Apple has been on a decade-long roll starting with the its game-changing MP3 music player—the iPod— in November 2001 right through its monumental, if brief, climb earlier this month to become the most valuable U.S. company by stock market value (Exxon Mobil has since reclaimed the top spot). At the time of his resignation Wednesday, Steve Jobs leaves the company he co-founded in 1976 with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in far better shape than he found it in 1996, when he returned from exile to take the helm for the second time.
Apple's origins are the stuff of legend, with a little myth thrown in—a group of college dropouts developing motherboards out of a garage in California become an integral part of the personal computing revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s that would transform society. Microsoft, Intel and IBM commoditized the operating system, microchip and personal computer, respectively. But it was Apple that offered the complete package beginning in 1977 with its highly successful Apple II.
Yet Apple's approach to computer making also became its undoing. Whereas IBM incorporated commodity hardware and software into its PCs and tolerated the clone market later occupied by Compaq, Dell and HP (among others), Jobs's Apple tightly controlled most of the key components that went into its systems and quickly extinguished a short-lived Apple clone market. In the end, PCs came in a wide variety of brands and (more important) prices, whereas the Mac, introduced in 1984, would become a more expensive alternative.
With the launch of the iPod, iPhone and iPad over the past decade, Jobs again chose to call all the shots. This time, however, Apple's elegant, easy-to-use products commanded a premium, and the market has remained loyal. Between April and June this year alone, Apple sold 20.3 million iPhones (up 142 percent from the same time period a year ago), 9.3 million iPads (up 183 percent), and 7.5 million iPods (actually down 20 percent, although not surprising given that the company has sold more than 314 million of them since 2002).
Whether newly crowned Apple CEO Tim Cook will maintain the company's momentum remains to be seen. For now, it's time to take a look at the ups and downs of the Jobs era.
April 1, 1976: Apple Computer, Inc. (later just Apple, Inc.) is established.
April 16, 1977: The Apple II is launched.
December 1979: Jobs and several Apple employees visit Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a trip that would inspire Apple's trademark graphical user interface.
January 24, 1984: The Macintosh debuts and flourishes in the wake of the company's prior year failure of its $10,000 Lisa computer, which had a complex operating system that consumers found ran too slowly.
Late 1985: Jobs founds NeXT, Inc., the company he would run for a decade until his return to Apple. Though the company never really took off, Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT Computer in 1991 to create the first Web browser and Web server.
February 3, 1986: Jobs buys The Graphics Group, (later renamed Pixar) from Lucasfilm's computer graphics division for $10 million.
August 3, 1993: Apple releases the Newton, an electronic message pad. Battery life and unreliable handwriting recognition software (lampooned in the comic strip "Doonesbury") quickly doomed this early personal digital assistant. Two ex-Apple Newton developers founded Pixo, the company that created the operating system for the original iPod.
December 20, 1996: Apple Computer announces plans to buy NeXT, bringing Jobs back full circle.
Late 1990s: Apple's share of the personal computer market shrinks to below 4 percent, prompting many to call it "the world's largest irrelevant $6 billion company."
August 15, 1998: With Jobs back behind the wheel, Apple's resurrection begins with a new all-in-one computer known as the iMac.
November 10, 2001: Apple begins shipping the iPod, with 5- and 10-gigabyte miniature hard drives.
April 28, 2003: Apple opens its iTunes Music Store. Recording labeles, distressed by file-sharing services such as Napster, embrace iTunes, and by April 2008 it is the number one music vendor in the U.S.
August 2, 2004: Jobs undergoes an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas.
June 29, 2007: The iPhone first becomes available for $499 (4 gigabytes) and $599 (8 gigabytes) with an AT&T contract.
January 14, 2009: Jobs tells Apple staff that health problems are forcing him to take a leave of absence.
January 27, 2010: Apple introduces their next-generation tablet computer, the iPad.
August 24, 2011: Jobs steps down as Apple CEO but maintains his position as chairman.
Steve Jobs, courtesy of Apple
Apple II, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Jobs at the initial demo for NeXT, courtesy of Archive.org
iMac, courtesy of Apple
Jobs at a 2008 event in San Francisco, courtesy of Justin Sullivan, via iStockphoto.com