It has been a year since the world lost one of its brightest luminaries. Yet people in the tech industry continue to puzzle over how things would be different had Steve Jobs lived beyond October 5, 2011. It is a measure of his enormous influence that a year after his passing, his specter continues to guide many decisions people make in their day-to-day lives.
With the release of the iPhone 5, many oberservers have speculated that the Apple Maps snafu would never have happened if Jobs were still on the job. Or that Apple would have never made such a public apology for it, like the one CEO Tim Cook made, if Jobs were still alive.
I am not one to ascribe words or intentions to a dead man, so I cannot say that Maps would have been better or worse with Jobs at the helm. Nor would I assert that the iPhone’s automated assistant, Siri, would have been better or worse.
What we do know about Jobs is that he was a perfectionist, driven and dedicated to his craft. In many ways, he was the right man in the right industry at the right time. A leader with an expansive vision and the ruthless determination to see his dreams realized. But that's not all that made him special. He was also an astute businessman who helped build a company that could profit from those dreams. In many ways, Apple's success is as much a testament to his brilliance as the company's products.
History is littered with companies and innovators that had great vision or terrific products that did not make it. Nikola Tesla was one, a scientist of great depth who died poor and alone, his innovations forgotten amid the empire built by his contemporary, Thomas Edison.
Jobs could have met Tesla's fate. He was forced out of Apple, his own company, in the late 1980s, and seemingly exiled for a decade. In that time, he built NeXT Computer (whose technology would form the basis of Mac OS X) and co-founded Pixar. On their own, those accomplishments would have qualified Jobs as a great businessman in American history. But, of course, he didn't stop there. He returned to Apple as its CEO in 2007 and became legendary.
The 14 years between Jobs' return to Apple and his death cemented his epic standing. He took a company that was on its last breath, resuscitated it and then started pumping out hits. First he guided Apple to redesign the Mac and make it cool again. Then came the iPod and its revival of the moribund music industry. The launch of the iPhone in 2007 was a seminal moment in mobile computing, and the iPad created a market for tablet devices that simply did not exist before Jobs and Apple created it.
As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book The Tipping Point, some people were simply born at the right time and put in the best circumstance to achieve great things. But Jobs' accomplishments are also a testament to the man himself and how he spent his time on Earth. It would have been easy for him to fade away after his initial successes, take his money and retire to somewhere comfortable. He did not, and the world is a better place for it.