Apple icon Steve Jobs passes away at 56

Steve Jobs, the Apple Corp. (NASDAQ: AAPL) co-founder who resigned from the company in the mid-1980s and returned a decade later to make Apple one of the most successful technology companies in the world, has died.

Jobs had been struggling with his health for the last several years. In 2004 he underwent surgery to treat a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He returned to work soon after, but in early 2009 took six months off to treat what he called a “hormone imbalance” that made him appear gaunt and pale. During that leave he underwent a liver transplant. Early this year he took another, indefinite leave of absence to “focus on my health,” as he put it, and on Aug. 24 he announced his resignation as CEO, with Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook taking over and Jobs elected board chairman, a position he held until his death.

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“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” Apple’s Board of Directors said Wednesday in a statement. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

Jobs will be remembered as a computer visionary but also as a maverick — a sometimes cantankerous one — who pursued a doggedly independent path for Apple that could make it frustrating for partners to work with but allowed it to produce unique products. Jobs also ran the hugely successful Pixar Animation Studios for almost 20 years, before selling it to Disney in 2006 for US$7.4 billion.

After his return to Apple in 1996, working with the designer Jonathan Ive, Jobs launched a string of products that were admired and emulated for their elegant, sometimes daring design. His brightly colored iMac computers were a sharp break from the two decades of beige PCs that had gone before them. The iPod was a breakthrough in portable music players which, coupled with the iTunes store, changed the music business forever. And the touchscreen iPhone and iPad created whole new categories of products.

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Andy Grove, the former chairman and CEO of Intel, has called Jobs the most inspirational leader in Silicon Valley.

Yet by many accounts Jobs was also a difficult man. He was a taskmaster and a control freak whose penchant for secrecy could drive employees and partners to distraction. In 2000 he famously punished graphics vendor ATI for leaking details about future iMacs by pulling its products from some of Apple’s computers. His rejection of Flash from the iPhone and seemingly arbitrary policing of the App Store has led to criticism that the company is too closed and insular.

But Jobs had an uncanny knack for reading future trends in computers and consumer electronics, helping Apple to lead the market with must-have products.

He helped ignite the PC revolution with one of the first personal computers, the Apple I, which he introduced with “the other Steve,” Steve Wozniak. Jobs’ expertise was in marketing the product while Wozniak focused on technical aspects.

Jobs’ entrepreneurial skills became evident at a young age. In 1968 he and a friend created the “blue box,” an illegal phone attachment that allowed users to make long distance calls. He also sold and repaired stereos during his high school years.

As a young man he dabbled in counterculture. In 1974, Jobs spent his savings from working at Atari to travel to India, where he sought spiritual enlightenment. He also dated folk music icon Joan Baez in his 20s. He preferred to wear informal attire to work and his favorite musician was Bob Dylan.

Wozniak and Jobs became friends after meeting at Hewlett-Packard in 1971. In 1976, they built the Apple I computer in Wozniak’s parents’ garage after raising $1,750 — for which Jobs sold his Volkswagen minibus, and Wozniak his HP scientific calculator.

In 1976, the duo founded Apple Computer Co., named after Jobs had spent a summer working at an Oregon orchard. The company changed its name to Apple Computer Inc. a year later. Apple’s second PC, the Apple II, was a success, recording sales of $139 million from 1977-1979.

Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh in 1984 introduced the graphical user interface to mainstream desktop computing. The Mac ran on a 32-bit processor (compared to 16-bit processors for other PCs at the time) and had 128K bytes of memory, expandable to 192K bytes. It was an immediate success: more than 400,000 Macintosh computers were sold in the first year.

In 1985, Jobs and John Sculley, Apple’s president and CEO at the time, clashed over differences about running the company, resulting in Jobs being ousted. He left the company he had co-founded with a net worth of $150 million and started his next venture, Next Computer, which was only moderately successful but planted the seeds for future Apple hardware and software.

In addition to starting Next, Jobs bought feature animation company Pixar in 1986 for $10 million from George Lucas. Since then it has created five of the most successful English-language animation films of all time: Monsters, Inc. (2001); Finding Nemo (2003); The Incredibles (2004); Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Pixar also collected more than 100 awards and nominations for animated films, commercials and technical contributions.

In 1996 Jobs returned to Apple after it bought Next Computer. He was named interim CEO in 1997 and set about reviving the financially strapped company. Jobs took Apple into the music business with the iPod in 2001 and the iTunes Music Store two years later.

That same year he announced the PowerMac G5, the first 64-bit desktop computer, trumping Intel, AMD and their PC-making partners in the process.

In 2005, at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Jobs said the company would enter the world of Intel processors. A year later it followed through on that pledge, releasing the MacBook Pro and iMac. By August, the company had transitioned fully to Macs using Intel chips.

At Macworld in early January 2007, Jobs showed off the first iPhone and Apple TV, followed the next month by word that the company would offer music free of DRM (digital rights management) at the iTunes Store.

But Jobs’ health increasingly took center stage when he appeared in public. By 2006 he was already noticeably thinner, and after his 2008 Macworld keynote, with observers speculating about his health, Apple was forced to react. It said Jobs was suffering from a “common bug” and taking antibiotics for it. Jobs and others said his health issues were “not life-threatening” and did not involve a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

Later that year Bloomberg posted Jobs’ obituary to its newswire by accident (news outlets often have obituaries for elderly public figures — or those known to be unwell — written and ready to run.) Although the story was missing a date and cause of death, it fired up more speculation about his health and generated speculative stories about a future at Apple without Jobs.

In January 2009 Jobs, who was always unwilling to share private details of his life, said in a letter that a hormone imbalance had been causing his noticeable weight loss. Just a week or two later he said he would be taking a six-month leave of absence from Apple to deal with his medical condition, which he said had worsened. Cook, who was then COO, handled day to day operations in Jobs’ absence. It was revealed later that Jobs had undergone a liver transplant while on hiatus.

He was back at work on schedule in late June, though the company said he would work from home part of the time. In January 2010 he appeared on stage in San Francisco to announce the iPad, and was in the spotlight again in September to launch a new version of Apple TV.

In January 2011, Jobs said he would be taking another medical leave of absence, not saying this time how long he would be away. But while on leave, he appeared on stage at a San Francisco event in March to introduce the iPad 2 , and in June to introduce the iCloud and iOS 5 at company’s Worldwide Developers Conference. By the June event, Jobs, looked gaunt, though he spoke with enthusiasm about the new iPad. Two months later, he stepped aside as CEO, writing to employees: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children.

Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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Agam Shah
Agam Shah
Agam Shah is a reporter for the IDG News Service in New York. He covers hardware including PCs, servers, tablets, chips, semiconductors, consumer electronics and peripherals.

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