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Steve Jobs: respect the doing, not the talking

Probably no company has made as much of a difference or changed the ways things work over the past 10 years as Apple has under Jobs.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs gives the keynote address to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 6, 2011. (Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP)

Editor’s note: This piece was written on August 25, following Steve Jobs’s resignation.

And the big tech news just keeps on a’rolling. I’m on a mini-vacation in Quebec, but I couldn’t not write something about Steve Jobs’s resignation, which was about as surprising as Google taking over Motorola or HP announcing its exit from the consumer business, both of which happened last week. Jobs has been battling illness for some time so the news isn’t that unexpected, but just like the company he built, the man himself seemed somewhat unstoppable, so it’s shocking nonetheless.

There will be a lot of commentary extolling what Jobs has meant to the world of technology and not much of it will be overstated. Simply put, no company—probably not even Google—and certainly no individual has made as much of a difference or changed the ways things work over the past 10 years as Apple has under Jobs.

First, the iPod changed how we listen to music. In conjunction with iTunes, it also changed how we buy music, which did much to influence how video is sold and distributed as well. The iPhone then changed the world of telecommunications. Apple pried the phone itself and its data capabilities away from the greedy, clammy hands of wireless operators and really did make the whole business about “I” (or you and me). Most recently, Jobs pulled another rabbit out of his hat with the iPad, a device that he called “magical” and which is now doing much to drive computing toward a post-PC reality.

It’s hard to think of another tech company, again with the possible exception of Google, that has achieved anywhere close to that over the past decade. And, as far as we know, Apple is Jobs, so the company’s success is his success.

On the downside, Apple has been a singular pain to deal with as a journalist, and this too comes from Jobs’ controlling persona. Under no circumstances does the company or its people officially comment on anything, whether it’s products, trends or even the weather outside. Even when we are invited onto the company’s soil and given special briefings, the company is secretive and tight-lipped. Executives and product managers might tell us all kinds of great stuff in confidence, but we’re never allowed to use it on pain of never being invited back.

As frustrating as it often is, in a way I sort of respect the approach. Apple is very clearly a company that just does, as opposed to one that talks about doing. I know I have a few friends who talk a big game about things they’re going to do with their lives, but they never end up following through. That’s annoying, so it’s refreshing to see someone—even if it’s a company who I’d eventually like to sometimes talk to—do the reverse. There are definitely a lot of tech companies that talk a lot, but ultimately accomplish nothing.

The big question now is can Apple continue its dominance without Jobs in an every-day role. I’m sure the other question every journalist is quietly asking themselves is will a post-Jobs Apple continue being a company that just does, or will it open up a bit and start talking too?

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