Why Steve Jobs Will Go Down as “The Man”


Prof.Steve Jobs: Lessons from His Legacy for the Payments Sector

Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO

(Editor’s Note: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away Wednesday, Oct. 5. He was 56. “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in an email to all Apple employees. When Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO in August, MPD Founder David Evans paid tribute to the man who, as a Twitter user named Matt Galligan aptly put, “touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”)

To integrate, or not to integrate: that is the question. Or at least the one that has hung over Steve Jobs’ career that, sadly, seems to have come to an end.

By the late 1980s, Jobs was considered a fool outdone by the wily Bill Gates. Jobs – obsessed with the beauty of the Mac, with its nicely integrated hardware and software – had lost to the savvy and practical Gates, who realized that licensing Microsoft’s operating systems to many computer manufacturers would drive price down, put a PC on every desk and make him a gazillionaire. Apple’s share of computer desktops plummeted to the low single digits over the next 20 years as Microsoft seemingly came to rule the PC world. What a narcissistic idiot, that Jobs. Such was the conventional wisdom from the mid-1980s through the mid-2000s.

Summarily dismissed from the company he founded, Jobs went into the wilderness, did Next and all that, came back and truly revolutionized the world by leading the company that introduced the iPhone. Now, there was a thing of beauty. A bundle of software and hardware that made millions salivate to hold it. And this siren managed to flip the whole mobile ecosystem. The iPhone sucked – I don’t remember, did anything like this happen in the Odyssey? – much of the power of mobile from the carriers into Apple. Followed by the iPad, Microsoft, largely sans Gates and lead by sidekick Ballmer, was on the ropes. The supposed monopolist had a stock price stuck in time for a decade. Not only had Microsoft seemingly lost the mobile phone wars, after a decade of slogging away at various attempts to shove its gargantuan and increasingly klutzy Windows platform into puny mobile phones, but it looked like its PC kingdom was being ransacked, too. The brilliant iPad made PCs seem like typewriters or at least like something your Dad mainly used. Apple was the most valuable technology company in the universe with a market cap worth more than Microsoft. How that must have stung the gang in Redmond.

But not so fast: Google buys a little software company and seemingly out of nowhere creates the Android software platform for mobile phones. And then this arch enemy of Microsoft steals a play from Gates and Ballmer’s book and licenses the Android to any handset manufacturer who wants to use it as its operating system (of course, Google one-ups Microsoft by making it free, since it is looking for ad revenue down the road). Android mobile handsets take off and gain an even larger share of the smartphone business than iPhones. Maybe Jobs was the idiot after all. Many commentators started saying so. Same old, same old. That Jobs once again faced a smarter competitor – with whizkids Brin and Page reprising the Gates and Ballmer roles – specialized in software platforms and left the hardware side to the plebes.

Then, there was last week’s intriguing twist: Google goes out and buys (subject to regulatory approval) mobile handset manufacturing giant Motorola. OK, let’s cut through all this crap about buying patent portfolios, since you can buy those things without getting everything from the engineers to the dishes in the cafeteria. Google bought Motorola because they wanted to own a mobile handset manufacturer. It is just really hard to imagine any other reason for doing that. They realized that, to really compete with the iPhone, they had to tightly integrate the increasingly fragmented (remember this is open source) Android operating system into hardware that people would lust over. Google obviously didn’t believe that the Microsoft “let a thousand highly competitive equipment manufacturers bloom” approach was going to succeed in the long run for mobile devices. [More: After Google Buys Motorola, What’s Next for the Payments Ecosystem?]

So, at least on the day of his resignation, Jobs looked like a hero. Someone who persevered against brutal criticism for decades only to find that his vision of the computing industry was the right one after all, who singularly created products that people lust after and who has led a revolution that could be more transformative for the world – and more important for consumers – than the PC revolution itself. Indeed, when the history of the information technology revolution that started in the late 1970s is written decades from now, based on how the world looks today, Steve Jobs is likely to be considered the superhero above all others. [Related: Prof.Steve Jobs: Lessons from His Legacy for the Payments Sector]

Given that Jobs has gone from genius to idiot to genius to idiot to genius in that last three decades, I would not suggest that the story is over. Perhaps Google will trounce Apple with Android using a mixed integration/licensing strategy. Perhaps Microsoft and Nokia will pull a rabbit out of a hat and maybe even create some great thing as a merged entity. Perhaps someone else will emerge from nowhere who makes Jobs look like John Adams instead of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln rolled into one. Indeed, you should beware of experts who make sweeping conclusions based on ex-post rationalizations of why some entrepreneur succeeded and another failed.

But, at least today, Steve Jobs can be proud of one of the greatest comeback stories in business history, as well as the prospect that he, and not his longtime rival Bill Gates, will go down as the man.

David S. Evans is an economist and a business advisor to payment companies around the world. His recent work has focused on helping companies create, ignite and profit from payments innovation. He is the originator of the Innovation Ignition Framework®, a tool provides a systematic way for companies to evaluate and implement innovative ideas and achieve critical mass. David is the Founder of Market Platform Dynamics. Read More


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