Continued from page 3

That decision would mark the beginning of the end of Apple’s slow slide into the technological backwaters.

By 1996, when Apple bought Next, Apple was in dire financial straits. It had lost more than $800 million in a year, dragged its heels in licensing Mac software for other computers and surrendered most of its market share to PCs that ran Windows.

Larry Ellison, Jobs‘ close friend and fellow Silicon Valley billionaire and the leader of Oracle Corp., publicly contemplated buying Apple in early 1997 and ousting its leadership. The idea fizzled, but Jobs stepped in as interim chief later that year.

He returned with a vengeance, slashing unprofitable projects, narrowing the company’s focus and presiding over a new marketing push to set the Mac apart from Windows. The new ads featured with an intentionally ungrammatical encouragement to computer users: “Think different.”

Apple’s first new product under his direction, the brightly colored, plastic iMac, launched in 1998 and sold about 2 million in its first year.

Jobs later dropped the “interim” from his title. He changed his style, too, said Tim Bajarin, who met Jobs several times while covering the company for Creative Strategies.

“In the early days, he was in charge of every detail. The only way you could say it is, he was kind of a control freak,” he said. In his second stint, “he clearly was much more mellow and more mature.”

In the decade that followed, Jobs returned Apple to profitability while pushing out an impressive roster of new products.

Apple’s popularity exploded in the 2000s. The iPod, smaller and sleeker with each generation, introduced many lifelong Windows users to their first Apple gadget.

ITunes gave people a convenient way to buy music legally online, song by song.

For the music industry, it was a mixed blessing. The industry got a way to reach Internet-savvy people who, in the age of Napster, were growing accustomed to downloading music free. But online sales also hastened the demise of CDs and established Apple as a gatekeeper, resulting in battles between Jobs and music executives over pricing and other issues.

Jobs’ command over gadget lovers and pop culture swelled to the point that, on the eve of the iPhone’s launch in 2007, faithful followers slept on sidewalks outside posh Apple stores for the chance to buy one. Three years later, at the iPad’s debut, the lines snaked around blocks and out through parking lots, even though people had the option to order one in advance.

Jobs’ personal ethos _ he is a natural food lover who embraced Buddhism and New Age philosophy _ has been closely linked to the public persona he shaped for Apple.

Apple itself became a statement against the commoditization of technology _ a cynical view, to be sure, from a company whose computers can cost three or more times as much as those of its rivals.

Longtime fans say they’re encouraged that Jobs is sticking around, even in a limited capacity. Cook has received mild approval.

Story Continues →