Steve Jobs is dead a year but Apple has gained in strength
FOR MANY of the hundreds of journalists attending Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco this week, sitting in the working press room in the lower level of the Moscone Centre brings back one stark memory.
It was last year at this same event, right in the midst of Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison’s keynote, when information began to seep out across the internet that Apple’s Steve Jobs had died.
Many of us got the first inkling on Twitter. Almost simultaneously, several people around me turned to no one in particular to ask if anyone else had seen tweets claiming Jobs had died. Given Twitter’s frequent role as a rumour mill, I wasn’t going to believe it until I could find a trustworthy confirming source.
We were all frantically scanning the web while we half-watched Ellison’s talk. The Apple co-founder had been ill for some time and had stepped down from his chief executive role several weeks before. No one doubted that he was seriously ill.
But I know now, from conversations with an Apple employee who worked closely with Jobs, that few in Cupertino had any real idea of what was going on with Jobs or how very sick he had become. Many thought his gaunt appearance was due more to treatment than the final, grim progression of a fatal illness.
In the company, as in that room at OpenWorld, the notion that Jobs had actually passed away shocked. In the background, on the screen, I noticed Ellison abruptly end his talk and walk off the stage. “Hey – what happened to the keynote?” someone asked.
That seemed to be a confirmation of sorts. Ellison and Jobs had been friends for years – at one time when Apple was really struggling, there were rumours that multibillionaire Ellison might even buy the company. Not long after Jobs returned to the helm at Apple, Ellison for one year decided to use only Macs in the press room and computer access areas for delegates at OpenWorld.
Eventually someone in the press room found confirmation from Apple’s board that Jobs had indeed died. The mood was sombre. Most of these people had spent years writing about Apple – some old enough to remember Apple’s founding and Jobs’s eventual departure in the 1980s; others so young they’d never have written about an Apple that didn’t have Jobs as chief executive.
For all of us, at that moment, it seemed impossible to imagine an Apple without Jobs. Would the company even survive?
A year on, and we know the answer. Yes, the company has not only survived, but prospered, becoming the world’s most valuable company. Jobs’s chosen successor, Tim Cook, has released a new model of the iPad and iPhone, both selling well.
Continuing an aggressive corporate stance supported by Jobs, the company has been pugnaciously fighting legal cases against rivals – a clear indication that it will resort to the courts to spar over patent rights.
There’s every indication that Apple, which dropped “computer” from its corporate title under Jobs, is keeping its eye on many areas besides making hardware, especially a very broad media and services space.
Jobs initially surprised by selling us music, apps, movies and eventually books. Now these all seem quite ordinary spaces for Apple to occupy. We now expect many other technology companies, too, to be jacks of many trades. More of us are curious to see what Apple will go into next rather than thinking it odd they have journeyed so far.
But there are also indications the feel of the company is changing. Employees have said it is far more corporate, with control shifting away from some of the creative thinkers and over to more traditional management.
Rumours circulate on and off that the great product designer Jonathan Ive may be ready to move on, now that Jobs, with whom he clearly had extraordinary rapport, is gone. Some wonder whether the company has carried itself forward over the year on the momentum of Jobs-driven projects, a energy and focus that may dissipate with time.
Only the future will tell us whether those questions and concerns are well-founded. For now, a year after Jobs’s death and in the light of chief executive changeover turmoil at so many other tech giants, including Yahoo and HP, one has to marvel that a company so intrinsically connected to one man remains solid and successful.