Where will the Steve Jobs tech excitement come from now?

He worked where tech intersected with art

Steve Jobs lived his life at the intersection of technology and art, adding excitement to new products like the iPhone and iPad that borrowed from other devices and created something brand new and magical.

The question on many minds the day after his passing was: "Where will that excitement come from now?"

That same question was posed when Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO in August after his long illness, but took on renewed urgency when the impact of Jobs' death Wednesday began to be fully realized.

Pundits said that Apple, with a team of talented, creative employees that Jobs helped mold together, will carry on his tradition for ingenuity, if not all of his passion, perfectionism and energy.

"Steve's excitement for technology will still come from Apple and from the team that Jobs carefully built that worked with him to give us the iPhone and iPad and many other successful products," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst.

But some observers also admitted it will be hard to find another technology evangelist like Jobs, who combined the worlds of liberal arts and marketing with circuit boards and wireless transmitters. Even Steve Wozniak, a lifelong friend of Jobs and co-founder of Apple Computer, remarked Thursday on NBC's Today show after Jobs died: "It was almost like when John Lennon was killed."

What's missing from so many of the products that compete with the iPhone and iPad is the sense of artistry, personality and individuality that Jobs brought to them, Apple observers said. While the competitor brands are prose, the Apple products are like poetry.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that when Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007 , he intrinsically understood the mobile phone user better than the companies that had come before. Much of that insight came from the earlier released iPod music player.

Other analysts argued that Research in Motion, with its then-successful BlackBerry devices, focused heavily on the companies that would use those products, giving IT shops security and manageability, sometimes at the expense of what the users and workers might want. It is a problem still facing RIM today.

"Jobs didn't just change mobile phones, he reinvented them," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. "That was typical Steve."

In a more recent example, Apple's iPad took user-centric values inherent in both the touchscreen iPhone and larger-screen laptops, and found a middle ground, a classic manifestation of Jobs' ability to combine technology concepts, art and ideas and come up with a product later given the marketing moniker of "magical," analysts noted.

"Apple under Jobs' leadership focused on the user experience first and the technology second," Gold said. "This focus was groundbreaking in that most tech companies were just the opposite. Apple pioneered hiring many usability specialists, human factor engineers and designers before it was fashionable to do so.

"The Jobs' vision of technology was to make a smooth intersection into our lives and our work, and that was what put Apple ahead of the pack. He redirected engineering from technical engineering to engineering for usability."

While Gold said that approach will certainly continue at Apple, he added, "It remains to be seen who can pick up that mantle now that he is gone."

Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC, said it will be hard for any other CEO in the technology industry to measure up to Jobs' "true vision, leadership and charisma." He questioned whether those qualities could come from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer or even the leadership team at Google .

"There's a lot of technology outside of Apple's technology that is just so kludgy," Llamas added. "One thing overlooked about Jobs was that he was a Renaissance man. Apple's DNA was built on Jobs' DNA. You can file what Jobs did under genius and visionary but there was a source to that and it came from things he learned outside of conventional education."

Read more about it leadership in Computerworld's IT Leadership Topic Center.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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