Steve Jobs’ Legacy to Continue to Shape Tech

Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple may be sparking speculation about the company’s long-term success, but the legacy he leaves behind may shape the future of his industry.

As Jobs leaves the top leadership post at the Cupertino, Calif.-based company and takes on a reduced role as chairman, he leaves behind a series of products that have revolutionised the industry and helped to shift the emphasis of technology to mobile devices.

But beyond products like the iPhone, iPad or iPod, Jobs’ legacy may well lie in the importance he gave to software, his ability to create new markets, and his marketing savvy, all of which the company can continue to capitalise upon — and the rivals can do doubt pursue as well.

When Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976, his focus was on the personal computer. He developed the Apple II with partner Steve Wozniak, and together they released the device in 1977. The machine became the benchmark by which future personal computers were built and helped catalyze the desktop computer as a consumer device.

Despite Jobs’ contributions to the company he founded, an industry-wide sales slump and the deterioration of his relationship with then-Apple CEO John Sculley forced Jobs out of the company in 1985.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. But he stood on the stage of the World Wide Developers’ Conference that year to announce how Apple would come back from the dead.

“What we need to worry about is making some great products,” Jobs said. “Getting some great applications on them, and telling our customers about both of those things.”

These words may sum up the legacy of the Apple CEO. First, Jobs set a goal to put out products that elevated the standard in design and features, creating a strong foundation for his company. The iPod changed the consumer mindset about the MP3 player from an alternative way to listen to music to the best way. The iPhone made touch screen technology in a mobile phone a reality for the first time, and the iPad sparked a tablet market, seemingly out of thin air.

Each key Apple device was not only lauded for its efficiency and user-friendliness, but were lauded for their clean designs in a marriage of functionality and aesthetic elegance. As a result, the devices are perennial bestsellers, and have become the benchmark against which other products are compared.

Besides creating iconic products, Jobs also made sure his products were backed up with software that added to the experience, helping to shift the emphasis of the tech industry from hardware to software. Apple devices became strong conduits to media, and created ancillary opportunities to build revenue and expand Apple’s strengths beyond computing.

The iTunes Store, for example, successfully monetized a music industry drowning in the wake of piracy, and proved the world was ready to purchase content digitally. Years later, the App Store effectively turned the iPhone into a mobile computer and launched the mobile app market, estimated to be worth $38 billion by 2015.

The result of Apple’s emphasis on mobile software is an emerging app market, as well as a spate of aggressive legal action by companies determined to protect their intellectual property.

Finally, Jobs’ marketing of these products transformed the way people view their technology. Job’s has marketed Apple’s products as a way to improve daily life, and Apple’s campaigns often show everyday people using Apple products to make connections or discoveries that they otherwise wouldn’t.

He has instilled in the mind of the consumer that something like an iPad isn’t just a gadget for downtime, but a device that can be integrated into daily life to make people happier. The result is a dedicated base of fans who eagerly line up for Apple launches, propelling products to unprecedented sales numbers.

The result of Job’s success can be seen in its competitors being relegated to playing the role of catch up. Every phone manufacturer followed the iPhone with touch screen devices of their own, Google answered with its own operating system, and mobile app store and now companies are scrambling to come up with answer for the iPad.

While Apple’s products spoke for themselves, Jobs’ skills of persuasion may have always been what set him apart from other CEOs. When Jobs was recruiting Pespi-Cola CEO John Sculley to come work for Apple, Sculley was already leading a multi-million dollar company and saw no benefit in leaving. But Sculley said that all changed after Jobs asked him one question.

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?”

Few would argue that Steve Jobs didn’t.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.