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Steve Jobs and the Lesson for Detroit

The indispensable man helped transform the car as much as the computer.

by on Oct.06, 2011

When he was once asked who he most admired, Steve Jobs pointed to Henry Ford and Walt Disney.  No surprise.  They both had the ability to give people what they wanted, often before they knew it.  And perhaps that was what we’ll remember Jobs for most, rather than any individual technological breakthrough.

Not that he didn’t have plenty of those, starting with the original Apple I computer and working up to the new iPhone 4S, released just days before the 56-year-old executive’s death after years of battling pancreatic cancer.

Jobs hadn’t even been born yet when the founder of IBM famously declared that there would likely be a market for no more than a handful of computers in the entire world.  Working out of his adopted parents’ garage with a high school chum, Steve Wozniak, Jobs set in motion a transformation that rivaled the one launched by Henry Ford.  Today, it’s difficult to find a household that doesn’t own several cars – or several computers, if you include desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

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Moreover, we have seen the grand integration of those two machines that changed the world.  As recently as the 1970s, when Jobs was just tinkering with his first primitive computer design, the typical automobile was a truly mechanical device.  The only electronics onboard could be found in those tinny transistor radios.  Today, however, the typical car contains thousands of dollars in silicon technology.  Microprocessors operate everything from the engine to the airbags.