Steve Jobs’s Legacy: The Best Answers to the Most Important Question

by Andrew McAfee on August 25, 2011

Remember all the predictions from members of the technorati that the iPad would fail? It didn’t have a file system, or a camera, or a USB port, or lots of other things apparently critical to the success of a tablet computer. It didn’t do enough. It was a toy, suitable only for kids or passive, bovine consumers.

It’s sold over 25 million units. It’s safe to say that Steve Jobs was right and his detractors wrong.

This has been the pattern over and over again at Apple during Jobs’s tenure as CEO, which was just ended. His extraordinary success has a number of sources, which we’ll be analyzing for some time to come. Today I want to highlight just one thing that he and his company got right over and over, while the great majority of the tech industry continues to get it wrong.

Jobs and Apple have done the best job of answering with their products the question posed by wiki inventory Ward Cunningham: What’s the simplest thing that could possibly work? As I’ve stressed before, most technologists / nerds / geeks don’t think this way —  they think that success comes from cramming in features and functions, bells and whistles.

This is not what non-geeks want. They want the simplest things that could possibly work, and Apple under Jobs has been by far the best technology company at supplying such things. Judging from the lack of competition, it must be incredibly hard to do.

I have no potential conflicts of interest here. I’ve never taken a dime from Apple, and have come down pretty hard on the company for a privacy flaw I discovered. But I’ve also been a staunch defender of Apple and its products and policies because they have given huge numbers of people what they wanted. Which is simple things that work.

I hope more technologists, at Apple and elsewhere, will carry on this great tradition.

What do you think Jobs’s main legacy will be? Are you with me that it’s highlighting the virtues of simplicity, or do you think it’s something else? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.


Dan Pontefract August 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I think it’s two-fold Andrew.

1) what you’ve already stated … the quintessential macro minimilist approach and vision of Jobs will be untouched for some time (although Nintendo and its Wii console is a close second in my opinion)

2) ruthless, hierarchical, command and control leadership would be the other (whether right or wrong, this will also be found as a legacy component of the Jobs reign)

Kare Christine Anderson August 25, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Yes Andrew, simplicity and the elegance of design that makes possible

Conor Ogle August 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Probably not possible to isolate his ‘legacy’ yet – because I don’t believe he’s finished. 
We’ll feel and enjoy the benefits of his approach to design and delivery for many moons.For me, the biggest thing is that he showed that form AND function can be combined. And yes, he ensured Apple gives us what we wanted – but not by waiting for us to tell them what that was – he just showed us.

Mark Nejmeh August 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm

 I think it is perserverance and just believing in his vision. It is a great example of seeing beyond and for the benefit of others.

JNOMICS August 25, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I’m reminded of how much I’ve enjoyed  John Maeda’s book, “Laws of Simplicity.” And I appreciate the observation of how contrary such thinking is to the geek ethos. 

Erilhac August 26, 2011 at 5:35 am

I totally agree with you. After 15 years of being a WINPC supporter, I became addicted to Apple products as they address innovation the right way: Bring Innovation to the User, Don’t ask the User to discover/learn how do leverage innovation.
Additionally, I would say that Apple foresee before anyone else, that being an IT Guru wasn’t providing social status by appearing smarter as you were accessing more information…One of my takeaway from S.Job vision is that he always thought about the Information/Content USAGE and SHARING rather than Information/Content CREATION and OWERNSHIP. Apple products enable everyone to be more creative, and to focus on What rather than How.

If the company pursue on Job’s tracks, they will continue to market tools to CREATE…they have a strong future

esthetics August 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Completely agree… and I would also add an awareness of esthetics 

Nick Van Maele August 27, 2011 at 9:48 am

Providing simplicity in their products as consumers see it – and getting a large company to do so regardless of all the departments, strategies, policies and personalities that habitually lose track of this.

John August 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

Like the Mark Twain quote that goes something like: “I would have written you a shorter letter if I had the time.” boiling down what are fairly complex systems (computers & software) down to their simplest, most functional essence is a time consuming process. Steve’s vision was to see that investing the time necessary to deliver products that were both highly functional but elegantly simple to use as the key to broad market adoption for Apple products. He also had the vision to realize that such products were damn sexy and everyone likes to identify with a sexy product.

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MeAndBrighton August 30, 2011 at 11:07 am

I agree with Kare and Conor, especially in terms of the design and simplicity. 

I remember how once a well known Dragon (BBC term) said that the product “has to be good enough to lick”, like the stuff from Apple. See the picture how he scale the lickability on two axis scale :)

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Majid ALSarra October 31, 2011 at 11:17 pm

I don’t
agree that technologists think that way. It’s the corporate tradition that
don’t approve a product because it’s simple and don’t have the enough features
that proved high sales, and depends on customers’ needs which Henry
Ford said about it:

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster

  his customers weren’t technologists

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