Steve Jobs' Greatest Technology Contributions
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died Wednesday (Oct. 5) at age 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Jobs was one of the giants of the information age, and his influence will be felt for decades to come.
Here's a brief rundown of some of his greatest contributions to our increasingly tech-savvy and interconnected global society. [Read: "Internet Mourns Steve Jobs’ Death"]
The Apple II
Computers had been around for decades before Jobs came onto the scene, but they were primarily expensive machines used for business purposes.
Things began to change when Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers Inc. in 1976. A year later, the pair released the Apple II, the world's first mass-market personal computer. Dens, home offices and schools around the world would never be the same.
Under Jobs' leadership, Apple introduced the all-in-one iMac computer in 1998. The iMac looked steadfastly toward the future, becoming the first machine to eschew a floppy-disk drive (it offered only a CD-ROM slot). It was also marketed as being Internet-ready out of the box.
The iMac also drew notice for its stylishness, a recurring theme during Jobs' tenure at Apple. The iMac was sleek with rounded contours, and it came in an assortment of bright colors — quite a departure from Apple's previous desktops, which were drab, beige and boxy.
Jobs was ousted as Apple CEO in 1985 after a power struggle with the company's board of directors. While he was gone, Apple introduced its high-end, business-friendly Powerbook laptop line in 1991.
Shortly after Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company released a cheaper, more consumer-friendly laptop. The iBook, introduced in 1999, came with Wi-Fi technology and included some style updates as well. It came in two colors — tangerine and blueberry — and had a unique clamshell design.
Apple didn't invent the portable mp3 player, but the company developed a version so good that it came to dominate and define the field.
The iPod, first introduced in 2001, was so successful that its name has become synonymous with mp3 players, the way we call all tissues "Kleenex." Like other Apple products, the iPod was sleek, simple and stylish, with thousands of songs just a wheel-spin away.
The iPod wouldn't have been such a smash without the help of other products backing it up. Chief among these was the media-player program iTunes, which Apple also introduced in 2001.
iTunes let people play and organize digital music and video files, both on their computers and on portable devices such as iPods and iPhones. The software forever changed the way people acquired and listened to music — especially after Apple launched the online iTunes Music Store in 2003.
The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 had a seismic effect on the smartphone industry that reverberates to this day. Before the iPhone, smartphones were used primarily for chatting and emailing; now they are web-surfing, do-everything machines packed full of useful (and, often, time-wasting) apps.
Every year, tech geeks around the world salivate and speculate about the introduction of a new iPhone version, like this year's iPhone 4S.
By 2010, Steve Jobs was confident the world was ready to embrace a new type of device — a tablet computer that would be great for watching movies and playing games, but less so for cranking out reports and term papers.
He was right. The touch-sensitive iPad, which lacked a keyboard and USB port, was an instant success after its 2010 introduction. Apple sold 15 million of the devices that year and is on pace to move more than 40 million this year.
The glass staircases
In a nod to the premium Apple places on stylish design, some of the company's flagship stores around the world have glass staircases to draw customers' eyes, and wallets, upstairs.
The glass staircase incorporates some novel engineering and architectural feats. It was awarded a design patent in 2002 (with Jobs' name coming first on the document), as well as a technical patent to cover the glass and hardware systems involved.
The first glass staircases were straightforward up-and-down jobs, but some stores now have free-standing, wall-mounted or spiral versions.