Jobs at Apple: Master inventor, master marketer

By Jordan Robertson

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24 2011 7:05 p.m. MDT

Three years earlier, during a visit to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Jobs again spotted mass potential in a niche invention: a computer that allowed people to access files and control programs with the click of a mouse, not typed commands. He returned to Apple and ordered the team to copy what he had seen.

It foreshadowed a propensity to take other people's concepts, improve on them and spin them into wildly successful products. Under Jobs, Apple didn't invent computers, digital music players or smartphones — it reinvented them for people who didn't want to learn computer programming or negotiate the technical hassles of keeping their gadgets working.

"We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas," Jobs said in an interview for the PBS series "Triumph of the Nerds."

The engineers responded with two computers. The pricier one, called Lisa, launched to a cool reception in 1983. A less-expensive model called the Macintosh exploded onto the scene in 1984.

The Mac was heralded by an epic Super Bowl commercial that referenced George Orwell's "1984" and captured Apple's iconoclastic style. In the ad, expressionless drones marched through dark halls to an auditorium where a Big Brother-like figure lectures on a big screen. A woman in a bright track uniform burst into the hall and launched a hammer into the screen, which exploded, stunning the drones, as a narrator announced the arrival of the Mac.

There were early stumbles at Apple. Jobs clashed with colleagues and even the CEO he had hired away from Pepsi, John Sculley. And after an initial spike, Mac sales slowed, in part because few programs had been written for the new graphical user interface.

Meanwhile, Microsoft copied the Mac approach and introduced Windows, outmaneuvering Apple by licensing its software to slews of computer makers.

With Apple's stock price sinking, conflicts between Jobs and Sculley mounted. Sculley won over the board in 1985 and pushed Jobs out of his day-to-day role leading the Macintosh team. Jobs resigned his post as chairman of the board and left Apple within months.

"What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating," Jobs said in his Stanford speech. "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."

He got into two other companies: Next, a computer maker, and Pixar, a computer-animation studio that he bought from George Lucas for $10 million.

Pixar, ultimately the more successful venture, seemed at first a bottomless money pit. Then came "Toy Story," the first computer-animated full-length feature. Jobs used its success to negotiate a sweeter deal with Disney for Pixar's next two films. In 2006, Jobs sold Pixar to The Walt Disney Co. for $7.4 billion in stock, making him Disney's largest individual shareholder and securing a seat on the board.

With Next, Jobs was said to be obsessive about the tiniest details of the cube-shaped computer, insisting on design perfection even for the machine's guts. He never managed to spark much demand for the machine, which cost a pricey $6,500 to $10,000.

Ultimately, he shifted the focus to software — a move that paid off later when Apple bought Next for its operating system technology, the basis for the software still used in Mac computers.

By 1996, when Apple bought Next, Apple was in dire financial straits. It had lost more than $800 million in a year, dragged its heels in licensing Mac software for other computers and surrendered most of its market share to PCs that ran Windows.

Larry Ellison, Jobs' close friend and fellow Silicon Valley billionaire and the leader of Oracle Corp., publicly contemplated buying Apple in early 1997 and ousting its leadership. The idea fizzled, but Jobs stepped in as interim chief later that year.

He slashed unprofitable projects, narrowed the company's focus and presided over a new marketing push to set the Mac apart from Windows, starting with a campaign encouraging computer users to "Think different."

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