Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. After surgery he returned to Apple, but had to take another leave of absence in 2009, ultimately undergoing a liver transplant. He took his final leave of absence in January 2011.
In August, he formally resigned as CEO. “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,” Jobs said in a letter addressed “to the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community.”
“I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role,” Jobs wrote. “I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.”
It would be a mistake to characterize Jobs’s time at Apple simply by the products the company released. Those products came about because of principles held by Jobs that he made sure were shared by others at Apple, especially as he refashioned the company following his 1997 return to Cupertino.
The products mentioned throughout this story might not have come to pass were it not for Apple’s constant need to innovate. That’s an attitude driven by Jobs, during flush times as well as well as when the tech business was less than booming. It’s worth noting that some of Apple’s biggest product releases during Jobs’s tenure—the iPod and the iPad, most notably—were developed during recessions when consumers theoretically were less inclined to spend money on pricey electronics.
“The way we’re going to survive is to innovate our way out of this,” Jobs told Time Magazine in early 2002, a strategy the company returned to when the economy went south again in 2008. In both instances, Apple under Jobs upped its research-and-development spending, helping the company produce a strong product lineup that could weather tough times.
It goes without saying that under Jobs, Apple became synonymous with great design. From the early days of the Macintosh, when Jobs agitated for rectangles with rounded corners, no aspect of the design process escaped the company’s attention.
But Jobs was about more than design just for the sake of looking good—the design decisions Apple makes also take usability into account. That 2002 Time Magazine article recounts the creation of the first flat-panel iMac and how Jobs scrapped an early version of the desktop because its design failed to impress. Time’s Josh Quittner recounted the subsequent meeting between Jobs and Apple executive Jonathan Ive:
That’s an approach to creating products that sticks with other Apple employees, even after they leave the company. “You almost imagine that Steve is in your office,” Flipboard founder and ex-Apple engineer Evan Doll told the San Francisco Chronicle. “You say to yourself, what would he say about this? When you’re kicking around an idea for a product, or for a feature, you’ll even say it in discussion—’Steve Jobs would love this!’ or, more often, ‘Steve Jobs would say this isn’t good enough.’ He’s like the conscience sitting on your shoulder.”