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Tenth anniversary of tech trailblazer Steve Jobs’s death

Net Results: A decade later, he is here with us daily, in a tech world he did, indeed, change

Ten years ago this week, the world lost Steve Jobs. I know exactly where I was: at Oracle's annual conference at the Moscone Convention Centre in San Francisco, in the basement press room, watching Oracle founder Larry Ellison give his centrepiece keynote on a screen.

In my Twitter feed, I saw a tweet: "@AP saying Steve Jobs has died".

Within seconds, the news spread through the room. Someone confirmed a statement was up on Apple’s website, and the room deflated.

As I wrote then, for a room of technology journalists, it was our John Lennon moment. We would all remember where we were when we'd heard. We knew Jobs had been ill. But not that ill. It was staggering, shocking.


By the time we walked back to our hotel rooms on Union Square, people had begun to stick yellow Post-Its of scrawled memorial messages on the huge glass windows of the square's Apple store.

Days later, I walked past the Apple store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, the small Valley city where Jobs lived, and where I'd spent my childhood (I took weekly flute lessons in the building that became the Apple Store). Its windows were a solid mass of Post-Its, too. It was moving, and sad.

Nearly 25 years ago, in January 1997, I was in the Moscone Centeras Jobs stepped on stage during MacWorld, returning to the company he co-founded in one of the most phenomenal business comebacks ever.

The press consensus at the time was that slowly-declining Apple was close to collapse. Jobs and Wozniak had departed Apple more than a decade before. The company offered a confusing mix of products and the once cutting-edge Mac operating system was technically geriatric.

Apple decided to source a new operating system through an unexpected acquisition – by buying NeXT, the company Jobs founded when he left Apple. The eagerly-anticipated keynote heralding Jobs's return was a celebrity-fest with star turns from Jeff Goldblum, Peter Gabriel, Muhammed Ali, even Wozniak. Plus, of course, Jobs, who demonstrated the NeXT OpenStep operating system that Apple had just bought.

As dazzling as the other guests were, Jobs was the only person the delirious 4,000-strong keynote audience wanted to see.

I knew this was an historic moment. But who could have imagined the iconic products to come or that, within a decade, ailing Apple would be tech’s colossus?

That was the first of many Stevenotes I’d see over the years and they never lost their magic. Even if you disliked Apple, its products, or Jobs, the keynotes were mesmerising examples of masterful marketing: sleek, accessible demonstrations that spoke to the audience’s wants (even if they were unaware they had them before he strode onstage), carefully choreographed yet casually executed.

Always, the signature jeans and black mock turtleneck. No dull Valley-casual khakis in the Jobs wardrobe.

I often wonder what he might have thought up for us had he not left so tragically soon. Consider his astonishing legacy. The Mac, of course, and then in rapid succession after his return to Apple in 1997, we got (ready?) the groundbreaking iMac in 1998, the groundbreaking iTunes in January 2001, the groundbreaking iPod 10 months later in October, the groundbreaking iTunes Music Store in 2003, the groundbreaking iPhone in 2007, the groundbreaking iPad in 2010.

Even colourful

This is, quite simply, the foundation of 21st century technology as we all know it. Nearly all the devices we use, no matter the maker, incorporate Apple-led ideas, shapes, technology implementations, and the understanding that technology needn’t be beige, clumsy and indifferent but could (and should) be beautiful, intuitive, fun, thoughtful, even colourful.

An entire generation knows the world largely as Steve envisioned it. Anyone under 30 came of age immersed in touch, tap, swipe, pinch, stream, photograph, film, record, video call, animate, message, play . . . in a device that can be popped into a pocket or a backpack. Nothing as game-changing has emerged in the decade since he departed.

Famously, Jobs was no cuddly bear. He didn't suffer fools, but the definition of them changed moment by moment and once included me. I was the brief target of his wrath at a Paris press Q&A, for having the temerity to ask why Apple products cost a premium in Europe.

"Ask your government," he snapped. "It's VAT." But it isn't, I said; you could compare base price before VAT and Apple was still far more expensive. "You. Are. Wrong," he snarled, fixing me with that piercing glare. Then he looked away, freezing me out. "Next question?" It was the most enjoyable lambasting I ever got. I carry it as a small badge of tech honour.

Jobs was already ill then, diagnosed in 2003 with a rare, slow-moving form of pancreatic cancer, but he kept this diagnosis hidden for years. He died on October 5th, 2011, at just 56.

But a decade later, he is here with us daily, in a tech world he did, indeed, change, not just for the geeks, but (as the Apple slogan went) “for the rest of us”.