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BW Businessworld

Passing Of A Titan

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The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We are just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people — as remarkable as the telephone."

That was Steve Jobs — who died on 5 October of an incurable variant of pancreatic cancer — in an interview with Playboy magazine in February 1985, a year after the Macintosh debuted and a few months before he was ousted as Apple CEO. Prescient, some would say, is an understatement.

Among all the things that have been said about him — the accolades have been tremendous — one word stands out: visionary. Despite having dropped out of college, and having no software or hardware training or abilities, he created one of the most iconic companies of the last half-century.

Apple under Jobs revolutionised not just personal computers, but also music, mobile communications, telephony and retailing. But most of all, he revolutionised the way people used — and could and would in the future use — computer technology.

As Tim Carmody, a writer for Wired magazine put it, Jobs did not invent most of the technologies that go into ‘iThings' — the iPad, the iTouch or the iPhone, but he put into the hands of a whole spectrum of ordinary people by creating an ecosystem of software applications. Yet, Jobs himself believed that these technologies don't change the world.

But for several people with disabilities for instance, it has changed their world. On 4 October, along with the Apple 4S phone, Apple unveiled a demo video of Siri, a new voice command AI assistant that will enable blind people to send and receive text messages. For children with autism, the iPod touch and the iPad are almost miraculous devices, a view shared by the people around them: parents, teachers and therapists, who also use the devices to support the development of the autistic children.

In the past couple of years, his health has fuelled speculation about when he would step down; he finally did in August this year. There have been few companies whose fortunes — and value — have been as intimately connected with their CEOs' as that of Apple with Jobs'.

In that same 1985 Playboy interview, Jobs also said he would always stay connected with Apple. "I hope that throughout my life I'll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I am not there, but I'll always come back."

This time, sadly, he won't.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 17-10-2011)