Why you should read this book
Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson is in-depth and very detailed. You will know Steve Jobs more from this book. You will also learn about the many innovations he created from personal computers to animation, to music and mobile devices. There are many lessons you will learn from this man who dared to “Think Different”.
Who should read this
Technology enthusiasts; computer hobbyists; young professionals
About the author
Walter Isaacson served as CEO for CNN, managing editor for Time Magazine, and president of Aspen Institute. He is also a professor of history and a biographer. He wrote the life stories of Steve Jobs, Leonardo Davinci, and Albert Einstein.
Walter Isaacson only agreed to write Steve Jobs’ biography when he learned that Jobs was already dying of cancer. With his striking personality, Jobs approached Isaacson a couple of times since 2004 about the story of his life. It was only in the year 2009 that the author agreed. At that time, Jobs was already taking his second medical leave.
Being a managing editor at Time magazine, Isaacson encountered Jobs several times in 1984. The first time the innovator mentioned his biography to the writer, Isaacson had just successfully released his book on Benjamin Franklin and was working on another about Albert Einstein. Isaacson declined to say that it was too early as Jobs was still at the peak of his career.
It was Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell who finally changed Isaacson’s mind and informed him of the Apple CEO’s sickness. Jobs was having his operation for cancer. Yet, he strives to keep his struggle a secret. What further inspired Isaacson to write this biography is the freedom given by Jobs in writing this book. He let the author write his own life story as is without any intervention whatsoever.
Like Franklin and Einstein, Steve Jobs values his capabilities in both humanities and sciences. His creative talents combined with his engineering genius made him the great innovator that he is. Jobs’ work not only revolutionized the world of personal computers but also that of music, digital publishing, and animated movies. His life and personality may not be perfect yet it continues to inspire people just as the company he built.
Steve Jobs knew at an early age that he was adopted. His father Paul Jobs and mother Clara Hagopian never hid it from him. They took care of Steve right after his birth.
Colleagues have remarked that this made Steve independent and strong of character. His first hero is his father who was a car mechanic.
Steve’s parents always told him that he is special. As a child, he discovered his intelligence in electronics though he was a delinquent in school. Classes often bore him and he would often engage in pranks with the help of his talents. This continued from grade school to college.
Steve Wozniak met Steve Jobs through a common friend in Homestead High. Both Steves showed talents in electronics and machines even as children. While Jobs was influenced by his father to be a businessman, Woz’s dad despised marketing and encouraged him to excel in engineering.
Though Woz is 5 years older than Jobs, he was very socially awkward and grew up to be a nerd. It was in their common friend’s garage when he first met Jobs. Not only does their deep understanding of electronics bind them but also their love of Bob Dylan’s music.
While Wozniak decided to go to Berkeley University, Jobs was picky in choosing where to study college. It was a condition when Jobs was adopted that he would finish school. And so, his adoptive parents worked hard for his college fund.
Jobs chose not to go to nearby Stanford University. He wanted to go somewhere more interesting and artistic. Despite the disagreement with his parents, Jobs enrolled in Reed College, Portland Oregon. It was an expensive school with only a thousand students. Yet, it was known for its hippie culture.
Later on at Reed, Jobs thought that his course wasn’t letting him learn stuff that he wanted. He dropped out and took any class that interests him like calligraphy. Jobs fell in love with the hippie culture in Reed. He read so many books on Zen Buddhism and started to practice extreme vegetarianism. He would not cut his hair and insist on walking barefoot around campus.
Wozniak and Jobs had been into various small business ventures here and there. But as Wozniak was just willing to give away his designs, Jobs wanted to have his unique independent product and make good money out of it.
First, they had to come up with a name. They thought about tetchy terms like Matrix and boring ones like Personal Computers Inc. but it was Apple that stood out. It wasn’t only that Jobs came from a visit to a farm but the name Apple Computers is fun, unique, and not intimidating.
At the time, Woz was working for HP. He tried to pitch his circuit board there first. After being rejected for rawness, Woz committed his designs 100% to Apple. Jobs thought that their team-up worked because they are opposites. While Woz is very talented but socially awkward, Jobs is good with people. He is known to communicate with anyone and manipulate them to get what he wants.
Their first client is a computer store owner named Paul Terell. He ordered 50 circuit boards for $500 per piece. After convincing the manager of Cramer Electronics to lend them $25,000, Jobs together with Woz, his sister Patty, ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Holmes and friend Daniel Kottke began to work. Thus, the birth of Apple happened in the garage of the Jobs residence in Los Altos.
For 5 years, Jobs was in an on-and-off relationship with Chrisann Brennan. With the successful run of Apple, Jobs moved out of his parent’s house and rented a $600 ranch house in Cupertino. Soon, Brennan reunited with Jobs, moved in, and got pregnant. They were both 23 years old.
Jobs was detached though and focused on the company. He and Brennan would often argue. Marriage was never discussed and Jobs denied that he was the father. Nevertheless, with the help of friends, Brennan gave birth to Lisa Nicole in Oregon on May 17, 1978.
Mother and child moved to a tiny home in Menlo Park and lived on welfare. When Lisa was one year old, Jobs underwent fairly new DNA testing, which resulted in 94.41%. The California court ordered him to give monthly child support and sign an admission of his paternity. Jobs was granted visitation rights though he didn’t use them.
From selling 2,500 units in 1977, Apple’s sales rose to 210,000 by 1981. However, Jobs knew that this success wouldn’t last forever. He thought of a new product which is much better than Apple II. He also wanted a design that he could completely call his own.
Though he denied the connection at the time, Jobs named the new computer Lisa. The engineers had to come up with an acronym to go with his daughter’s name. Lisa stands for Local Integrated Systems Architecture.
In exchange for 100,000 shares in Apple, Xerox PARC agreed to share its latest technology with Jobs and his programmers. After several visits, the Apple engineers were able to pirate the mouse design and interface of Xerox computers. The Lisa was released with better than ever graphics and smooth-scrolling mouse features.
Apple finally went public on December 12, 1980. One of the banks that handled its IPO was Morgan Stanley. Overnight, the price of Apple shares increased from $22 to $29. At age 25, the hippie college dropout Steve Jobs became a multi-millionaire. Yet, he chose not to live an ostentatious lifestyle.
Jobs gave his parents $750,000 worth of Apple stocks which freed them from the mortgage. He also began to do covers for magazines. His first cover story was for Inc. in October 1981. Time magazine soon followed in February 1982. It highlighted the story of a 26-year-old millionaire who started a company 6 years ago in his parent’s garage.
Jobs was kicked out of the Lisa project because of his disruptive behavior. Meanwhile, there was an Apple engineer by the name of Jef Raskin who was developing a cheap computer that any family can afford. Raskin called his project Macintosh after his favorite kind of apple.
However, since he lost Lisa, Jobs had his eye on Raskin’s project. The vision of Raskin was to make a compact computer with a screen and keyboard at only $1,000 each. Jobs told him to just create the Macintosh and not think of the cost.
Eventually, Raskin lost the Macintosh. Jobs was able to find an engineer to make the device work on a more expensive but smarter microprocessor. Mac came out with an even better mouse and graphic interface than Lisa.
Jobs was not only an intelligent engineer; he was also a genius designer. To him, product design is a work of art. Simple is sophisticated became the motto of Mac and Apple as a whole.
He wanted Mac to come in a small package and look high-tech from the inside out. Aside from this, he was also precise about the art behind the windows, icons, fonts, and even the external packaging of Mac.
After countless proposals and revisions, Jobs made the whole design team sign on a piece of paper. He made all 50 signatures engraved inside every single Macintosh. They celebrated the completed design of Mac with a toast.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had an agreement to release Microsoft software as apps bundled with the Macintosh. The programs must carry the Apple Logo. But this partnership never pushed through. During the talks, Gates and Jobs’s personalities’ would often clash.
Gates came from a very different background than Jobs. His father is a lawyer and his mother is a civic leader. He was the tech geek at his elite private school but unlike Jobs, he was never involved in pranks. Gates was studying at Harvard when he dropped out to start his own software company.
Jobs is an intuitive perfectionist who is sometimes rude. Bill Gates, meanwhile, is always practical, disciplined, and methodical. Interestingly, both men are born in 1955. They are both college dropouts who came to revolutionize the world of personal computers.
However, Gates wanted Microsoft software to be open for various platforms. Jobs, on the other hand, wanted Apple to be exclusive. In the end, it was IBM’s personal computers that benefited from their disagreement.
Microsoft released the operating system DOS and later on, Windows 1.0. Jobs was quoted to say, “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste…in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product.”
When Jobs lost the Lisa project, he was also made a non-executive member of the board. Though he owns 11% of Apple shares, he lost most of his power. In 1985, he expressed his desire to build a new company to the president John Scully. Jobs said it would be a separate company from Apple but would not become a competitor.
Jobs named his new company NeXT. He asked Scully if he could recruit 5 low-level employees with him to transfer to NeXT. But when Scully got the names, he became upset with Jobs as they were not low-level. The board members thought that Jobs is being disloyal to the company and breaching his duty as chairman. They were prepared to declare war against Jobs.
News about Jobs being kicked out as Chairman spread in the media. He already offered to resign when he expressed his intentions with NeXT. Finally, he mailed his resignation letter to the executive Mike Markkula.
Part of Jobs’ resignation letter read, “Subsequently the Company appears to be adopting a hostile posture toward me and the new venture…As you know, the company’s recent reorganization left me with no work to do and no access even to regular management reports. I am 30 and still want to contribute and achieve.”
Pixar and Toy Story
George Lucas was letting go of his computer division and looking for a buyer. A friend suggested to Jobs that he meets Ed Catmull, the head of the Lucasfilm computer division.
Jobs was very interested in combining technology and creativity. When he visited the division, he was completely blown away.
Primarily, the division was selling software and hardware for making digital images. On the side, it has animators creating short films. The small animation team was led by John Lasseter. Jobs immediately sealed the deal and owned 70% of the shares.
The most important product of the division is the Pixar Image Computer. And so, the new company was named Pixar. Disney took an interest in the 3D graphic imaging software by Pixar. The animation department of Disney then was falling apart. Pixar’s software was first used in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
Meanwhile, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs were brewing a story of objects having feelings. Lasseter is a talented animator who graduated from the California Institute of Art. When Toy Story became a huge success, there was confusion about whether it was a Disney film or a Pixar film. In the end, Jobs agreed with Disney on equal ownership of Toy Story and the succeeding animations.
Mona and Lisa
Since the 1980s, Jobs secretly hired detectives to find his biological parents. Eventually, he was able to track his mother Joanne Schieble in Los Angeles. Joanne got separated from his biological father AbdulfattahJandali who is Syrian. She never had a successful marriage but she told Jobs that he has a half-sister named Mona Simpsons.
Jobs met Mona in New York. He was thrilled to find out that she is a novelist. He became very close with Mona as they are both passionate about art. Jobs went to support Mona in her book release. They adored each other and became very good friends.
Meanwhile, Chrisann Brennan and Lisa lived in a house that Jobs bought for them. He started to visit them occasionally when Lisa was three. Jobs said, “I didn’t want to be a father, so I wasn’t.” When Lisa was eight, Jobs’ visits became more frequent. He found out that Lisa was very smart at school and also very artistic. She is also high-spirited and looked a bit like him.
One day, Jobs decided to bring Lisa to Apple to the surprise of his colleagues. Sometimes, he would pick her up and there was one time that he brought Lisa on a business trip to Tokyo. However, there are still times that Jobs is very cold. Over the years, their father-daughter relationship was a roller-coaster.
It was October 1989 when Steve Jobs met Laurene Powell. Jobs was invited to do a lecture at Stanford University where Powell was a new graduate of business school. They ended up sitting beside each other in the lecture. Jobs was immediately attracted to Powell. They talked for a while and Jobs later invited her to dinner.
Laurene Powell is a smart, educated, and independent woman. She has a good sense of humor and she is also a vegetarian. Jobs has dated several women in the past but he was really in love with Powell. In December 1990, the couple went on vacation in Hawaii. Jobs officially proposed to Powell on Christmas Day.
The two got married on March 18, 1991, in Yosemite National Park. Jobs was 36 while Powell was 27 years old. Around 50 people came for their wedding, including Jobs’ father Paul and his sister Mona. The couple settled down in a two-story house in Palo Alto. Steve and Laurene had three children, Paul Reed, Erin Siena, and Eve.
It took a while for Microsoft to figure out Mac’s graphical user interface but eventually, the company came out with Windows 3.0. Microsoft came to dominate the market upon the release of Windows 95 which at the time was the best operating system. Apple sales meanwhile are dropping out.
Jobs thought that Scully had made Apple profit-oriented. He failed to upgrade Mac and make it affordable. The market share of Apple has fallen to 4% by 1996 from 16% in the late 1980s. Jobs approached Gil Amelio who was the CEO of Apple. He told him of his intentions to save Apple and create a new product.
It was December 20, 1996, when Amelio announced Jobs’ return to Apple as an advisor. With charisma and business instincts, Jobs was eventually able to replace him as CEO. The first year of Jobs’ return is tough. He had to lose old board members and find a replacement. Apple lost more than 1 billion.
In 1997, Jobs pushed forward Apple’s “Think different” campaign. He thought of good marketing and advertising strategies. He juggled his time with Pixar, Apple, and his own family. By 1998, Apple regained $309 million worth of profit. Both the company and Jobs went back to the game.
When Jobs was in his thirties, he was kicked out of Apple. But he focused on his family, Pixar, and NeXT. At age forty, he thrived with the release of Toy Story and his re-entry to Apple. For the next few years, he would prove that people over 40 can do more. In his twenties, Steve Jobs reinvented personal computers. He would go on to do the same with music, mobile phones, tablets, apps, books, and journalism.
iMac and Apple Stores
In 1998, Jobs reinvented Macintosh with the iMac. Again, it was an all-in-one computer with a monitor and keyboard. iMac was targeted for homes and ready to use. Jobs took product launching into a new kind of theatre with Macintosh. He did it again for iMac. With the price of $1,299, the iMac became the fastest-selling product of Apple ever.
There was no single tech store in the mall or any main streets in 1999. Jobs thought that “you can’t win on innovation unless you have a way to communicate with the customers.” He came up with the idea of Apple retail stores. A colleague asked him one day, “Is Apple as big of a brand as Gap?” Jobs answered that Apple is even bigger.
The first Apple store ever was opened in Virginia in May 2001. With white counters and wood floors, it is a venue for all Apple products. By 2004, Apple stores had set a record in the retail industry with $1.2 billion. The Fifth Avenue store opened in Manhattan in 2006. It has Jobs’ trademark of minimalist design from glass, and cubes to the staircase. By 2011, there were already 326 Apple stores all over the world.
iTunes and iPod
In the year 2000, there were 320 million blank CDs sold in the US. People were into ripping music from CDs and putting them into their computers. Jobs has yet to innovate in the music industry. Though he put CD burners on Mac, he wanted a convenient way to transfer and listen to music.
He thought that the music software available at the time like Windows Media Player was too complicated. Meanwhile, SoundJam is music software developed by two former Apple engineers. Apple took them back and reinvented SoundJam as iTunes. Jobs launched iTunes in January 2001 with the slogan, “Rip, Mix, Burn”.
Jobs realized that a portable device can be partnered with iTunes to play music. While in Japan, he learned about a new product that Toshiba was developing. It was a device as tiny as a silver dollar that can hold 5GB equivalent to 1,000 songs. Toshiba didn’t know what to do with it and so Jobs seized the opportunity.
As always, Jobs wanted Apple products to be easy to use. He figured since iPod is small, other functions like making a playlist should be made with the computer. Then the iPod will be synced using iTunes. Later on, Jobs communicated with the big music companies about copyright and the iTunes store.
It was October 2003 when Steve Jobs found out that he has cancer. He just wanted to get his CAT scans because of his kidney stone history. However, his doctors found out that he has a tumor in his pancreas. After doing a biopsy on Jobs, they found out that the tumor can be removed to avoid spread.
Jobs, however, was very intent on not having the surgery. Instead, he continued on his vegan diet and underwent acupuncture. Though his wife and friends were repeatedly convincing him, it took him 9 months to realize that he needed the operation.
In July 2004, Jobs took another CAT scan and found out that the tumor grew. He then went on with the surgery to have part of his pancreas removed. Though he wanted to come back to work by September, unfortunately, cancer spread. Jobs began to have his chemotherapy.
When he was invited to Stanford for its commencement exercises, Jobs announced that his cancer was cured. In 2005, his wife held a surprise birthday party for him. He celebrated his 50th birthday with his family, close friends, and colleagues.
People all over the world went crazy for the iPod. By 2005, it was making 45% of Apple’s total revenue. As always though, Jobs was innovating. He shared his ideas to the board that what happened to digital cameras can happen to iPods. Apple must create its phone not only with a built-in camera but also a music player.
He tried to negotiate a tie-up with Motorola but Jobs wasn’t satisfied. He thought that the cell phones existing in the market all stunk. Aside from this, Jobs was also motivated by the potential market.
Jobs knew a guy who was developing a tablet PC for Microsoft. The thing is the engineer kept telling everyone this classified information. The Microsoft tablet comes with a stylus. But Jobs asked his engineers if they could make Apple’s product touch screen. When the design of the iPhone was finally presented to him, Jobs declared, “This is the future”.
Jobs’ cancer got worse in 2008. Aside from the pain, he is enduring, he is being burdened by his eating disorders. Jobs has been doing extreme diets and fasts since he was a teenager. Even as he battles cancer, he was very picky with what he eats. Jobs lost 40 pounds that year.
When he presented the iPhone 3G, the media was more interested in his weight loss. The price of Apple stock decreased significantly within a month. Jobs finally agreed to be on medical leave by January 2009. Two months after, he underwent a liver transplant. His doctors got worried though as they saw tumors in his liver.
Meanwhile, arrangements have been made in Apple’s management during Jobs’ leave. The stock price eventually recovered. On a conference call, operations manager Tim Cook said, “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating…regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.”
Jobs remained relentless though. He still fights him. By 2010, he recovered and went back to Apple. Cancer did not stop him from developing iPad, iPad 2, and iCloud.
Last Board Meeting
By 2011, Jobs’ doctors found out that the tumors have spread through his bones and other organs. Complications such as pain, weight loss, eating disorders, sleeping problems, and mood swings are burdening him. Despite the many projects he still wants to create, Jobs had to stay at home with his family.
In August, Jobs messaged the author Walter Isaacson to visit him. He wanted to show Isaacson some photographs to be used for his biography. He told the stories behind the pictures and talked about people Jobs knew from Bill Gates to President Obama. Though Jobs was too weak to leave his bed, his mind is very quick.
As Isaacson was leaving, Jobs shared his worries about his biography. But then he told the author, “I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did. Also, when I got sick, I realized other people would write about me if I died, and they wouldn’t know anything. They’d get it all wrong. So I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say.”
Jobs’ last board meeting happened on August 24. He recited the letter that he has been revising for weeks. It said, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”
Steve Jobs can be intense. He saw his colleagues either as heroes or shitheads. As for competitors, either they completely suck or did perfectly. He was also brutally honest. To his employees, Jobs always says what they need to hear without a filter.
Jobs can be controlling. He wanted the Mac operating system to be exclusive to Apple. Though he lost profit to Microsoft, Jobs was more focused on improving the products. He wants to control from product design to customer experience. He always aims for perfection.
Instead of giving consumers what they want, Jobs predicted what the market needs before everyone else. He led Apple to innovation. As the company motto goes, “Think different.” Steve Jobs may be crazy at times but he made himself one of the best innovators of the digital age.
Jobs thought that the reason companies decline is because after coming up with a great product, they become more focused on profit. He said real companies last because they stand for something. That’s what he wants for Apple.
For three decades, Jobs kept moving. He created all-in-one and ready-to-use personal computers with Apple II and Macintosh. He transformed the art of animation with Pixar. iTunes and iPods saved the music industry from piracy. The iPhone and iPad rolled business and entertainment into one portable device. The iCloud made possible data syncing.
The world may have lost Steve Jobs but his legacy remains. Apple and Pixar continue to combine technology and art. One of the lessons that can be learned from Jobs’ biography is to keep moving, keep improving and good returns will come back naturally.