Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

He returned to Apple about a decade after he left, working as a consultant. Soon he was running it, in what has been called Jobs’ second act.

Jobs reinvented Apple four or five times, first with the Apple II, a beautiful personal computer in the 1970s; then in the 1980s with the Macintosh, driven by a mouse and presenting a clean screen that made computing inviting; the ubiquitous iPod debuted in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and in 2010 the iPad, which a year after it was introduced outsold the Mac.

Natural design sense

How did he do it? Designers, Apple employees and Jobs acquaintances credit a natural drive to simplify. Jobs’ return to Apple was a study in reduction.

Ed Niehaus, who was wooed and hired by Jobs to do public relations for resurgent Apple, remembers an elevator ride that everyone in Silicon Valley has heard of, but seemed more myth than reality. It was soon after Jobs’ triumphant return and he was axing product plans – and people.

He always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do – but the things that you decide not to do

Niehaus recalled: “I once rode down an elevator, not that many floors. We got in the elevator and the next floor a young woman got in, and I could see her go, ‘oops, wrong elevator.’ And Steve said, ‘Hi, who are you?’ and introduces himself to her – ‘I’m Steve Jobs’ and turned on the charm and said, ‘What do you do?’ and all this sort of thing. And the door of the elevator opens at the bottom, and he says, ‘We are not going to need you.’ And we walk away.”

Apple was bloated, Niehaus added, and Jobs was bringing back simplicity and focus.

“He always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do – but the things that you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist,” former CEO Sculley – who was recruited by Jobs, watched him build the Mac, and then helped throw out the Apple founder in a boardroom battle – told the CultofMac news website in 2010.

A few steps in the Apple design process have leaked out over the years, despite the obsessive secrecy that is part of the company culture. An Apple engineer outlined a long development process at a conference blogged by Businessweek in 2008.

A new product or feature begins with 10 ideas – good ideas, no also-rans, which are presented as “pixel-perfect” mockups. Apple culls the 10 to three, which are tried out for months more, before a final star is chosen.

Meanwhile, the design team meets for two types of weekly meetings – one to brainstorm with no limits, and one to focus on getting the product out the door, BusinessWeek described.

MacBook Air

When Steve Jobs weighed in, it was with a simple set of verdicts: “insanely great”, “really, really really great”, and “shit”, Niehaus recalled.

“Basically Steve tells you exactly what he wants and you just go build it,” said one former iPhone engineer, who declined to give his name. He remembers working on one project for two months. “Steve said ‘What is this shit? Why are you wasting my time?'” he recalled.

Standing up to the boss

Being chewed up and spat out by Jobs is an experience most Apple employees who have come in contact with Jobs can relate to. And Jobs was known to like people who stood up to him.

“I never asked you to start, so why should I ask you to stop?” Jobs told another former Apple employee, who wanted to know whether he should continue to work on a project that was being questioned by the forceful CEO.

Jobs liked to push. From the very start, people told tales of him putting his – often dirty – feet on the table in meetings. Others tell of Jobs putting down their company, making them defend themselves in interviews.

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