The Death of Steve Jobs Means the Rebirth of Apple

Events in human history seldom repeat exactly. The forces are too complex. What is certain, however, is that new stars in the human heavens are always bursting forth. We can't yet judge the current Apple CEO, Mr. Tim Cook, but we can be assured that new talents, new leaders are destined to emerge. That's just the way it is with human beings. We should be optimistic.


One of the fundamentals of human life is that we mourn the loss of great individuals -- in any field of human endeavor -- for a long time after their death. We do so, believing that no one can replace that person, partly out of homage and obligation and partly because we cannot conceive of anyone better, bound as we are in our life and times.

When the great physicist Albert Einstein died in 1955, the whole world mourned. He had the best scientific mind of his time, and I am sure there were plenty of people who felt we had reached the peak, the end of physics with Einstein's brilliant development of special and general relativity.

Albert Einstain (1879-1955)

In time, however, other great scientific minds came along. We saw that Einstein was at his limits, back the 1950s, trying to reconcile gravity with the other forces of nature. He was bounded in his work and his abilities because of the limits of all who came before him.

Today, standing on the shoulders of giants before them, I can name a few great physicists of our recent times who are more or less on the same level as Einstein was. (Some are no longer with us.) These are a few of my favorites, not an official ranking: Peter Higgs, Steven Weinberg, Richard Feynman, Paul Dirac, Stephen Hawking, John Wheeler and Edward Witten.

The successor: Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

The point is that Albert Einstein is a physicist who, today, is included in the list of all time greats, but the history of science didn't end with him. Instead, scientists built on his vision and moved forward from there. And for those who forget that humans evolve and build, we have the great science fiction writers who remind us what the future of humanity could be, sometimes a disaster, sometimes glorious. Or both.

I am not saying that Mr. Tim Cook will or will not be the next great Apple CEO. The verdict of history is a decade in the future. What I am saying, however, is that we often forget how science and technology develop. Extreme genius in any field only comes along every few decades. Accordingly, when we're in that lull of despair, post mortem, we can only look back and revel in the glory of the leaders of old. It seems to us now that no one will ever be able to replace Mr. Steven P. Jobs.

In time, as we all grow older, we'll see a renewal, and our faith will be restored. Another group of geniuses, able to build on all that has come before, will bust out. How long it will take, we don't know. They won't all come at once. Some may be here now. But I do know this: long after many of us are gone, a new generation of technical leaders, high geniuses, will emerge to take us to the next technical level, building on all that went before. That's how it is.

This week, Ben Bajarin explored some of those themes as well. First, nothing happens in pure historical cycles. His 2011 piece points out that "History Will Not Repeat Itself". That means in terms of events, not the continual refresh of the human mind and technology I addressed above. Then, referring back to that article as a foundation, Mr. Bajarin goes on to assert "Why Larry Ellison is wrong about Apple."

Mr. Ellison is a smart, wealthy man who was a good friend of Steve Jobs. However, when he suggests, with some bias, that Apple will decline in the Post-Jobs era, he's only half right. Many so-so companies with a so-so product and amazingly incompetent leadership die. But Apple isn't just a company. It's a human state of mind. It's a vision, developed by its founders, that will live forever. The reason Apple as a company creates so much passion in us is precisely because of the vision and passion of Steven P. Jobs. That spirit will never die, just as our thirst for the frontiers of astronomy and physics is never quenched.

Like Albert Einstein, Mr. Jobs was a man born of his day, his technology, his life and times. Both men created an awesome modern foundation, one in physics, the other in personal computing. In time, as we've seen in physics after the death of a great one, new minds arise, build on the past, and take us where we never could have imagined. Even the dreadful death of a star as a supernova seeds the galaxy with the raw materials for the birth of new solar systems.  Like our own.

Tim Cook may or may not turn out to be that ultimate apprentice. That's not the point. The theme here is that even if he's just a very competent caretaker CEO, soon another star will come forth from the heavens to lead us forward in the Apple way. Mr. Cook's task, as a caretaker, is to navigate the ship competently forward until that happens, not to compete against the specific achievements of Mr. Jobs. Alternatively, history could record that he was right up there with the great Apple CEOs. I'd give it another decade for history to weigh in.

In any case, Apple, sans Mr. Jobs, is hardly doomed. That's the mantra of people who, drowning in their grief, have no understanding of the past or vision for our future.


Tech News Debris for the Week of Aug 19

I have been allergic to the cloud technology for a long time. It's oh-so seductive, and it has many benefits. But, by and large, I have avoided it except for syncing my contacts and calendars amongst the family iOS and Mac devices. As if you needed to be reminded, "No, your data isn't secure in the cloud." Subtext: "In 2012, Google alone received 21,389 government requests for information affecting 33,634 user accounts."

In case you missed my reference earlier this week to it, I want to draw your attention to this excellent analysis by Steve Cheney: "On The Future of iOS and Android."

Here's a nifty article over at Tom's hardware that provides a glimpse of how fast Apple's new Mac Pro might be. "Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU?"

My favorite article of the week is by the inestimable John Kirk. It's must reading, not because Microsoft hosed up the Surface tablet. We know that already.  Rather, it was Kirk's charming perspective, humor, analysis and awesome quotes. "The Microsoft Surface is (French) Toast." This is must reading for Particle Debris regulars.

Finally, just in case you're not following Jonny Evans on Twitter (@jonnyevans_cw), here's a nicely researched article about "Why Apple iPads in your schools are essential learning tools."


Supernova via Shutterstock. Einstein credit: Wikipedia.  Feynman poster from personal collection. Credit: TWBA Chiat/Day, Inc.

Particle Debris is generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.