Steve Jobs, the heir to P.T. Barnum and Henry Ford, is dead, aged 56.
While many decry him for putting form over function, Steven Paul Jobs came closer than any other entrepreneur in modern history in understanding the power of ease and aesthetics. While it was an uninspiring beige box, his first Apple Macintosh had proportionally spaced fonts. The latest MacBook deploys a sleep indicator that is timed to the human breathing rhythm.
Like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, he didn’t personally invent the products he came to symbolize, and like those industry titans, he died in a world largely of his making. A charismatic showman, Jobs understood the visual power of images. Apple’s 1984 ad was perhaps one of the most memorable commercials in history. And after leading Pixar to its early successes, Jobs triumphantly returned to Apple in 1997 with a hugely popular advertising campaign, “Think Different”, featuring many inspirational and influential icons of the last century. When iPod was released, the silhouetted models whose only identifiable features were white headphones became instantly-recognizable, and oft-parodied, icons.
But the ur-icon of Apple was Mr. Jobs himself, in his signature turtleneck jumper, jeans and trainers. His presentations at Apple expos were passionate and captivating; his slides visually simple, yet striking. Altogether, he managed to whip up a quasi-religious fervour for his company and its products. To some, he was an iGod; to others, he was an iCon.
But history will not downplay Jobs’ idiosyncrasies, paternalist outbursts, and irascible rule at Apple. As Auden wrote of tyrants,
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand.