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Why Apple's Steve Jobs is so fascinating

John D. Sutter
Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who announced Monday he's going on medical leave, is a cult hero to many in the tech world.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who announced Monday he's going on medical leave, is a cult hero to many in the tech world.
  • To many observers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a tech visionary
  • Others criticize his controlling management style and even his "mom jeans"
  • Jobs announced Monday he will take medical leave from his position

(CNN) -- To many tech fanatics, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is a mythical hero -- a technological savior who has been compared to Jesus on several occasions.

To outsiders, however, it may not be obvious exactly why Jobs is so fascinating -- and why news about his new medical leave of absence, announced Monday, is causing reverberations in the tech blogosphere that extend far beyond get-well-soon notes.

Jobs, who is notoriously tight-lipped about Apple and his personal life, has nevertheless been the subject of numerous magazine, newspaper and website profiles -- as well as a TV movie, "Pirates of Silicon Valley," that dramatized his rivalry with Microsoft's Bill Gates.

If you're seeking a small window into the sources of Jobs' cult fame, here's a round-up of some can't-miss nuggets about his tech-visionary persona, against-the-odds career and remarkable life.

The impact of Steve Jobs
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Did we miss your favorite piece of Jobsian history? Let us know in the comments section and we'll update this post accordingly.

The Daily Mail on Jobs' controlling nature:

"Jobs is Apple. He oversees everything -- from which prototypes to develop to the packaging of products, and even hiring the chefs to work at Apple's gleaming, postmodern headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California."

The Sunday Times says Steve Jobs = Apple:

"Apple Inc. is worth around $140 billion. But is it worth anything without Jobs? It is a company formed around his personality and inspiration. It is also the most watched, envied, admired and adored company in the world."

Jobs' health impacts Apple's bottom line, says the New York Times:

"He is not like other chief executives -- he is, instead, the single most indispensable chief executive on the planet. As (Charles) Wolf nicely put it, 'Apple is Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs is Apple.' He added, 'I think the stock would drop 25 percent or more if he were to leave the company unexpectedly.' When investors whisper about Mr. Jobs's health, it's not just gossip they are indulging in -- his health really matters to Apple's future."

The Guardian on Jobs as a cult figure:

"To technology freaks and geeks, he is a 'demigod', whose product launches are adulatory affairs regularly likened to religious revivalist meetings. The Jobs life story -- humble birth, rise and fall, then miraculous comeback -- has even been likened by Apple fanatics to the heroic myths of Odysseus, Jason, Krishna and Christ. Yet outside this very particular circle, Jobs would hardly qualify for the A-list or even Celebrity Big Brother. A likely comment is: 'I've heard of Bill Gates, but Steve who...?'"

MIT on the legend of Apple's origins -- a garage:

"Jobs became bent on starting a company of his own to build computers for individuals, and he convinced (Steve) Wozniak to start it with him. They sold some of their prized belongings -- for Jobs, a Volkswagen minibus and for Wozniak, a programmable HP calculator -- to raise $1300 to launch the enterprise. They built their first machines in Jobs' family garage in 1976."

The New Yorker on Jobs' impact on personal computing:

"No technology company has ever risen -- and then fallen -- so far so fast. Under Jobs's passionate leadership, Apple was the firm that, with the Apple II, gave birth to the personal-computer industry and, with the Macintosh, literally changed the face of technology itself."

Jobs redefined the business world, says Fortune:

"In the past 10 years alone he has radically and lucratively reordered three markets -- music, movies, and mobile telephones -- and his impact on his original industry, computing, has only grown.

"Remaking any one business is a career-defining achievement; four is unheard-of. Think about that for a moment. Henry Ford altered the course of the nascent auto industry. PanAm's Juan Trippe invented the global airline. Conrad Hilton internationalized American hospitality. In all instances, and many more like them, these entrepreneurs turned captains of industry defined a single market that had previously not been dominated by anyone. The industries that Jobs has turned topsy-turvy already existed when he focused on them."

Google co-founder Sergey Brin talks to The New Yorker about Jobs' design style:

"I admire Steve Jobs. He has been able to keep his products simple." says Jobs is a lovable underdog:

"In recent years, Jobs has battled with a rare form of pancreatic cancer -- adding to an epic life story that mirrors the story of Apple itself: ever the underdog, ever the spectacular success."

He's like a 'jungle cat' -- in a good way, says The Guardian:

"He had, according to one former colleague, an 'athletic, bouncy swagger, weight balanced towards the tips of his toes -- rather like a boxer, aggressive and elusively graceful, or like an elegant jungle cat ready to spring at its prey'." comments on Jobs' "mom jeans" wardrobe:

"First off, Steve Jobs -- we love you. We really do. Your Apple products have improved our lives in countless ways and, sadly, most days we spend more quality time with your iPhone than with our boyfriends. But Steve, your persistence of the black mock turtleneck and baggy Levi's 501 jeans uniform is disconcerting. ... We feel compelled to tell you that those dreaded mom jeans which you showed off (yet again) at (2010's) iPad launch have got to go."

Wired on his salesmanship:

"Jobs is so charismatic, his talks are usually mesmerizing. I've seen almost every one he's given in the last 10 years, and he effortlessly sucks the audience into his famous 'reality distortion field,' a state of suspended disbelief that makes even mundane products seem like miracles of technology."

Financial Times on his role as spin master:

"Critics often talk disparagingly of the 'reality distortion field' generated by the Apple boss: his ability to convince onlookers that technologies that would seem unformed in other hands have reached a peak of perfection at Apple. Generating this suspension of disbelief is essential to stirring up demand for gadgets most consumers had no idea they needed, and is an art form of which Mr. Jobs has long been the acknowledged master."

The Daily Mail on Jobs' "unconventional" family roots:

"Jobs was born unconventional. He was the illegitimate child of Joanne Schieble and Syrian Abdulfattah 'John' Jandali, 23-year-old students at the University of Wisconsin. Within months of giving up their baby son, the pair got married; they later had a daughter, Mona, whom they kept. The boy was named by his adoptive parents, Paul and Clara Jobs, a working-class couple from Santa Clara County, near San Francisco. They lived in the same house in Mountain View where their son would later hand-build the first Apple computers."

Fast Company on his eye for design:

"Jobs has never cared much about what the tech industry has to say. Back in the early 1980s, when he was leading the team building the Mac, Jobs would often give his engineers guidance on what the computer should look like. 'Once, he saw a Cuisinart at Macy's that he thought looked incredibly great,' says Andy Hertzfeld, one of the engineers on the original Mac team and the author of 'Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made.' 'And he had the designers change the Mac to look like that.' Another time, he wanted it to look like a Porsche."

Jobs, in a 2005 address at Stanford University, on calligraphy:

"Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

"None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."

The Telegraph on his counterculture roots:

"In the 1970s, Jobs took a position as a technician at Atari, a manufacturer of popular video games. But it was the era of flower power and free living, and entrepreneurship and computer design were not always at the forefront of his mind. This was the 1970s and Jobs was intrigued by the mystical ideas of the decade and his passion for Bob Dylan.

" ... On his hippy quest in the mid 1970s, Jobs backpacked around India with a college friend -- and, later, the first Apple employee -- engineer Daniel Kottke, in search of philosophical enlightenment. He returned with his head shaved and wearing Indian attire. During this time, Jobs reportedly experimented with psychedelics, calling his LSD experiences 'one of the two or three most important things (he had) done in (his) life.'"

CNNMoney on when David becomes Goliath:

"For the past decade of Steve Jobs' second go-around as CEO at Apple, the company has secured a strong following of loyal customers by playing the role of the David in a world of tech Goliaths. You can see it in the famous Mac vs. PC ads: Apple is the everyman, and its competitor (Microsoft) is the stuffy, out-of-touch 'Man.'

"But recently, Apple has either lost touch with its customer base or just has a bug lodged up its data port."

Fortune on why it would be hard to replace Jobs:

"Nothing gets out the door unless it meets Jobs' exacting standards. When he leaves, someone else will have the power to make those decisions. But he or she may not have Jobs' sense, as he once put it, of where the technological puck is headed. And no matter who the new CEO may be, that person will never have the authority that comes from having founded the company, been ousted, and returned to rescue it from bankruptcy."

Fast Company on Apple taking Microsoft's top spot:

"On Wednesday, May 26, 2010, just after 2:30 p.m., the unthinkable happened: Apple became the largest company in the tech universe, and, after ExxonMobil, the second largest in the nation. For months, its market capitalization had hovered just under that of Microsoft -- the giant that buried Apple and then saved it from almost certain demise with a $150 million investment in 1997.

"Now Microsoft gets in line with Google, Amazon, HTC, Nokia, and HP as companies that Apple seems bent on sidelining. The one-time underdog from Cupertino is the biggest music company in the world and soon may rule the market for e-books as well. What's next? Farming? Toothbrushes? Fixing the airline industry?"


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