iTribute

Posted on October 7, 2011. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

How fitting that I learned of Steve Jobs’ passing through a news alert on my iPhone.

It’s likely that many of the other 100 million iPhone users out there had a similar experience. Following the AP alert, I received several text messages as well as Facebook notifications.

I’m a Mac, not a PC, and like my fellow aficionados, I am saddened at what is undoubtedly an irreplaceable loss. We all have some sense, perhaps, of why the world’s lights dimmed in unison 80 years ago, on another October evening, when Thomas Edison was laid to rest.

Life is for the living, and what a rich legacy the wizard of Cupertino bequeathed to me and a billion or so other people.

Our lives have been changed, enhanced, expanded and interlinked in ways scarcely imaginable when Jobs was born in 1955.

Almost every electronic communications device used anywhere today was influenced by Jobs’ perfectionist, innovative zeal.

The greatest testimony to his life’s work may be the fact that so many of his visionary contributions are now taken for granted.

Imagine a computer without a mouse or a track pad. Yet prior to the early Macintosh’s successful integration of the electronic rodent, arrow keys and complicated commands were king — complete with royal pains.

The graphical user interface and window screen “desktop” was an Apple revolution that made computers personal and understandable, organizing “files” in “folders” that could be clicked and dragged and organized just like those on a traditional desk — including a little wastebasket for trash.

Famously advertised on the Super Bowl XVIII broadcast, the Macintosh promised to be one of the reasons 1984 wouldn’t be like George Orwell’s novel of the same name, and the superlative claim was more than bravado.

It was only the first time Steve Jobs and Co. would literally change the world.

When Toy Story hit theaters, few people had ever heard of Pixar, the computer graphics company with which The Walt Disney Co. had partnered. Fewer still (mostly Apple fans) were aware that Steve Jobs owned Pixar.

But millions of people across generations grew to adore the string of films Pixar turned out after Toy Story’s debut in 1995, which also included A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, and of course the Toy Story sequels.

The brevity of Steve Jobs’ iconic life is mirrored in the short lifespan of some of his most brilliant product ideas.

It’s all too easy to forget that five years ago, there was no iPhone. Its users now number in the nine figures, with more than 500,000 apps available for the device, and its multi-touch display technology is quickly becoming the industry standard.

A scant 10 years ago nobody had ever heard of an iPod, or seen its signature click wheel. And while iTunes is now one of the largest music stores on the planet, it’s only existed since 2003, and its 99-cent songs are still a bargain.

This week, iTunes served its 16 billionth song download, and has nearly as many app downloads. It also has 150,000 podcasts available to subscribe, and includes more than 20,000 hours of audio books.

The iPad was launched a mere 18 months ago, and some 30 million of the tablet computers have been sold, with some holiday quarter sales projections forecasting 20 million more.

I never knew Steve Jobs personally, but I am intimately acquainted with the fruit of his labors. I literally interact with Steve Jobs technology — brush up against his genius, I like to think — nearly every minute of every day, which isn’t surprising given his prolific patent track record.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark office lists a total of 11,112 titles for Apple Computer or Apple Inc. Steve Jobs is personally credited as an inventor or co-inventor on over 300 patents.

The news on Wednesday shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, Jobs’ battle with pancreatic cancer was well publicized. He had to take a temporary break as Apple CEO back in January for health reasons, and officially resigned in August.

Still, we’re rarely ready for the inevitable. Steve Jobs always seemed bigger than life, which also made him seem bigger than death, I suppose.

But enormity of that magnitude escapes us all. Immortality in this world is limited to that which we leave behind, and in the case of Steve Jobs, the wake of his professional contributions is wide indeed.

We not only can say thanks for the memories, of which there are so many reminders, but also thanks for the innovations yet to come, of which there is so much promise.

There may never be another Steve Jobs, but there almost certainly will be more pioneering products born of his spirit.

I remember how the original Macintosh computers were marketed, with the striped Apple logo (and missing bite).

“Hello” was scribbled across the tiny grayscale screen — the perfect word of friendly introduction.

The right word, like the right design and style, was always part of Steve Jobs’ success. The appropriate word now is just as simple:

Goodbye.

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