(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Martin Hutchinson
NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Steve Jobs leaves behind a company with a huge $350 billion market capitalization, but it is actually much bigger than that. Apple, which Jobs co-founded and ran through most of its history, has changed the world several times.
The company’s first great development was the Apple II, which made personal computers easy to use. It worked especially well with Dan Bricklin’s VisiCalc software, the first successful spreadsheet program. Now automatic recalculation and easy adjustments are taken for granted, but then they were revolutionary for anyone who worked with numbers.
Apple lost the PC marketing wars to IBM and Microsoft, but remained the trend-setter. The 1984 Macintosh’s point-and-click technology (partly derived from Xerox’s 1970s Palo Alto Research Center) reduced the need to remember innumerable tricky-to-use DOS commands and brought out the visual and tactile potential of computers. The rivals only fully caught up a decade later with Windows 95.
The revolutions continued when Jobs returned to Apple after 12 years away (revolutionizing animation at Pixar while he was gone). The iPod set a new standard for storing and playing music digitally, but Apple’s greatest effect on the world came with the iPhone.
The leap of imagination -- the combination of mobile phone and computing capability, mixed in with cool design, and fun to use -- still seems awesome. The cultural effect cannot be measured. It leveled the world: even the most remote tribesman with a smartphone is connected to the Internet cloud as if he were in a New York office. Apple is losing share in smartphones, but still deserves most of the credit for their development.
Jobs’ genius for design and understanding of the needs of non-technical users has helped make the tech sector a consumer business -- and thereby revolutionized the economy and the lives of almost everyone. The latest effort is the iPad. Frank J. Fleming, a fan, called it “the only thing that’s met my childhood expectations of what 2011 would be like.” It is hard to argue. An earlier apple is said to have spurred Isaac Newton to discover gravity. This Apple may be just as important.
Editing by Edward Hadas and Martin Langfield