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Remembering the Life, Designs of Digital Visionary Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a statement late Wednesday, Apple said its co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at age 56. Correspondent Spence Michels looks back on the life and work of the digital visionary.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to the life and work of a man who helped define a new age of technology.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels begins our remembrance of Steve Jobs.

SPENCER MICHELS: The mournful sound of bagpipes drifted through Silicon Valley and at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. Flags flew at half-staff and flowers and a makeshift memorial appeared on a bench, as Apple workers around the world mourned the loss of their longtime visionary leader, Steve Jobs.

LEE JOO-YOUNG, Apple employee, Korea (through translator): I don’t personally know him, but I feel like our hero is gone now. I feel heartbroken.

SPENCER MICHELS: Indeed, tributes poured in from all around the globe to the man who left his mark with a variety of landmark innovations.

From Apple users in San Francisco:

WOMAN: It’s an amazing legacy. He has just had — been a force of nature. It’s no longer, do you have a portable music device or do you have a Walkman? It’s, I want an iPad or an iPod. That’s the music device of choice.

SPENCER MICHELS: To world leaders like Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

JULIA GILLARD, Australian prime minister: And the jobs of the future are going to be shaped by innovation, and we hear the news of the loss of an incredible global innovator. I mean, it’s not too much to say he literally changed our world.

SPENCER MICHELS: Practically the moment Steve Jobs’ death was announced, people started showing up at Apple stores around the country, leaving gifts and writing Steve Jobs notes.

Just a few blocks away, in San Francisco, at Twitter headquarters, they observed a moment of silence for Steve Jobs. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jobs’ longtime rival, tweeted his respects. He said, “The world rarely sees someone who made such a profound impact.”

And the man who co-founded Apple with Jobs, Steve Wozniak, spoke of his longtime friend.

STEVE WOZNIAK, Apple: It’s like the world lost a John Lennon. I mean, Steve was clearly the most outstanding business thinker. And almost everybody who’s high up in the technology business recognized that, somehow, he had the ability to think out new ways of doing things, not just ways to improve what we have, do a better version of something, but do it in a totally different way that the world would swing towards.

SPENCER MICHELS: The story of Apple and its wide-ranging impact on technology began with Jobs and Wozniak, a high school friend, in a California garage. The pair scored an early hit with the Apple II in 1977, the first consumer-grade computer to catch on.

Four years later, Jobs began working on the Macintosh, introduced with a now-legendary commercial during the Super Bowl in 1984.

NARRATOR: On Jan. 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”

SPENCER MICHELS: Two days later, Jobs himself did the unveiling.

STEVE JOBS, Apple: You have just seen some pictures of Macintosh. Now I would like to show you Macintosh in person. All of the images you are about to see on the large screen will be generated by what’s in that bag.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SPENCER MICHELS: But early Macintosh sales proved disappointing and by the mid-1980s, Apple was in a slump, and Jobs was forced out.

During that time, he bought a tiny graphics company called Pixar from “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

TOM HANKS, actor: My name is Woody.

SPENCER MICHELS: Its first film, “Toy Story,” was a four-year project involving a team of computer scientists, artists and animators. And the company became a force in the film industry with a string of major hits.

Then, a decade after leaving Apple, Jobs returned in 1996 and the company began a turnaround. Jobs’ legendary sense for what people would want led to a creative flood of revolutionary products, the iPod and iTunes…

STEVE JOBS: Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

SPENCER MICHELS: … as well as the iPhone, and more recently, the fastest-selling tech device ever, the iPad.

He also held more than 300 patents, including one for the 1998 iMac’s unusual design. But there were also criticisms aimed especially at the low wages and labor practices used by Apple suppliers in China. In one such incident seen on the NewsHour earlier this year, the company was accused of being slow to respond when Chinese workers building iPhones were allegedly poisoned by toxic chemicals.

Jobs’ own health became an issue as well. He was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer seven years ago and had a liver transplant in 2009. Last January, he went back on medical leave from Apple, one of several since his cancer diagnosis. By late August, his health was failing and Jobs stepped down as CEO.

He had candidly addressed his mortality, telling Stanford graduates in 2005 that the prospect of death was an inspiration to him.

STEVE JOBS: When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, if you live every day as if it was your last, someday, you will most certainly will be right.

(LAUGHTER)

STEVE JOBS: It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool I have ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

SPENCER MICHELS: Jobs made his last public appearance in June, where he introduced two new products, Lion operating system and the iCloud.

There was speculation Jobs might appear at Apple’s launch of the iPhone 4S this past Tuesday. But he didn’t and, instead, his handpicked successor, Tim Cook, took Jobs’ place.

Twenty-four hours later came Apple’s announcement that Steve Jobs had died peacefully at age 56.

President Obama, who received his iPad from Steve Jobs personally, said in a statement: “There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented, whether a Mac, an iPhone or an iPad.”

And many used those very devices to join in vigils and online celebrations of Steve Jobs’ innovative genius and the contributions that have shaped much of modern life.