Looking thin and gaunt, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was center-stage Wednesday in San Francisco as Apple prepared to throw back the curtain and reveal the year's most anticipated tech intro: the iPad 2.
Officially on medical leave, Mr. Jobs received a standing innovation from Apple fans and detractors alike, none of whom could deny that he had given his all for Apple, even as his health failed from an ailment likely related to the pancreatic cancer he has battled in recent years.
Wearing his trademark jeans and black t-shirt, Jobs expertly touted the features of the new computing device, using sales skills, charisma and a unique vision of what tech aficionados want. His job was made easier by the significant updates of the iPad 2--front-facing camera to allow videoconferencing and a much-faster processor, among other things--to compete against a growing number of rivals from Motorola, HP, Samsung and others.
The unspoken question on everyone's mind was not if Apple could maintain its lead over competing digital tablets based on the new Android operating system. The real question was: Is this Steve Jobs' last hurrah, before health concerns shift the CEO mantle from his shoulders?
If so, no one can ever accuse Mr. Jobs of shirking his duties. He helped create Apple Computers in the late '70s, along with Steve Wozniak and Mike Markkula. The three were notoriously driven by the idea of making products that were "cool," rather than those carefully sculpted from focus groups and market analytics.
A prime objective early on was making computers "for the rest of us," devoid of obscure keyboard commands that come second nature to engineers, but not to consumers at large. Apple's click-and-drag graphical user interface created a revolution in computers, providing an intuitive way to access the power and usefulness of every PC.
Through the years, Apple has remained true to its commitment to providing easy-to-use interfaces for everything from printers to MP3 players, from cell phones to digital tablets.
Even during Mr. Jobs' well-documented hiatus from the company, starting in the mid-'80s, his fingerprints remained on the organization--even though Apple lost market share during his absence.
He returned to the company in 1996, and proceeded to drive the development of a new line of MP3 players and cell phones that saw the company's bottom line soar once again.
And here he was, a hard-bitten veteran warrior of the high-tech battles, on stage in San Francisco for perhaps the last time. Still smiling; ever the salesman; a tech visionary of our time.
Whatever the future holds for Apple, his impact on the company and on the tech industry will never be forgotten.
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