In our last blog entry, we gave a short history of Steve Jobs; how he started his career as a programmer for Atari, and how – true to his restlessly brilliant and creative nature – he quickly grew dissatisfied with his work there, and proceeded to found one of the most path-breaking companies the world has yet to see: Apple, Inc.
Apple’s effect on America and on the world at large is now completely self-evident. But what seems inevitable today didn’t necessarily always feel that way. There was a time back in the late 80s and early 90s when other companies began to outdistance Apple right and left. Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, and many other companies began producing computers and software that captured a much greater share of the public eye than Apple could attract.
It didn’t help Apple that Steve Jobs had decided to quit his position there. Ever the restless lone-wolf, and known for having an irascible reputation in an office setting, Jobs decided to build yet another computer company from the ground up, a company he called NeXT. NeXT would be everything that Apple was (in Jobs’ eyes) failing to become: a wellspring for innovative PC programming that would, through sheer application of innovative genius, vault itself to the top of the high-tech heap. Jobs began manufacturing a computer that became known as “the Cube,” a new computer that employed a state-of-the-art (for its time) Motorola 68030 CPU supported by a 68882 FPU for better and faster mathematical calculations. It was a good computer for its time, and it employed excellent printed circuit board technology, but it failed to catch on. By 1990, the Cube had tanked. NeXT and Jobs were both viewed as “space oddity” has-beens.
In the meantime, without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple continued to fall further and further behind its competitors. In 1996, Jobs was invited back to become a “temporary” managing CEO for Apple, Inc. Jobs accepted his new position with a rekindled passion for taking Apple to the heights he had initially envisioned. At the time Jobs came back to Apple, Apple was working on a sprawling diversity of products. Jobs stopped almost every single one of those projects dead in its tracks, and focused his company’s efforts on developing a mere six new products for that year.
But the products were ahead of their time. Already Jobs had begun imagining – and sometimes actively producing – prototypes for the iPod and various new iMac desktop and laptop computers. The new ideas began to pick up steam, and spread like wildfire. Apple began taking back its share of the market from its overblown behemoth of a competitor, Microsoft. Microsoft still had an amazing and voluminous line of products, and dominated the market, but Apple’s newfangled credibility made smart heads turn and eyebrows raise in wonderment and appreciation.
These new Apple products featured ever more sophisticated drives and digital signal processors, and monitors with smaller printed circuit boards that focused on connecting with USB and Firewire pass-throughs, unlike other, larger, unwieldy PCBs.
The designs continued to improve, the circuit boards grew continuously both smaller and more powerful, to the point where, for example, an Apple Nano iPod, or an Apple iPhone, contained technological programming that couldn’t be matched by competitors at the moment of its introduction.
With Steve Jobs’ recent passing due to pancreatic cancer, the future remains uncertain for Apple. Will Apple continue to follow in the almost mythological path mapped out by its founder, or will it slump into just another computer company among dozens? Time will tell, but no-one will be able to soon forget the heyday of Steve Jobs as CEO (and temper-tantrum boss) of Apple, and the incredible products that seemed to follow from everything he touched.