The Steve Jobs impact on the mobile space

The vision of Steve Jobs is evident in the number of game-changing products Apple has produced over the years. His impact on the mobile space has been profound, and worth looking at in detail.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

You've no doubt heard of Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple. His official announcement sent shock waves throughout the tech world as no single individual has had such a dramatic impact on the technology in use today. The Jobs impact has affected mobile space as much as any tech sector, and it is worth taking a look at how his imprint is all over the mobile technology in use today.

The Macintosh

Apple shook the PC generation with the release of the original Macintosh computer, the first all-in-one system that predated the laptops of today. The Macintosh showed the industry that folks craved a system that could be taken from location to location, even though it couldn't end up very far from a power outlet. The original Macintosh was a simple box that was a simple but elegant design, a precursor to the design style that Apple would eventually be famous for producing. The Macintosh set the scene for mobile computing and operating systems comprised of windows that would become the standard for personal computing for decades.

The Newton

One of the most impressive mobile gadgets at the time of its release was the Apple Newton PDA. It set the stage for stylus input on a handheld device through technology that converted handwriting to digital text. The Newton as originally launched was far from perfect, and it evolved amazingly far given the short time it was on the market before Jobs cancelled it in 1998.

Jobs' impact on the mobile space was due to canceling the product line on his return to Apple after a brief hiatus. The innovative team behind the Newton scattered throughout the mobile industry and made an impact outside of Apple. The team behind the handwriting recognition (HWR) of the Newton ended up forming a new company that brought sophisticated HWR to the early Tablet PC in the form of the ritePen software. That company has evolved into a major player in the mobile space today, the Evernote Corporation.

The iPod

The iPod music player has arguably impacted the mobile space more than any other device in history. The elegant design philosophy that Jobs imparted to the teams at Apple produced a gadget that didn't do much beyond what was already available on the market, playing digital music, but did it in a way that would see it become an icon in the mobile sector. The catchy advertising campaign consisting of happy iPod users in silhouette would propel it to become one of the highest selling gadgets in history.

Jobs' vision of the way customers would buy music became his personal objective, one that was achieved in typical Jobs style. The entire music industry eventually changed to give customers what they wanted, the ability to simply purchase music in digital form for consumption on the iPod and other MP3 players. This change would eventually be reflected in the iPhone and shape the nascent mobile phone industry. It was also the precursor for the app revolution to come.

The iPhone

Jobs took the phenomenal success of the iPod and released the iPhone, the most important product in Apple's history. Embedding an iPod in a smartphone was a brilliant move on Jobs part, setting the stage for the iPhone to become a household name. The iPhone was a device tightly controlled by Apple to insure it delivered the simple yet functional experience Jobs was insistent on producing, and sales figures show this was the absolute correct method.

The iPhone became the smartphone that most wanted, and all companies making phones took notice and the iPhone's impact can be seen on almost all phones today. Physical QWERTY keyboards have become a minor feature of a few phones, with large touchscreens the norm. The success of the iPod in the music industry was repeated with apps on the iPhone. The term apps didn't even exist until Apple made it a household word, and the app industry that Jobs created has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Never has a single company created so much revenue for other companies like Apple with both music and apps.

The MacBook

The original unibody MacBook constructed of aluminum in a thin form set the stage for the laptop sector as no single product before. The simple design was the epitome of Apple's engineering, and set the stage for all of the thin notebooks on the market today. Apple pushed the limit for thermal engineering on such thin laptops, and the ability to put as much battery in a thin device as possible.

The MacBook Air is an evolution of that original design, and through careful engineering and control of the supply chain Apple has dropped the price point of these thin laptops to a highly competitive range. Competitors were already scrambling to make products that could compete with the MacBook Air on a design level, and now find they must do so on price at the same time.

The thin laptop design of the MacBook Air is the reason for the new Ultrabook category of laptops being promoted by Intel. This new category of notebooks is supposed to be very thin with good thermal control for heat dissipation, while coming in at a $1,000 price point. Early reports indicate companies are finding this very hard to do, and early models are reported to appear above the $1,000 price. The impact of the MacBook Air is giving competitors fits as they struggle to compete with Apple on every level.

The iPad

Steve Jobs has been a stickler for taking lessons learned from products and using them in future products. Never has that been more evident than in the iPad, the tablet from Apple that single-handedly created a market for slates. Early critics of the iPad deemed it simply a large iPhone, but the brilliant vision of Jobs was that this was what customers wanted. Apple aimed the iPad at the same target market that first bought the iPod by the millions, and then the iPhone. The strategy was a huge success, with tens of millions of iPads being sold in its short lifetime.

Jobs was able to take the simple, elegant design to the masses, at a price that would keep the entire mobile industry scrambling to duplicate. No single competing product has made as much as a scratch in Apple's iPad market over a year later, a testament to the brilliance of Jobs' vision.

The recent release of OS X Lion by Apple incorporates design elements from the iPad, bringing mobile technology to the core desktop OS. It is clear Jobs sees the mobile aspects of the iPad converging with the desktop space, and early reception to the design elements in Lion show he may be right once again.

The Steve Jobs vision

Steve Jobs has a reputation of being a hard-nosed businessman unwilling to compromise, and that is the reason his impact is so far-reaching in the tech industry. He has always shown great vision, and the unwillingness to compromise that vision. If Apple couldn't produce what his vision dictated, then the product wasn't released. Instead of releasing a compromised product to market, Jobs sent the bright teams at Apple back to the drawing board to make his vision a reality. When the product met his exacting standards, then it could be released.

Jobs track record is not perfect, he is human after all. But there is no question he has been right most of the time, and his impact is proof positive of that. He has been hammered over the years for his tight control over Apple's products, and that is his genius. His credo has been to make Apple products do what the customers want in the best way possible, and his unwillingness to compromise on that is why Apple is one of the most successful companies, if not the most successful, in history.

Images credit: Apple

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