Does tech need another Steve Jobs?

Does consumer tech need another Steve Jobs

Exactly one year ago today, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs left this world for the next. And while not much has changed — we still have new iPhones, iPads, and Macs; Apple remains the world’s most-valuable company — a palpable void hovers on the horizon of the consumer technology landscape he did so much to cultivate.

This void is especially present for Apple, which has gone through an identity crisis of sorts in the past few weeks, with an iPhone 5 launch that lacked that “one more thing” magic and the dreaded Maps app fiasco that arrived with iOS 6. In this short time, Apple without Jobs has come into focus: It’s less polished, more humble, but still dominant. Hints of this new, Tim Cook-run Apple appeared to the public throughout the past 12 months — the EPEAT flip-flop, the porous iPhone 5 supply chain — but until Cook’s apology over Maps, we couldn’t be quite sure that a fundamental shift had taken place. Now we know: The post-Jobs era has officially arrived.

The vanished ambiguity has renewed our collective search for the “next Steve Jobs.” Inevitably, names like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and even Tim Cook make the list. We debate over the ins and outs of their abilities to “think differently;” to create and manage teams that are capable of building “great” things; to see areas of our lives that can be enhanced by technology, and then have the je ne sais quoi to smoothly and effectively pull it all off.

The reason we search for a new Jobs is not simply because it’s fun to speculate and analyze the other tech CEOs before us (though that’s part of it) — it’s because American industry is looking for a new leader. In Jobs, we had a remarkable person who ushered in the PC age with Apple II and the post-PC age with the iPhone and iPad. He changed the animated movie business with Pixar, the music industry with iTunes and the iPod, and the software industry with the App Store. And he created a new kind of vocabulary that made the public, which previously kept its tech at arms length, understand and crave it with a convert’s zeal. Had he lived a bit longer, it seems likely that Jobs would have changed the television industry, as well — a development that appears as far off as ever without his unique ability to force transformations on stubborn incumbent industries.

Yet, those who have resisted the pull of Jobs’ Apple make an increasingly compelling case for the benefits of doing so. His penchant for control has led to the creation of technology’s most colossal walled garden. Inside its vast confines, consumers have largely abandoned the idea that the technology we have in our pockets and on our desks is our own, to be tinkered with and customized and made into something altogether new. We’ve become sheep-like and complacent in our powerlessness to a corporation that makes all the rules — rules that Jobs himself invented.

Both sides are true, of course. Consumer technology advanced at an incredible rate over the past two decades, thanks to the contributions of Apple under Jobs. The ever-popular iOS and Mac devices we use remain the benchmark of usability and design. Conversely, our relationship with technology and the companies who create it is a binding one. And corporate giants like Amazon, with its Kindle ecosystem, and Microsoft, with its forthcoming Windows Phone 8 lineup, and all of Facebook, are actively moving to lengthen those chains in an attempt to keep us tethered.

Because of these contrasting truths, it is important for us as consumers of technology to ask: Do we really need another Steve Jobs? Or is the technology industry better off without a leader?

Admittedly, this is an impossible riddle. We cannot predict the future, and it can go in any direction. Without a clear leader, the many capable minds and companies out there are more free to try new things without having to compete with a status quo. Such a democratic environment allows for a large set of unique ideas to break through more easily. And, in theory at least, this can lead to rapid advancement. 

The contrasting scenario is just as likely: a level playing field leads us in circles. We keep moving, but never get anywhere new. Without a leader decreeing a clear winner, new products compete with an endless string of equals. Development becomes a center-less brawl that bogs down further advancement. And that’s a world that looks much like Apple did before Jobs made his triumphant return, streamlined the company’s product lineup, and turned Apple into the powerhouse it is today.

Reality is a mixture of both. Looking back, we can see that the technology world moves in a cycle. The rise of Apple under Jobs defined one part of that cycle, one in which the primary vein of innovation led back to a single, pumping heart. The loss of Jobs began the next part of the cycle, which we are in today — a phase where the tech industry lacks an obvious center, but no longer really needs one to thrive.

If history tells us anything, this new post-Jobs era will lead to a variety of exciting, smaller advancements. We will have more choices and less homogeny among the devices we adopt and rely upon. But eventually, the pool of consumer technology will become muddled and stagnant. We will all be chasing our tails through the muck. And then, someone like Jobs must step up, push through this mess, and guide us down a new path.

We will need a new Steve Jobs. But for now, we must wait.


Apple iPads and iPad Pros get price cuts up to $150 on Amazon

In the market for a new iPad? Now might be the time to buy -- Amazon has discounted a range of iPad models, including the 10.5-inch, 11-inch, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, plus the standard iPad.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

World of Warcraft's allied races will make you want to start a new character

The Horde and Alliance are seeking new allies in their struggle for control of Azeroth. Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Horde or Alliance, we have a guide to help you unlock every allied race in Battle for Azeroth.

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.

Keep your huge phone beautiful with the best iPhone XS Max cases

Apple's iPhone XS Max might be the best large phone the company has ever released. But a bigger OLED display and body means there's more glass to crack. Keep your massive phone safe with the best iPhone XS Max cases.

Apple’s interest in self-driving cars reported to be revving up

A new report suggests that Apple is in talks with a number of suppliers to purchase lidar sensors, an essential tool for self-driving cars. The news is once again spiking rumors that Apple might be building vehicles.

The 15 most stylish iPhone docks and charging stands for your device

The right iPhone dock does more than just hold your phone. If you’re looking for the perfect dock for your bedroom, or one to sit discretely on your office desk, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.

How to save yourself money by buying a refurbished iPhone

There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for a new iPhone, and it can be very expensive. Save yourself some heartache and some money with our guide on how to buy a refurbished iPhone.

Best iPhone 7 Plus screen protectors to shield your big, beautiful display

Cracked screens are expensive to replace. Fortunately for you, we've rounded up what's available in terms of protection for Apple's large iPhone 7 Plus. Here are the best screen protectors you can buy.

Add style and functionality with the best iPad Pro 9.7 cases

No tablet should be without protection, especially an expensive one. Check out our picks for the best iPad Pro 9.7 cases, so you can add some protection, functionality, and style to your new device.

Amazon cuts prices on Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 3 smartwatches

In the market for a new smartwatch? The Apple Watch is the best one, and right now it's a little more affordable than it usually is. The Apple Watch Series 4 and Apple Watch Series 3 are both available at discounted prices straight from…

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for April 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for April 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for April 2018.