Steve Jobs – Innovation Personified

Apple IIc
Apple IIc

I wrote my first line of code on an apple II machine in BASIC when I was probably 13. Surely, there were IBM PCs around, but they looked clunkier than my Apple. I learned my first desktop publishing lessons on a Macintosh Classic connected to a laser printer on an apple talk network (the crude 1980s networking introduced by Apple). Wow! They had it all even then.

Next Computer
Next Computer

I moved on from Apple to Commodores about the time Steve left Apple to pursue other adventures. But by the time I was in college, I had found my new love. The NeXT computers with their ingenious NeXTStep Operating Systems. Yes, Steve’s second company was Next Computers right after he left Apple. So for the next four years (early 1990s) I wrote my papers on it, learned how to program in languages like C, Objective C, Perl, used this platform to build my first websites and ofcourse surfed the web (yes before Netscape era), and most importantly learned the Unix operating system the core of my career ever since.

NeXTStep

NextStep Desktop

The hardware and the accompanying software were so advanced in their times that even today, they can hold their own against the best of Microsoft Windows. The little black boxes let us use Graphical WordPerfect to finish our documents in visually pleasing screen fonts and let us print them on laser printers with a click of a button. While IBM PCs still boasted textual green screen based word processors connected to clunky dot matrix printers that made more noise than did any useful printing. We used to send emails through (even voice mails to other NeXT Step users) to people across the world using its graphical and simple to use email client. It let us read classics including the complete works of Shakespeare and other great books in perfect fonts and styles (probably world’s first Kindle), let me surf the web (before the birth of Netscape or even the tech boom on (an obscure) omni-page browser) and yes, it was all graphical, many years ahead of Windows 95. Did I mention, in my spare time, we used to play beautifully written games on it too. And some of them were networked, so that friends on other computers could join in. Yes, I am talking early 1990s ten years before networked/online games became a craze.

Steve Jobs with Macintosh

The original Macintosh Computer

Today, all NeXT affectiandos know that Steve bought/merged his NeXT Computers into Apple upon his return in 1997 and then launched the revamped MacOS X, which is essentially the next generation of NeXTStep OS. MacOS X today powers all Apple computers and is one of the most stable Operating Systems out there.

Today, I cant think of life without my iPod when I go hiking or my iPad when I need to read the latest classic or just surf the web. And oh, I ditched my PS2 in favor of iPod/iPad games that are so cool and better.

Steve’s innovative creations through the ages have mimicked my love affair with computers. I still remember the goosebumps I used to get when my little BASIC programming codes would run perfectly on an Apple Iic. I still cant believe the ease with which we used to get desktop publishing done in late 1980s on a Macintosh. And I could have never finished college with so much fun had I not had my Next experience. And ofcourse, without iPad where will we be all today.

So Steve today, you stepped down from Apple and resigned as CEO, but to us, who have lived through your life with Apple, you will be missed. And we hope that you can still play a critical role as Chairman and Board member in many years to come.

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Be the first to market. Always!

First to market, first to realize the potential of an idea and its underlying technology and executing the business strategy ambitiously is the key to succeed. This has been the mantra ever since the Industrial Revolution began in earnest in mid 18th century.

Take the example of automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. The first to invent and patent a combustion engine driven vehicle was Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany around 1885. Both had independently proposed an automobile powered by internal combustion engine (Benz) and gas powered (Daimler). They probably never met and had not envisioned that by 1926 their competing enterprises would merge to form Daimler Benz makers of famous Mercedes mark, one of the greatest names in automobile history.

In 1896, Henry Ford did the same with his first American vehicle in Detroit. By 1910 the automobile business was peaking in the United States with over 250 independent manufacturers competing for their share. There was constant innovation and improvement over previous designs. Literally, the car of yesterday was made obsolete by the latest model coming out every few months. Not much unlike the Internet craze of today where the latest iPhone or Android renders everything else obsolete.

By the year 2000 the manufacturers of automobile in the USA had dwindled to three, namely Chrysler (then Daimler Chrysler), Ford Motor Company and General Motors. The rest had either merged/bought out by these three or went out of business during the course of the century.

Today, Daimler Benz and their famous mark Mercedes is one of the leading brands out there. So is Ford Motor Company with F150 series trucks. But these were one of the first companies to realize the potential of an internal combustion engine based automobile as a real alternative to horse drawn carriage. Considering at that time, a car could not travel more than a few miles nor any faster than a slow moving elephant, yet the potential of the newly developed technology was huge. To make matters worse, there were no asphalt roads only pot hole littered dirt tracks that made driving a nightmare. All it required was belief in your idea, passionate hard work and precision engineering. Inventors like Ferdinand Porsche, Henry Ford, Karl Benz were out there designing vehicles right at the beginning. Today their brands have a history to tell.

But what about General Motors? It was not there right at the beginning. It came about in mid 1920s. That is true, but its individual brands were there from the beginning. This includes brands like Oldsmobile (now defunct), Chevrolet and Cadillac those were pioneering new vehicles that were competing head on with the bigwigs of their time. They all merged to form the General Motors group by mid 1920s and hence the birth of the largest automobile company in the world.

Being first, understanding the market dynamics and executing the right strategy is the key to becoming a brand and leader in your field. History constantly reminds us of this fact and car industry is one such example.

Today, the game is changing again for the auto industry. The birth of hybrids and alternative fuel powered vehicles are making the technological innovations of last century obsolete. By 2010, over 50 new automobile manufacturers were registered in the USA with more likely to join them. And exclusively all of them are focused on alternative fuel based vehicles or using computer driven autonomous vehicles. The current market leaders include Toyota, Honda and Tesla as they have their vehicles plying the roads in multitudes. The next few decades, this innovation will be fueled by new ideas and backed by new technology. It will be redefining the industry and maybe some of the old horses (Ford, GM, Daimler etc) might not survive the new wave. But maybe tomorrows General Motors could be Tesla itself, redefining the future of commute for the world.

So whatever your field, whatever your enterprise, try to innovate and lead from the front. Do not wait for others to show you the way.