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What will Apple be like without Steve Jobs? Answering that question isn’t the primary goal of Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Jobs, released this week. But the 630-page book, which benefited from intimate access to Jobs, his family, and his colleagues, gives a few clues to the directions Apple is likely to follow in the absence of the difficult-yet-inspiring perfectionist who twice built the company.

The book (Steve Jobs, $35, Simon & Schuster) makes clear that Jobs thought a lot about how to ensure that the company wouldn’t fall apart without him. As a teenager, Jobs had idolized the original Silicon Valley garage startup, Hewlett-Packard, and had been mentored by its cofounder William Hewlett; the dysfunction of today’s HP served as a cautionary tale for him. “Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands,” Jobs told Isaacson. “But now it’s being dismembered and destroyed. It’s tragic. I hope I’ve left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple.”

For one thing, Jobs, like a previous subject of an Isaacson biography, Benjamin Franklin, left behind enough aphorisms to fill a management guidebook (e.g. “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want”; “Think Different”; “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”). He also was methodical about safeguarding his legacy. He asked a Yale management dean to compile case studies of the decisions Apple made during his tenure, so that executives could train new employees in Jobs-ness. Now, when Apple CEO Tim Cook and Jobs’s other successors wonder “What Would Steve Do?” they can cite the historical record.

They also likely have projects in the works that Jobs himself started. For example, it’s clear from the book that Jobs saw Apple’s new iCloud service as a crucial way to deepen the relationship between Apple and the consumer. A year ago, Jobs worried that Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all were angling to store nearly anything a consumer wanted—including libraries of music, TV shows, movies, and books—on remote computers “in the cloud” so that it was backed up and could be delivered to virtually any device. At the time, Apple had a version of this, called MobileMe, but it was expensive and had gotten poor reviews. Jobs forced Apple to try again, which led to this year’s launch of iCloud, which gives people a way to move entertainment content and personal information between devices.

But it doesn’t yet embody all of what Jobs envisioned. He told Isaacson that he wanted Apple to be “the company that manages your relationship with the cloud” and said that should encompass not only music, videos, and pictures but also “maybe even your medical data.” If Apple made it all very easy, “we can lock in the customer.” 

Read that carefully: Jobs didn’t want Apple to be a company that provides this. He wanted to be the provider. He fretted about being left behind. But being that one provider will be harder in a world where Android, not the iPhone, is the top-selling smart-phone platform.

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Credit: Albert Watson

Tagged: Computing, Communications, Apple, iPhone, Steve Jobs, books

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