How Steve Jobs changed Apple...

He returned to the company in '97 and never looked back (see video below)

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Ironically, the iPad in development actually led Apple to create and launch the iPhone first. And just as the iPhone changed the concept of what a smartphone could be, the iPad took the concept of a tablet computer -- something Microsoft and other companies had been trying to market for a decade with limited success -- and transformed it. With the iPad, more than any other product, Jobs' penchant for minimalism resulted in a completely new concept of what a given piece of hardware could be.

By focusing on making the hardware and the device almost disappear, Apple created a user experience that feels more intuitive -- whether you're a toddler or a tech expert -- than that of just about any piece of modern technology. You pick up the iPad, slide your finger, tap the screen and you pretty much know how to use it right away. And that gives developers an incredible blank canvas to create on.

The iPad has transformed how we interact with the data that makes up our world. It takes a torrent of information -- contacts, appointments, news, emails, text, photos, music, video, games, meetings -- and lets us touch them in a way that is both familiar and new.

The simplicity of the iPad, which is all about what people can do with it and not about hardware or specs or ports or the ability to modify it, is a major reason for its success. Apple's ability to communicate that very simple and human experience is a big part of why other tablet makers haven't yet come close to catching up to the iPad. Looking back on all the innovations Jobs has overseen at Apple, the iPad may be his greatest success story.

How Apple goes on

In 1997, Steve Jobs took the reins of a very dysfunctional company that probably would have imploded if he hadn't come back. I doubt any of the changes he made to Apple's management and culture came easily and, given all the stories of how demanding he can be, I doubt anyone who worked to remake Apple in his vision would call it an easy or stress-free job. But the company's transformation (and through its products and impact, the digital world as we know it) has been astounding to watch.

Looking at Apple's executive staff and the Apple employees I've worked with over the years, I have no doubt that the company will continue to do great things for many years. It seems clear that the core values and skills that made Jobs an excellent leader at Apple -- the passion for exacting excellence, a determination that products should just work, a dedication to solution being as minimalist as possible, a vision of the intersection of technology and everyday life, an understanding that Apple is creating human experiences and interactions from the store and packaging to the hardware and software and everything in between -- have become part of the company's ethos and psyche.

Jobs has stepped aside; his mission continues.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

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