Steve Jobs is being lauded as one the greatest inventors of our time. I don’t mean to diminish his achievements when I say that (as far as I know) Jobs didn’t invent any of the products he is famous for. I mean to stick up for the role of the entrepreneur.
Jobs was unquestionably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our times. He didn’t design the iPod, iPhone, and so forth. He built a company that designed them, built them cost-effectively, got them into the hands of consumers, and in doing all that, changed our culture. That kind of talent is much rarer than the inventor.
I also want to stick up for the Apple innovation that has been largely forgotten by other Jobs eulogists. People remember the hardware, the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but they forget the software. I want to remember the software; in particular, the OS X operating system.
Apple products now have the reputation for running smoothly. People forget that, before 2001, Macs were crap. The old Macintosh operating system was terrible. It was unstable and its file system was incompatible with every other file system in existence. (In contrast, Windows NT was relatively stable, and, starting in 1996, it had the same point-and-click interface that the Mac was known for.)
Under Steve Jobs (history buffs: I simplify slightly), Apple fixed the problem by scrapping Mac OS entirely. They built a new operating system with a brilliant design: real Unix underneath with a Macintosh veneer on top. The main thing about it is it actually works. And I say this as someone who doesn’t actually like it.