electronic calendars, email and music programs. What made the iPhone become such a hit from the moment it was introduced in 2007 was the integration of all those applications in a single, easy-to-use device. It became a huge, on-going market success despite its hefty purchasing price. Its popularity despite its high price allowed Apple to collect an astonishing per-unit profit margin of around 40 percent, making the iPhone a huge money-spinner for the company.


Steve Jobs made Apple big - not once, but twice. When he had to leave the firm for several years following disagreements with the board, Apple encountered rough waters. But after he finally returned to Apple in 1997, he managed to return the company to its former splendor, going from strength to strength until he handed over the reins to Tim Cook. 

Steve Jobs launches first Apple Macintosh in 1984
Celebrating a milestone: Back in 1984, Steve Jobs launched the first Apple MacintoshImage: imago/UPI Photo

For much of the time, Steve Jobs' life would have been unthinkable without the company he co-founded. But is Apple unthinkable without Steve Jobs? Well, Apple's business earnings suggest otherwise, to the surprise of many who five years ago thought the firm would be doomed to failure without Jobs at the helm.

Jobs told Cook "I never want you to ask what I would have done - just do what's right!" And Cook has heeded his advice, avoiding looking back too much.

According to technology advisory firm Jackdaw Research, Apple's revenue in the four quarters before Tim Cook was appointed in 2011 came in at roughly $100 billion (89 billion euros). Five years later, that figure has more than doubled.

Operating profit over the past year has also been roughly twice what it was five years ago, notes Jackdaw Research.

Some argue this too can at least partly be credited to Steve Jobs. "The success of Apple since his death is perhaps Steve Jobs' greatest achievement, because it shows he created a culture of creating new products which has proven to be long-lasting," IHS Markit's Ian Fogg argued.

Changing course

There's been a change of corporate culture under Cook, with spending on research and development increasing dramatically to about 4 percent of total revenue, instead of the 2 percent logged when Jobs was at the helm. And that's bound to pay off mid-term. There's enough cash to invest, despite another significant change in Apple's policy: Cook has done what Jobs would stubbornly refuse to do until the very end - he has paid dividends to shareholders and bought back stock.

Can Cook keep up the excitement about new products created by Apple? This is yet to be seen. So far, the only really new Apple gadget that has hit the market under Cook has been the Apple Watch. It's not been the biggest hit ever, but the estimated 15 million units sold in its first year aren't exactly a failure either.