Steven P. Jobs, the Apple Inc. chairman and co-founder who pioneered the personal computer industry and changed the way people think about technology, died Wednesday at the age of 56.
His family, in a statement released by Apple, said Mr. Jobs "died peacefully today surrounded by his family...We know many of you will mourn with us, and we ask that you respect our privacy during our time of grief."
The company didn't specify the cause of his death. Mr. Jobs had battled pancreatic cancer and several years ago received a liver transplant. In August, Mr. Jobs stepped down as CEO, handing the reins to Tim Cook.
"Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being," Mr. Cook said in a letter to employees. "We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much."
During his more than three decade-long career, Mr. Jobs transformed Silicon Valley as he helped turn the once sleepy expanse of fruit orchards into the technology industry's innovation center. In addition to laying the groundwork for the high-tech industry alongside other pioneers like Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, Mr. Jobs proved the appeal of well-designed products over the sheer power of technology itself and shifted the way consumers interact with technology
"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come," Mr. Gates said in a statement Wednesday.
The most productive chapter in Mr. Jobs's career occurred near the end of his life, when a nearly unbroken string of successful products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad changed the PC, electronics and digital media industries. The way he marketed and sold those products through savvy advertising campaigns and its retail stores, in the meanwhile, helped turn the company into a pop culture icon.
At the beginning of that phase, Mr. Jobs once described his philosophy as trying to make products that were at "the intersection of art and technology." In doing so, he turned Apple into the world's most valuable company with a market value of $350 billion.
After exhibiting significant weight loss in mid-2008, Mr. Jobs took a nearly six month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant. He took another medical leave of absence in mid-January without explanation before stepping down as chief executive.
Mr. Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children.
Although his achievements in technology alone were immense, Mr. Jobs played an equally groundbreaking role in entertainment. He turned Apple into the largest retailer of music and helped popularize computer-animated films as the financier and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, which he later sold to Walt Disney Co. He was a key figure in changing the way people used the Internet and how they consumed music, TV shows, movies, books, disrupting industries in the process.
"Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started," Disney CEO Robert Iger said in a statement Wednesday.
Mr. Jobs also pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern business history, returning to Apple after an 11-year absence during which he was largely written off as a has-been and then reviving the then-struggling company by introducing products such as the iMac all-in-one computer, iPod music player and iTunes digital music store.
The company produces $65.2 billion a year in revenue compared with $7.1 billion in its business year ending September 1997. Apple has become one of the world's premier designers of consumer-electronics devices, dropping the "computer" in its name in January 2007 to underscore its expansion beyond PCs.
Although Mr. Jobs officially handed over the reins of the company to Mr. Cook, his long-time deputy, in August, his death nevertheless raises a high-stakes question for Apple of how the company—which has been in the vanguard of technological creativity for most of the past decade—will sustain its success without his vision and guidance. Other icons of American capitalism, including Walt Disney, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and International Business Machines Corp., experienced some transitional woes but eventually managed to thrive after their charismatic founders passed on.
But few companies of that stature have shown such an acute dependence on their founder, or lost the founder at the peak of his career. Several years after Mr. Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985, the company began a steady decline that saw it drift to the margins of the computer industry. That slide was reversed only after Mr. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.
Mr. Jobs also leaves behind innumerable tales about his mercurial management style, such as his habit of calling employees or their ideas "dumb" when he didn't like something. He was even more combative against foes like Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., and Amazon.com Inc. When Adobe Systems Inc. waged a campaign against Apple for not supporting Adobe's Flash video format on its iPhones and iPads in April 2010, Mr. Jobs wrote a 1,600 word essay about why the software was outdated and inadequate for mobile devices.
The CEO maintained uncompromising standards about the company's hardware and software, demanding "insanely great" aesthetics and ease of use from the moment a consumer walked into one of Apple's stylish stores. His attention to the smallest details in the development and design process were instrumental in shaping some of the most distinctive features of Apple's products, while his meticulously planned onstage demonstrations helped fuel excitement that was unmatched by his peers.
At event after event to introduce new products, Mr. Jobs often puckishly proclaimed "There is one more thing" before revealing the most significant news at the very end of a speech. He enforced strict secrecy among Apple employees, a strategy that he believed heightened anticipation for upcoming Apple products.
Mr. Jobs, the adopted son of a family in Palo Alto, Calif., was born on Feb. 24, 1955. A college dropout, he established his reputation early on as a tech innovator when at 21 years old, he and friend Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer Inc. in the Jobs family garage in 1976. Mr. Jobs chose the name, in part, because he was a Beatles fan and admired the group's Apple records label, according to the book "Apple:
The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders" by Wall Street Journal reporter Jim Carlton.
The pair came out with the Apple II in 1977, a groundbreaking computer that was relatively affordable and designed for the mass market consumer rather than for hobbyists. The product went on to become one of the first commercially successful personal computers, making the company $117 million in annual sales by the time of Apple's initial public offering in 1980. The IPO instantly made Mr. Jobs a multimillionaire.
Not all of Mr. Jobs's early ideas paid off. Apple's Apple III and Lisa computers that debuted in 1980 and 1983 were flops. But the distinctive all-in-one Macintosh--foreshadowed in a ground-breaking TV ad inspired by George Orwell's novel "1984" that famously only aired once -- would set the standard for the design of modern computer operating systems, in which users point and click on icons with a mouse rather than typing in commands.
Even then, Mr. Jobs was a stickler about design details. Bruce Tognazzini, a former user-interface expert at Apple who joined the company in 1978, once said that Mr. Jobs was adamant than the keyboard not include "up", "down," "right" and "left" keys that allow users to move the cursor around their computer screens.
Mr. Jobs's pursuit for aesthetic beauty sometimes bordered on the extreme. George Crow, an Apple engineer in the 1980s and again from 1998 to 2005, recalls how Mr. Jobs wanted to make even the inside of computers beautiful. On the original Macintosh PC, Mr. Crow says Mr. Jobs wanted the internal wiring to be in the colors of Apple's early rainbow logo. Mr. Crow says he eventually convinced Mr. Jobs it was an unnecessary expense.
Many ideas in the Macintosh came from a visit in 1979 to Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research, where Mr. Jobs saw a machine called the Xerox Alto that had a crude graphical user interface and a mouse. The episode underscored his recurring role as a refiner and popularizer of existing inventions.
"Picasso had a saying, 'Good artists copy. Great artists steal,'" Mr. Jobs said in a PBS documentary on the computer industry from the mid-1990s. "I've been shameless about stealing great ideas."
Even in his appearance, Mr. Jobs seemed to cultivate an image more like that of an artist than a corporate executive. In public, he rarely deviated from an outfit consisting of Levis jeans, a black mock turtleneck and New Balance running shoes.
As Apple expanded, Mr. Jobs decided to bring in a more experienced manager to lead the company. He recruited John Sculley from Pepsi Co. to be Apple CEO in 1983, famously overcoming Mr. Sculley's initial reluctance by asking the executive if he just wanted to sell "sugar water to kids" or help change the world.
After Apple fell into a subsequent slump, a leadership struggle led its board's decision to back Mr. Sculley and fire Mr. Jobs two years later at the age of 30. "What can I say – I hired the wrong guy," Mr. Jobs brooded in the same PBS documentary. "He destroyed everything I had spent ten years working for."
Mr. Jobs then created NeXT Inc., a closely watched startup that in 1988 introduced a distinctive black desktop computer with advanced software that was initially targeted at the academic computing market. But the machine was hobbled by its exorbitant price tag and some key design decisions, including its use of an optical disk drive and a Motorola Inc. microprocessor at a time when Intel Corp. chips and floppy drives had become the norm.
NeXT eventually stopped selling hardware and failed to make money as a software company. But its operating system would become a foundation for OS X, the software backbone of today's Macs, after Apple purchased NeXT for $400 million in December 1996.
In 1986, using part of his fortune from Apple, Mr. Jobs paid filmmaker George Lucas $10 million to acquire the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm Ltd. The company he formed out of those assets, Pixar Animation Studios, first sold hardware, then software, and later turned to feature films. Pixar went on to create a string of computer-animated hits, from "Toy Story" to 2008's "Wall-E." Mr. Jobs sold Pixar to Disney in January 2006 in a $7.4 billion deal that gave him a Disney board seat and made him the entertainment company's largest shareholder.
Meanwhile, Apple began foundering. Computers using Intel chips and Microsoft software grew to dominate the market, a trend that accelerated after Microsoft's Windows emulated many elements of the Mac's visual interface.
Apple, by contrast, had to finance both hardware and software development internally. Fewer developers of application programs created products to make the Macintosh more useful. Apple would eventually decide to license its operating system to other hardware companies, but it was too late to reverse the swing to Windows-based machines.
By 1997, Apple had racked up nearly $2 billion in losses in two years, its shares were at record lows and it was on its third CEO--Gil Amelio--in four years. Eight months after the deal to buy NeXT in December 1996, Mr. Amelio was ousted and Mr. Jobs appointed interim CEO, a title that became permanent in January 2000. One former Apple employee recalls Mr. Jobs joking soon after he returned that "the lunatics have taken over the asylum and we can do anything we want."
Mr. Jobs, who was given a salary of $1 a year along with options to Apple stock, made a series of changes that started paying off quickly. He ended the nascent software licensing program that created Mac clones, killed the struggling Newton handheld computer and trimmed a confusing array of Mac models to a handful of systems focused on the consumer market.
In May 1998, he introduced the iMac, an unusual one-piece computer that sported a colorful casing in translucent turquoise and gray. The popular machine--which sent competitors scrambling to improve their own designs—was embodied by a bold ad campaign that featured the phrase "Think Different," with the picture of one of Mr. Jobs's heroes, such as Albert Einstein and Muppets creator Jim Henson.
While shareholders cheered the changes, Mr. Jobs flexed his power on Apple's Cupertino, Calif., campus. Within months of taking over, he had replaced four of the five top executive positions with former NeXT underlings. He issued emails forbidding employees on the famously laid-back campus to bring pets to the office, smoke even in parking lots, and threatening to fire anyone caught leaking company documents.
One personal assistant became a target when he failed to arrange the installation of a high-speed digital data line to Mr. Jobs's office fast enough to suit the interim CEO. The worker said Mr. Jobs fired him for the delay, but rescinded the firing the next day after he had cooled down. (The worker ended up resigning soon afterwards).
Apple had some stumbles during Mr. Jobs's second coming, including a cube-shaped Macintosh that failed to catch on and was scrapped in 2001. The failure was one reason that Apple posted a quarterly loss and warned it would miss estimates several times in 2000 and 2001.
But big hits followed. In 2001, Apple introduced a PowerBook laptop made from titanium, a metal more frequently found in fighter airplanes. The same year, it introduced the iPod, which transformed digital music players with features such as its smooth shape and DJ-like wheel for navigating through songs. As of Sept. 2010, Apple had sold more than 275 million iPod devices since its introduction, and it has more than 70% market share in the market for digital music players.
A key differentiator was the iTunes Music Store, opened in 2003. At the time, the music industry was largely sitting on the sidelines of the digital revolution, badly wounded by illegal downloads but unable to agree on an easy, inexpensive way to sell songs online. But Mr. Jobs helped convince major record labels to sell recordings for 99 cents each, along with antipiracy restrictions that most consumers found acceptable.
The store, which has sold more than ten billion songs, became the largest music retailer in the U.S. in 2008. It also became an incentive for consumers to buy iPods because, for much of its history, songs from the iTunes store could only be downloaded to Apple's music player and not devices made by other companies.
At the same time, Mr. Jobs was building a deep bench of executives. He recruited former Compaq Computer Corp. executive Tim Cook in the late 1990s to straighten Apple's operations and promoted him over time to chief operating officer. Ron Johnson, senior vice president of Apple retail, was hired from Target Corp. in 2000 to launch Apple's stores worldwide. Apple's lead industrial designer Jonathan Ive took charge of the physical look-and-feel of the company's products and is said to share in Mr. Jobs's sensibilities about design.
In 2004, Mr. Jobs had to lean on this bench when he disclosed that he had had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas. Apple revealed the procedure in early August 2004, but a person familiar with the situation said Mr. Jobs first learned of the tumor during a routine abdominal scan nine months earlier. The board and Mr. Jobs said nothing to Apple shareholders as the Apple executive, during that time, dealt with the tumor through changes to his diet, the person said.
In June 2007, Mr. Jobs made another splash when Apple introduced the iPhone. The cellphone pushed the envelope in the mobile phone market with features that included a touch-screen interface, allowing tricks such as blowing up images by spreading a thumb and finger on the phone's surface.
Mr. Jobs was typically hands on in the creation of the iPhone. People familiar with the matter say the CEO was the one that made a decision to change the screen of the iPhone from plastic to glass after he unveiled the product at the Macworld trade show in 2007. The iPhone team scrambled to procure glass that would meet his exacting standards, so the devices could be manufactured in time for the launch, which took place just seven months later.
Despite skepticism about Apple's ability to enter an already-competitive market dominated by the likes of Research in Motion Ltd.'s Blackberry devices, Apple quickly became a force in the mobile phone market, selling 92 million iPhones as of December 2010. The product kicked into a higher gear earlier this year when Apple said it would begin selling iPhones through Verizon Wireless in addition to carrier AT&T.
Last year, Mr. Jobs also unveiled the iPad tablet computer to great fanfare, billing it as "magical and revolutionary". In the first nine months of the product's release, Apple sold 14.8 million iPads as consumers snapped them up to use as a casual multimedia device for activities such as emailing, watching video and reading. People who work closely with Mr. Jobs said the project was so important to him that he was intimately involved in its planning even while recovering from his 2009 liver transplant.
A major selling point for both the iPhone and iPad has been the App Store, which allows developers to easily make application programs that users can download for free or for a small fee; the store meanwhile has seen more than seven billion downloads as of the end of 2010.
One cloud to Mr. Jobs's reign came in 2006 when Apple also disclosed that an internal investigation had discovered that stock option grants to Apple executives between 1997 and 2002-- including to Mr. Jobs-- were improperly dated. Apple became the most high-profile technology company caught up in a broad series of options backdating scandals that helped inflate the profits executives made from their stock awards.
Apple later disclosed that Mr. Jobs helped select the favorable option dates, but denied that he did anything wrong since he didn't understand the accounting implications of his actions. Apple's investigation ended up blaming two ex-Apple executives – former general counsel Nancy Heinen and former chief financial officer Fred Anderson – for their role in the backdating. Both were later charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission. They ended up settling the charges. Mr. Jobs was never charged with any wrongdoing.
Those who knew Mr. Jobs say that one reason why he was able to keep innovating was because he didn't dwell on past accomplishments or legacy but kept looking ahead and demanded that employees do the same. Hitoshi Hokamura, a former Apple employee, recalls how an old
Apple I that was displayed by the company cafeteria quietly disappeared after Mr. Jobs returned in the late 1990s.
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose," Mr. Jobs said in a commencement speech at Stanford University in June 2005, almost a year after he was diagnosed with cancer.
—Pui-Wing Tam, Don Clark and Jim Carlton contributed to this article.
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