Five Steve Jobs innovations that changed the tech industry forever
Although Jobs had been on medical leave since earlier 2011, and resigned from his role mid year, the news has shocked the tech industry.
From introducing the original Mac to the latest iPhone, Jobs has been responsible for some of the biggest changes in the information technology industry – changes that have informed how other companies and entire industries do business.
But although Jobs himself has died, his impact on the tech world will never be forgotten. Here are five of his biggest innovations.
1. The Mac
This is the device that changed how everyday consumers use personal computers.
It can’t be overstated how significant the release of the Mac was in the 1980s. That period in the information technology scene represents the transition from computers being mysterious objects used by universities and rocket scientists into something personable and useful. Jobs, (along with peers including Bill Gates), transformed the perception of computers being cold and aloof to a must-have household item.
An early video of Jobs debuting the Mac to thunderous applause highlights its significance. The first powerful, useful personal computer that would set the trend for years to come.
Jobs didn’t do it alone, but the Mac transformed how we perceive and relate to desktop computers – a consumer relationship that informs business decisions to this day.
2. The iPod
Apple never takes the first step. When Jobs debuted the iPod in 2001, it wasn’t the first MP3 player on the market and it technically wasn’t even the best. But this device – which has sold hundreds of millions of units in the past decade – represents Jobs’ vision.
By releasing the iPod, Jobs proved that consumers don’t necessarily respond to technical specifications. Instead, they prefer stylish, well-designed objects that are as much of a fashion item as they are music player.
Although Jobs’ obsession with design started in the 1990s, the first iPod represents the strengthening of the relationship between technology and industrial design. Until his resignation Jobs had always been obsessed with design – how gadgets look and feel, rather than just what’s inside.
The iPod wasn’t the best MP3 player on the market – but Jobs proved that consumers don’t really care.
3. The iPhone
Before the 2007 release of the first iPhone, smartphones were barely breaking any ground. They weren’t good looking, they couldn’t browse the internet very well, and they certainly couldn’t operate any comprehensive software.
Jobs’ vision for the iPhone changed not only how smartphones operate, but also how they appear – nearly every major smartphone that is released now appears similar to the original version of the iPhone that launched just four years ago.
The genius in Jobs’ vision isn’t the phone itself, but in his recognition that the phone
was slowly becoming more of a personal computer than just a calling device. Even now experts and analysts constantly comment on how the phone is now becoming a personal computing device with more power than some laptops currently on the market.
Foresight is everything in technology – you need to be able to see where the market is heading. The iPhone was in production for years before it was actually launched, with Jobs at the helm.
Vision is everything. Part of Jobs’ skill as an entrepreneur was being able to see where the market would be four, five or 10 years ahead of time. It’s only now that smartphone makers are beginning to offer alternatives.
4. The iTunes/App Stores
Having Macs and iPods is great, but devices are nothing without the content that fills them. Two of Jobs’ most underrated innovations are the iTunes and App Stores, both of which have changed how people interact with digital music and software forever.
Think back to the year 2003. There was basically no easy way to buy music online, so most people pirated it from peer-to-peer networks. Music labels are in disarray, publishers are fretting over what to do next, and consumers see no reason why they should ever have to pay for music again.
The creation of the iTunes Store represents a fundamental shift in how we consume content, and once again, highlights Jobs’ ability to not only see where markets are going, but create entirely new ones when none exist.
Working with music labels to create an entirely new digital marketplace, Jobs created a perfectly simple way for users to buy music – just click on a song. No mess, no fuss, just clicks. And most importantly, it’s cheap. Users were given an easy alternative to support artists and get high quality tracks.
Although the App Store wasn’t necessarily filling a gap in the market like the iTunes Store, it nevertheless represents Jobs’ ability to spot a future opportunity.
Just as Jobs recognised smartphones were becoming more like computers, he also recognised these computers need software to fill them. Giving developers the freedom to create all different sorts of products and features, and then sell them, has not only created new revenue streams for Apple but – put simply – has created an entirely new industry out of thin air.
Jobs had a great eye for design, and loved to create well-built devices. But content is king, and Jobs recognised that offering customers valuable material like music, television shows, films and apps is just as big a part of the entire Apple experience.
Not a device, not a piece of content, but nevertheless technology that has changed filmmaking forever. In the 1980s Jobs bought a small graphics technology group from George Lucas that would later become Pixar, now renowned and celebrated for its high quality feature films, and for being the first company to produce a film entirely generated with computer graphics.
Jobs’ vision is obvious here. Recognising that technology would not only change consumer electronics forever, but also filmmaking, he set out on an opportunity to have a stake in that change.
Pixar’s legacy is clear, and although Jobs has had less to do with the company as time has gone on, it is nevertheless a key point in his career and represents a significant leap forward for the use of technology in cinema.
How Steve Jobs Built an army of entrepreneurs.
But what has always struck me about Jobs is the fact that he didn’t just create brilliant products. At least two of his greatest innovations could be considered to have created entire industries, or at least allowed struggling sectors to flourish.
While the iPhone and iPad are brilliant products, I have always thought that the real genius of these devices was the way Jobs and Apple created content markets that sat behind them in the form of the iTunes Store and the App Store.
Jobs realised that content is king in the digital world. It was no good building a sleek, beautifully designed device with the power of a small laptop if you couldn’t listen, watch, play and use content on it.
The way the iTunes and App Stores were set up – such that Apple gained the right to approve what was sold in them and took a 30% cut of any items sold– guaranteed the company’s devices would continue producing revenue for Apple long after that initial sale. This closed ecosystem is hated by many users, but it’s hard to deny it’s very, very smart.
But while the Apple markets may have been closed in many ways, they did open up a range of entrepreneurial possibilities for businesses that saw the opportunity to sell products to a rapidly-growing marketplace.
No more was this true than in the App Store, where hundreds of thousands of software developers – particularly those developing games – seized the chance. The bar, at least initially, was relatively low.
Armed with a developer’s kit and time, games could be created over a weekend and generating revenue the next week.
As well as the army of start-up app developers, the App Store allowed some genuinely huge businesses to be built, even here in Australia.
Rob Murray, founder of games studio Firemint, enjoyed huge success with his games, most notably Real Racing. After a few years he was able to merge with another Australian games studio (Infinite Interactive) and in July he sold his business to US giant Electronic Arts for an estimated $40 million.
A few weeks ago, Murray appeared on the BRW Young Rich list with a fortune of $24 million. Fellow app developer Andrew Lacy, who sold his development company Tapulous to Walt Disney, was valued at $20 million.
Would this have been possible had Steve Jobs not created an ingenious platform for entrepreneurship? I am not sure.
While the iPhone and the iPad will always carry Steve Jobs’ DNA, the pace of change at a company such as Apple means that updated models will arrive very quickly. Eventually, they may in fact become some other designer or CEO’s products.
But the impact of the App Store and iTunes Store will live on for much longer. Hundreds of thousands of developers have been given the chance to launch their own little businesses on this platform.
Some have made huge businesses out of this opportunity. The vast majority haven’t. But the creation of this market has allowed so many people to get a taste of entrepreneurship – who knows what great companies this could create in the future.
That’s a pretty amazing legacy to leave behind.
Seven Innovation lessons SMEs can learn from Steve Jobs
The secret to Jobs’ success lies not only in his keen eye for design and consumer electronics, but for being able to create a vision, innovate new products within that vision, and then do it again, and again.
If nothing else, Apple under Jobs’ leadership was focused on innovation, by staying ahead of the pack and being focused on creating new ideas that no other company was working on. It’s a legacy more entrepreneurs need to keep in mind.
Last month SmartCompany hosted a webinar with Gallo Communications founder Carmine Gallo, author of the book The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
Gallo’s webinar – which can be viewed here – took the several hundred attendees through some of the biggest innovations they should learn from Steve Jobs’ success.
From getting more creative, to being in control of your company’s vision, here’s what SME should learn from Jobs’ impressive track record of innovation:
Do what you love
Last year when speaking with Bill Gates at an All Things Digital conference, Jobs responded to a question about how entrepreneurs can hope to have the same success he has with Apple. His response was simple – you need to have a passion for what you do, “otherwise any rational person would give up”.
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition,” he said in his famous commencement speech in 2005. “They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Jobs was successful because he cared about his products. He was so hands-on that he finalised key details, including the exact weight of products, to the type of wood that was to be used in Apple’s retail stores.
Only someone who cared about these products would go to such a high level of detail. But it is exactly this tendency to place such a high priority on seemingly unimportant bits and pieces that makes Jobs’ dedication to innovation a lesson all entrepreneurs must take to heart.
Put a dent in the universe
There is a reason why the iPhone continues to sell millions of products while other smartphones fail to reach that same level of success – Apple’s focus on creating something new.
Part of Jobs’ skill was being able to see where a market would be two or three years’ ahead of time, and then creating products that suit the vision of the future. Jobs is famous for saying Apple would rather gamble on its own vision rather than make “me-too” products, and SMEs need to follow the same example.
Creating something new is always better than being a copycat. If you have a good, different idea, then have the courage to follow it through. Your success will be greater than if you had created a slightly better version of something that already exists.
Plenty of entrepreneurs are intelligent thinkers, but not many are creative. You need to have the ability to perceive information and then use it to create something totally different.
Jobs once said that part of the reason the Mac was successful was that the “people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians, who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world”.
Successful innovators need to be creative and foster creativity within their own businesses. Don’t restrict your staff, or yourself, from bringing up new ideas – some may even work.
Sell dreams, not products
One of the biggest fundamental mistakes marketers make is that they sell the actual product, without the reasons someone should buy it.
Consider the tablet market. Plenty of Apple’s competitors have tried to sell alternatives to the iPad, including the Motorola Xoom, and the Galaxy Tab. They haven’t even come close to making a dent in Apple’s success, and here’s why: they sell a product, rather than the benefits.
Motorola, Samsung and Research In Motion praise their devices’ various bells and whistles, such as USB connectivity, a high definition screen, the ability to watch any video file you want, and so on. But none of these companies actually show you what you can do with it.
Consider Apple’s own marketing. Its advertisements show families connecting via FaceTime, children learning to write, and board members reading reports on the fly, backed by the comforting, simple sounds of an acoustic guitar or piano. The message is simple – the iPad will help you be creative, work and connect with your family, and it’s easier than what you’re doing now.
Successful innovators identify problems, tell their customers how they can fix it, and then introduce a product. Sell the idea of your product and what it can do, not just the product itself.
Say no to 1,000 things
Jobs once said that having focus is the ability to say “no”. He made that comment in 1997, less than a year after he returned to the company to help straighten things out. He lamented that Apple was heading in too many directions without much focus.
Innovators need to say no. They need to learn when a product isn’t good enough, and when you can do better. Just as an editor eliminates the worst part of a news story, an innovator’s job is to cut the worst parts of a product, and then work on the promising parts.
Create insanely great experiences
Here’s a secret – Apple’s products aren’t the most technically capable. Most smartphones on the market can do more than the iPhone, and a Windows machine will let you do much, much more than a Mac running OS X. But Apple still outsells them all.
“It just works.”
Most people want simplicity and power. They want to be able to do all sorts of things with their computers, but don’t want the hassle of figuring out how to do it. Apple products are powerful, yet simple. Their user interfaces are so easy to use that children can operate them.
Innovators must not only create good products, but recognise the experience of using them is just as important. Your product might be powerful, but if it doesn’t “just work”, then you’ve wasted your time.
Be in control of your message
One of Apple’s biggest successes this past decade has been its ability to control a cohesive message and brand. Jobs has steered the company away from a complicated, unattractive mess, to a firm that is inherently tied with attractive, simplistic design. Less is more.
And this branding reaches throughout the entire company. Consider the slides used at all of Apple’s presentations – they’re clean. Free of complicated graphs, with rarely more than one graphic appearing on the screen at a time, they deliver the same message as Apple’s products.
Controlling your company’s message is critical to good innovation. Building a brand helps cement your company in the minds of your customers, and that message needs to permeate throughout the entire business and its values.
Part of being able to innovate is also being able to create a cohesive message. Too many businesses fail because they don’t have a singular vision. Build one, and then ensure it stays intact.
The Real genius of Steve Jobs
Jobs revealed that Apple now has 200 million accounts with credit card numbers on its books, linked to its various online stores selling music, video, books and, of course, applications.
“Amazon doesn’t publish their numbers. But it’s very likely that this is the most accounts with cards anywhere on the internet,” Jobs said at the presentation.
As I have argued in the past, the real genius of Apple’s product releases over the last decade has been the way it has rolled out marketplaces to accompany its products.
Yes, the iPod was cool, but it worked at its best when you put all your music into your iTunes account and started buying new albums and songs from the iTunes store.
Yes, the iPhone was great, but it worked at its best when you loaded your phone with applications from the App Store.
Yes, the iPad was great, but it was at its best when combined with the App Store and the new iBooks store.
The clever part is that by developing these markets, Apple was able to get multiple revenue streams. It sells its hardware once, but by creating these marketplaces and taking a cut of anything sold by publishing companies, music companies and app developers, it ensured customers would keep the money pouring in.
The marketplaces also work as a brilliant barrier to competition. Even if you are tempted by a rival company’s smartphone or tablet, transferring your music, contacts and other content from your Apple device isn’t easy. And in the case of apps, if you switch to another phone brand, you’ve just taken a big loss.
Those are the reasons why Apple has been able to build a database of 200 million credit cards.
The question I have is this: What could they do with that database in the future?
Clearly, Apple will expand into selling other forms of content – newspaper subscriptions (as seen with Rupert Murdoch’s new publication The Daily) and other forms of micropayments would seem to be obvious targets.
But let’s think bigger. The new iPhone 5 is rumoured to include near field communications technology, which can allow for the phone to be used a payment device – a lot like the cashless “swipe and go” technology Visa is rolling out with some retailers.
Think about it. Before you head out for a day of shopping in the city, you log onto iTunes, transfer cash from your credit card to your Apple account and then head off.
When you go to buy something in a retail store, you simply wave your phone at a store’s terminal/chip reader and the money is transferred out of your Apple Account to the store’s banks account.
That might be a long way away. Apple might not want to go down that path at all. But its 200 million-strong customer database is just ripe for some serious monetising.
Think like Steve: Making your business like apple
Like Henry Ford, Jobs was someone who had a profound effect not only on his own company and industry, but everyone else’s.
He took Apple from the brink of being dismantled in 1997, to America’s second-most valuable company.
How did he do it? Of course, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and iTunes have all played a role, but what has really driven Apple’s success isn’t any individual product, but its ethos. In Apple’s case, that’s a brand of thinking that emphasises perfection, innovation and detail.
Here are a few thoughts on what can be learnt from Apple’s success that you might apply in your own business:
Make it better
MP3 players and smartphones were around before the iPod and the iPhone. Yet the iPod was an MP3 player so good it changed the face of the music industry, and, while the iPhone didn’t do much that was new, everything it did, it did better.
Think about what’s wrong with the products in your industry – why aren’t they as good as they could be? Apple have been adept at going back to the drawing board and asking, “How should this product work?”
Build it how you saw it
Steve Jobs made Apple a design-driven company, with creative people at the top and engineers underneath who push the envelope to execute their ideas.
The process of moving from the design table to the production line is often one of compromise. Make as few concessions as possible when translating your ideas into products.
Create a product ecosystem
Whether it’s an iPad or a movie download, Apple’s products connect seamlessly.
Think about the opportunities for your business to develop products that cater to customers’ needs while effortlessly connecting to each other.
Focus on profitability
Despite the fact that Netbook computers were becoming enormously popular, Apple refused to enter a space where profit margins were low. Instead, they created the MacBook Air – a premium offering much more in keeping with Apple’s designs.
Think carefully about what spaces to be in, and how each fits with your overall vision.
“Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China”. Apple has taken full advantage of China’s ability to manufacture goods for less. They’ve also sought to fully control the delivery of their products (through Apple stores) only where it’s most profitable, letting resellers do the work elsewhere.
Be the last word
Jobs was famous for his interest in ideas and his power to critique, and at Apple, his final word is gospel. It’s this fact that – from phones, to computers to content – delivers Apple its vision and direction.