(1) Odds are, you've heard of iPods, iPhones, and Apple computers. And you've probably seen films like "Toy Story" or "Finding Nemo." But you may not have heard of the man who is behind the scenes of all these ventures. His name is Steve Jobs, and he may be the single most influential person in American popular culture.
(2) Jobs was born in 1955. He was a fairly good student in high school and was admitted to Reed College in 1971. However, his interests lay elsewhere. As a resident of Cupertino, California, Jobs lived near many of the most important computer companies in the world. These firms were growing as they brought the use of computers to almost every kind of business. Jobs attended lectures and business presentations and got a job working at Atari, an early manufacturer of video games. After just one semester at Reed, Jobs dropped out and returned to Atari, where he met another young computer enthusiast, Steve Wozniak.
(3) In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computers. Wozniak was a very good computer engineer, which Jobs was not. Jobs' role was to organize the business, to bring in new ideas, and to direct the creativity of the designers. The vision that Jobs and Wozniak shared was one that not too many people took seriously at the time: personal computers. Most people in the computer industry considered this a ludicrous idea. Why would someone want to buy a computer for home use? After all, computers were good for working with large numbers or sets of information, but they weren't easy to learn and they didn't seem to fit into the average person's lifestyle.
(4) Jobs saw things differently. He imagined a computer that would be easy or even fun to use. He knew it would have to have a certain enjoyable style as well as practical use in the home, or people wouldn't buy it.
(5) That kind of thinking inspired Apple's first big success - the Macintosh computer, which came out in 1984. It was the first computer that used a white screen instead of black with green text. It was also the first to use a point-and-click mouse and pull-down command menus. Before that, computer users had to remember long lists of commands they had to type in order to get the computer to perform even simple tasks.
(6) The Macintosh was hardly Jobs' only success. He spent some time away from Apple in the late 1980's and early 1990's. During this time he became the owner of Pixar Animation, a film studio that focused on computer-based graphics. Pixar had a string of hits, including "The Incredibles," "Monsters, Inc.," and "WALL-E."
(7) Jobs returned to head Apple and modernized the Macintosh line to take advantage of the growing internet boom. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod, a device to play MP3 audio files, usually songs. Other devices already existed to play MP3s, but the iPod was easier to use, and it fit well with Apple's online music store, iTunes.
(8) Similarly, when Apple came out a few years later with the iPhone, it was hardly the first cell phone. It wasn't necessarily the best. But its catchy graphics and ease of use have made it the most popular cell phone.
(9) This is a theme that has run through all of Jobs' work. He has a tremendous sense of what people want. Jobs isn't a particularly impressive computer programmer, or designer. Thousands of people know more than he does about how to make a cell phone or music machine work. He doesn't write or direct films - but he is heavily involved in choosing which films Pixar will make. He has the ability to understand what entertains an average person.
(10) This is true in the Macintosh, which has evolved from its early roots to become a favorite consumer brand. It's also true in the development of the iPod. As his engineers showed Jobs their plans, he kept instructing them to make it simpler. He wanted any song to be no more than two clicks away. That insistence on making the devices fit people, rather than the other way around, is one of the reasons why he was voted America's Most Powerful Businessman of 2007 by Fortune magazine.