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Published: Saturday, 10/8/2011


Apple's pioneer

When someone has the stature and press of a Steve Jobs, there's a temptation to overstate his influence on society and culture. But in the case of the Apple co-founder and CEO, the hagiography is more truth than hype.

Mr. Jobs, who died Wednesday at 56 from pancreatic cancer, was not an engineer or a computer programmer. He was not this generation's Thomas Edison, long considered America's greatest inventor.

Where Mr. Edison toiled over every filament that went into his light bulb, Mr. Jobs would have seen the potential for that light bulb and re-imagined it smaller, longer lasting, and brighter.

Fast forward little more than a century. Mr. Jobs did not invent the MP3 player, the smart phone, the personal computer, or the electronic tablet. There were music services long before iTunes. He did not invent the prototypes of any of the elegant devices that bear his company's distinctive logo.

What he did better than any other Silicon Valley visionary was meld functionality with heightened efficiency and a minimalist aesthetic. He was as interested in making a beautiful object as one that would exceed expectations as a practical tool.

He looked for the most visually appealing design because he knew that was the way to a consumer's heart. Efficiency was also a given with every Apple device. The self-contained universe of Apple hardware and software completes a circle of excellence that the company's engineers and designers jealously guard. It is the source of the company's market strength.

It took a college dropout, a man whose interests ranged from calligraphy to Buddhism, to make the intuitive jump that led to the creation of the iMac, the iPad, and the iPhone, devices that have become industry standards.

Steve Jobs was peerless in re-imagining the creations of others and an original when it came to tapping into the unexpressed desires of the public. His genius was understanding both what we wanted and how to deliver it to us before we knew what to ask for.

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