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A Review of Walter Isaacson's biography of the Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs
  Posted: May 21, 2015
Steve Jobs, a biography by Walter Isaacson, book cover

The great visionary Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955 and adopted by the perfect parents for him, a couple that raised him in Mountain View, California. His adoptive father was a mechanic and carpenter, and Jobs learned about electronics from his dad as well as the integrity of a finely crafted product. Steve gives the example that his dad taught him that even the part of a finished product that is not visible, for example the board of a dresser that goes against the wall, should be beautifully made with a good piece of wood. Steve would incorporate this thinking into the making of Apple computers.  He did not want his computers to be tampered with by engineers who liked to customize their electronics, so Apple products were built with special screws that could not be removed with a store-bought screwdriver. It was important to Jobs that the Apple computer experience be totally unified and every aspect of it controlled by Apple for the best customer experience possible.

Jobs provided the guidance and vision that gave Apple computers and every device Apple produced the highest standard of excellence. Without his insight Apple would not have existed.  Apple’s success also depended on computer technology genius Steve Wozniak who singlehandedly built the Apple 1 and Apple 2 computers. Steve Wozniak was 5 years older than Jobs. They met in 1971 while Steve Wozniak was employed by Hewlett Packard working on a mainframe computer, and Jobs also had an internship there. The two founded Apple computers 5 years later in April of 1976. Steve Jobs was insightful enough about technology and business at an early age to realize that Wozniak’s talent was extremely valuable and together they could be a profitable business partnership. Their company, Apple, would later become not only one of the wealthiest in the world but also one of the most loved by its customers. 

Isaacson covers all periods of Steve’s life including when he was fired from Apple in the 80’s. Jobs used his wealth to create another computer company called NeXT. Apple and NeXT would later converge with the NeXT operating system used in Apple’s subsequent computers. Steve had by then returned to Apple as interim CEO, and brought the company back to being profitable and loved by its followers after it was headed towards bankruptcy.

During the 21st century Steve would become an executive of the animated movie production company, Pixar, and he helped make the hit movie Toy Story. Disney studios which had historically been known for its great animated movies, that would become rides at their theme parks and other products sold in their stores, had lost their magic in the animated film business while at the same time Pixar’s movies were turning into huge box office hits, each one bigger and more profitable than the last. Disney as a result purchased Pixar to revive their animated movie productions.  Pixar would go on to create such great animated movies as Up which would help Disney turn around their movie business. Steve Job’s talent led him to be an irreplaceable contributor to at least 2 successful companies, Pixar and Apple.

Isaacson describes a visit Steve Jobs made to a business class at Stanford University in 1982, after he had already become rich and famous. While the students asked Jobs business questions related to money, he preferred instead to tell them about his passion for future products, including his hope to make a computer as small as a book.

"Later Jobs would complain about the new generation of kids who seemed to him more materialistic and careerist than his own. 'When I went to school, it was right after the sixties, and before this general wave of practical purposefulness set in,' he said.  'Now students aren't even thinking in idealistic terms or nowhere near as much.'"

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson p. 107

The now ubiquitous shape used in technology, the rectangles with rounded corners, was part of Jobs design vision. Now they are on iPads, iPods, iPhones, lap tops and just about everything Apple makes. White ear buds, the unique glass of the screens, the beveled edge of the metallic back of the iPods that flatly meets the screen, the absence of keyboards or styluses in the making of the iPad was all part of Steve's influence.  Before that, in the early days of Macintosh computer, he helped convince the software engineers to make a WSIWIG screen format (What you see is what you get). Without visionaries like Steve in the computer industry, computers might have been un-innovative forever, only benefiting people with specialized knowledge of how to operate them and much less fun to use.  Apple makes both the hardware and the software of their computers and that is how Steve wanted Apple computers to be: fully integrated.

Today many users of Apple computers, iTunes, and iPhones, and iPods, may not have been born or old enough to remember the 1984 Apple computers commercial that TV Guide voted the best commercial of all time.  In this commercial, an athletic woman is running and carrying a sledge hammer and she hurls it at an enormous screen showing a Big Brother like figure and the screen shatters in front of men in prison worker clothes.  This commercial came out in the year 1984, which was the name of George Orwell's book about Big Brother and it was a time when the mainstream still regarded computers as something that would be used by the 'Big Brother' of government or the corporate world to enslave them. What this commercial showed, a factor Steve was aware of, was that the mainstream view of computers was that they were a manipulative business tool of Big Brother, not a product for everyday people. Steve helped change this opinion perhaps more than anyone. He trained people to realize that computers were not only a tool of the business world - it could empower creative individuals. Apple introduced a machine for people who opposed the theoretical Big Brother.  Other executives at Apple were horrified by the commercial and nearly did not air it on TV, however Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak loved it and when it was seen by the masses it was a huge hit.  

Isaacson provides a powerful insight, which Lev Grossman wrote for an article in Time magazine. It was an idea that Steve Jobs “took to heart.”

“While (the iPad) is a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate it’s creation….The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.”

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson p. 496

Lev Grossman’s insight holds true for the Apple Watch. Although Steve would have most likely loved its craftsmanship, the bohemian Steve might have wondered why does Apple need to make a time telling device?

by Andi Boggs



Reference list

Walter Isaacson (2011) Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster; New York.



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Last updated: February 20, 2017