Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder and former chief executive regarded as one of the most important American business leaders of his generation, died on Wednesday at the age of 56, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.
His death was announced late on Wednesday by Apple’s board, which said: “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”
In a business career that spanned more than three decades, Jobs did more than anyone else in his lifetime to bring personal computing and digital entertainment to ordinary people.
As the news of his death spread thousands of Apple customers and fans of Jobs posted heartfelt appreciations on social networking sites, and tributes poured in from former colleagues and former foes alike.
US president Barack Obama led the tributes. “By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity,” Mr Obama said.
“Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it,” the president said in a statement.
“Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.”
After returning to lead the Silicon Valley group in 1997 Jobs built Apple into the world’s leading consumer technology company before resigning as chief executive in August of this year and handing over to current chief executive Tim Cook, his longtime deputy.
Jobs had been battling a recurrence of cancer since being diagnosed in 2004. During the second of three medical leaves, he received a donor’s liver in a transplant operation two years ago. He is survived by his wife Laurene and four children, as well as his sister, the novelist Mona Simpson, with whom he was reunited as an adult.
Jobs co-founded Apple Computer in 1976 with his longtime friend Steve Wozniak and also founded Pixar, the computer animation company later sold to Walt Disney.
In a letter to investors at the time of his resignation as Apple chief executive, Jobs said: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
Bob Iger, chief executive of Disney, where Jobs was a director and the largest individual investor, said: “Steve was such an original, with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era.”
Though his name was on many Apple patents, he borrowed, bought or popularised other ideas closely associated with the company’s rollercoaster fortunes. He eschewed market research and served as a one-man focus group, colleagues said.
He insisted on total control over Apple hardware and software – not as a designer himself but as a fan, ordering products he wanted to use.
“He’s someone who had amazing taste and could get great work out of other people”, said biographer Leander Kahney, who edits Cultofmac.com, a daily Apple news website.
“The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come,” Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, said in a blog post. “For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honour. I will miss Steve immensely.”
Jobs learnt business tactics only because he had to. After he lost a power struggle and left Apple in the 1980s, the company floundered until it reached the brink of bankruptcy. His return in 1997 began a historic corporate comeback that accelerated with the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad, which was introduced last year but already brings in more revenue than the company’s Mac computers.
After permanently upsetting the balance of power in the music and phone industries, Apple’s tablets are now dramatically shaking up the computer industry, where Mr Jobs began. The performance has made millionaires out of many Apple employees and even large ordinary shareholders, who briefly saw the company become the world’s most valuable earlier this year. In stock capitalisation, it is now behind only Exxon-Mobil.
Additional reporting by Richard Waters, Chris Nuttall and Alan Cane