Steve Jobs: Thinking through his CEO legacy

Summary:What were Steve Jobs' crowning moments as Apple CEO? The iPod? The iPad? The iPhone? The Mac?

Apple's Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO, but the imprint he left on the company will last for decades to come.

When you think of Jobs you think of four products---the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad---industrial design, control and the idea that integration and ecosystem matters. Some folks would say Jobs was a control freak. Most geniuses are.

I view Jobs tenure as CEO in two acts. There's the Steve Jobs that created the Mac and was a computing pioneer. That Jobs was kicked out of Apple for a few years. All Jobs did in that down time was grow Pixar and start Next, which was later acquired by Apple.

And then there's the modern day Jobs. This Jobs created the iPod, the iPhone and then leveraged those ecosystems to create the iPad. The iPad pricing was so on point that Apple grabbed more than a year head start. The iPad was Jobs' crowning achievement. In many respects, the iPad is delivering on the promise of the Mac---a computing device that just works.

What's the difference between Jobs Act I and Jobs Act II? Technology and timing. Jobs' concept of devices that just work was always there. What changed is the technology. Jobs Apple II was designed to be a hermetically sealed computing device. The problem was that the technology was too immature. The chips, the storage, the software and the networking weren’t ready for prime time.

More: Steve Jobs resigns: Now Apple's succession plan to be put to test

Fast forward to the modern day. Storage and speedy processors can be packed into a tight device. Software is very visual. There's touch navigation. And you can offload video, music and apps into iTunes and the cloud. In other words, all the stars lined up for Jobs' vision.

Without Jobs, the tech sector may be stagnant. After all, phones have copied the iPhone. And now tablet rivals are copying the iPad. Jobs was the catalyst for copycats.

What's Jobs' legacy?

When it comes to Jobs' legacy as CEO there is no one right answer. Personally, I think Jobs' legacy may be forging two kick-ass companies---Apple and Pixar.

But most folks associate Jobs with Apple. Old timers would argue that the Mac was Jobs' legacy. The Mac was the linchpin of Apple and funded the development of related products designed to create the fabled halo effect.

The Mac taught us what a computer could be. However, now the Mac is a bit of an afterthought. The Mac started the revolution, but by itself isn't revolutionary.

There's a solid argument that the iPod was pure genius. Jobs reinvented the MP3 player and the music industry. The iPod with iTunes riding shotgun started the entire ecosystem that led to the iPhone and iPad. However, the iPod was missing a key element---the full leveraging of the Internet.

Enter the iPhone. The iPhone captured imaginations, took its share of hits early on and became the device that inspired hundreds of similar efforts. Jobs also introduced us to apps potentially by accident. Remember that Jobs was touting Safari as the best mobile browser. After developers screamed, Jobs gave them a software developer kit. The rest is App Store history.

Jobs took what appeared to be a tired category---mobile phones---and reinvented it. He also single-handedly put the U.S. on the mobile map. Before the iPhone, all Americans would here is how the phones and networks were so much better in Europe and Asia. You don't hear that argument anymore. Thank Jobs.

The iPad on the surface is basically a big iPhone. That thinking only lasted a few minutes. In retrospect, the iPad turned out to be the computing paradigm Jobs always wanted. The iPod is a hassle free conduit to the world. With the iPad, Jobs reinvented computing. The form factor of the future is the tablet.

And Jobs was determined to own the tablet category. The real notable point with the iPad was the pricing. Jobs came out with aggressive pricing that rivals simply couldn't beat for two years. Apparently hardware and software integration has its advantages. The supply chain angle is also critical: Apple's scale with the iPod allowed it to procure components for the iPhone and iPad.

Add it up and the iPad has staying power, but needed the iPhone to create the ecosystem. And the iPhone needed the iPod. Jobs formulated a product relay race.

Will the Jobs management style live on via Apple?

The true test of Jobs legacy may come in the years after he's gone. Has Jobs' management DNA been instilled at Apple? Tim Cook has shown he's very capable and can run Apple well. Meanwhile, Apple's management bench is deep. The challenge for Cook and the Apple management team will be to keep the company rolling and deliver new innovations going forward.

We won't know how that tale plays out for years. Apple has built a big moat around its business via its app ecosystem that it would take years of mismanagement for the company to stumble. And Cook isn't the mismanagement type.

What's unclear is whether the Jobs drive and design knowhow carries on within Apple. It's possible that Apple will slip without Jobs' eye for design.

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Topics: Tablets, Apple, Hardware, iPad, IT Employment, Laptops, Mobility, Smartphones

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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