I was working as a technology journalist in San Francisco when Steve Jobs made his messianic return to Apple. It was September 1997, the height of the dotcom boom. In the city, the old industrial tracts between Market Street and China Basin were being transformed by start-ups. People were living on free pizza and hoping to strike it rich with stock options in an initial public offering. Cupertino, the spiritual home of Apple, was almost an hour away from the action of the SoMa (south of Market) area, renamed ‘Multimedia Gulch’ by some marketing shonk trying to ape the brand recognition of Silicon Valley.
Jobs’s return to Apple was big news. After all, the man was a living legend in the world of personal computing. Still, few techies thought much would change once the smoke cleared. Sure, Apple was a much-loved part of tech history – for example, the basement of one colleague’s Bay Area house was an unofficial museum containing working versions of every Apple product ever sold. Jobs had turned a small investment in an animation studio called Pixar into a $5 billion dollar windfall. But as Apple hadn’t been on the cutting edge since the release of the Apple II in 1977, it was bound to follow Atari into Silicon Valley’s bone-yard.
People were right to be sceptical. But we were wrong. Jobs – the man who had been thrown out of Apple in 1985 – didn’t just save Apple: he turned a company that was a whisper away from folding into the most valuable company on the planet. Four years after the death of Jobs, Apple has gone from strength to strength; even beating the odds and succeeding where other US tech companies have failed: China.