Steve Jobs' resignation has prompted an outpouring of support and admiration for the Apple co-founder who is undoubtedly one of the great innovators and best CEOs of this, or any, era.
Along with Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Paul Allen and a handful of others, Jobs was personally responsible for the computer revolution and the rise of the PC industry. But Jobs has something that few, if any, other tech titans can rightfully claim: He's cool.
Cool can't be measured like the wealth of Apple shareholders or the company's surging sales since Jobs' return from exile in 1997, but you know it when you see it, to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter's famous line about pornography.
Like James Dean or Miles Davis, the coolness of Steve Jobs is undeniable, but the question remains: What makes Apple products so cool?
"Apple products are cool because you don't have to figure out how they work -- they are natural and human," says longtime Apple watcher Dan Frommer, a contributing editor at Business Insider.
Anyone who owns an Apple product can attest to their simplicity and ease of use, especially relative to most other high-tech products on the market. I can tell you from personal experience, my friends with iPhones run circles around me and my company-issued Blackberry when it comes to searching the Web, taking pictures or just about anything else other than email.
But functionality alone doesn't make Apple products cool. They are also beautifully designed, which brings us back to Steve Jobs.
"I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating," he said. "None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac."
In his now famous 2005 commencement address, Jobs talked about dropping in on a calligraphy class after dropping out of Reed College. (See: Steve Jobs on His Life, Career and Illness: 'Find What You Love')
Jobs has 313 design-related patents in total, according to Mobiledia.com, "including a lanyard for some iPod headsets, plastic power adapters for Macintosh computers, and even the cardboard packaging for many of the company's devices and accessories."
Under Jobs' guidance, Apple has been able to masterfully combine the form and function of its products. But just as functionality alone doesn't explain the cool of, say, an iPad, neither does its beauty, which, after all, lies in the eye of the beholder.
About the only thing better than Apple's products is how the company has marketed them.
Everything from the company's commercials (think "Mac vs. PC") to the way it builds anticipation to product launches by being incredibly secretive helps Apple transform the "wow" factor into the "cool" factor, as my colleague Matt Nesto and I discuss in the accompanying video.
Here too, the elements of Apple's cool stem from Steve Jobs, according to tech pundit and consultant Rob Enderle, principal at the Enderle Group.
"Part of what makes a product in premium class exciting is its relation to status," Enderle says. "Steve Jobs created a status aspect to how he presented Apple's offering."
In addition, he notes Apple has typically offered a limited number of products rather than using a shotgun approach, similar to a premium car company like Porsche, which Apple has used as a model.
The status of Apple's products is another aspect of their cool and also compelled consumers to pay a little more for a Mac or iPod then their non-Apple competitors. By spending a little more, "people end up buying a better product," Enderle adds. "That results in not only a richer customer experience," but helps create customer loyalty and drive Apple's margins to astonishingly heights.
It's an open question whether Apple will lose its cool now that Steve Jobs is officially stepping down as CEO but the company has thrived during his repeated leaves of absence for medical reasons in recent years.
Apple has built up so much "mindshare" with consumers it'll be hard to dislodge the company from its lofty perch and one anecdote, to me, says a lot about Apple's staying power: My nearly 10-year old daughter wants an iPod Touch for her birthday.
I don't know if she'll get it but can say with near 100% certainty that she couldn't name any other device maker other than Apple, and there's few consumers more sensitive to "cool" than pre-teen girls.
- Steve Jobs
- Steve Jobs