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Remembering Steve Jobs' 'Attention To Detail'


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Tributes are pouring in from around the world this morning, to the co-founder and longtime leader of Apple. Steve Jobs was 56 when he died yesterday, seven years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and just weeks after resigning as Apple CEO. He is easily the most celebrated technology innovator in the world, the mind behind products that are not only popular but that changed the way we communicate, the way business is done, and the way we listen to music.

Joe Nocera is an op-ed columnist who writes about business for The New York Times, and has covered Steve Jobs' career for many years. We reached him in Columbus this morning.

Welcome to the program.

JOE NOCERA: Thanks for having me, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Joe, what comes to mind this morning as you remember Steve Jobs?

NOCERA: Oh, a million different things. You know, the iconic images of him in a black mock turtleneck and jeans, standing on a stage introducing a new product to the technology world, and to the rest of us, in these amazing extravaganzas that only he could pull off, where people would be just dying to get these products.

MONTAGNE: You know, Steve Jobs was known for being extremely private. But you saw a very personal side of him just after he was fired from Apple in the mid-1980s. What did you learn about him at that time?

NOCERA: Well, I think you saw in small doses the leader that he would become when he returned to Apple. Don't forget, when he was kicked out, even though he was chairman of the board, he acted almost like a renegade; like a guerilla inside the company - almost fighting his own company.

He left and, you know, the discipline, the aesthetic sense that is unmatched, the - and also the shoot for the stars aspect that he was going to build the greatest computer anyone had ever seen, the wizziest computer, insanely great computer. You know, that's really what I saw, and the incredible attention to detail.

When you look at the products Apple has put out since he came back, the iMac computers, then the iPods, then the iPhones, then the iPads - they have an astonishing aesthetic, an astonishing attention to detail that really is unmatched, and is really part of what made Apple and him so special.

MONTAGNE: In the statement about his death, Apple did not give details, many at all. Of course, we know he was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago. You pushed him on his health status over the years. Why do you think he was so reticent to talk about it?

NOCERA: Well, I think he was somebody who, more than most public figures, did not accept the idea that his private life was something the rest of us could delve into. I criticized him, and mainly Apple, for it, because I felt that shareholders and Apple had a right to know more about the state of his health, than he was willing to divulge. But he was adamant that that was his business and nobody else's.

And, you know, although he was interviewed a lot in his life, if you look back you will notice that he's never interviewed without him having a product to sell. And that the interviews are very, sort of, narrowly constructed. And he really did not let people into his private life.

MONTAGNE: A couple of days after Jobs stepped down as CEO, just weeks ago, really, you wrote a column titled: "What Makes Steve Jobs Great?" Just in a few words, what did make him so great?

NOCERA: You know, he had a great line. Something to the effect, people said, well, you know, follow the consumer or give the consumer what he wants. And he would say, almost contemptuously: The consumer doesn't know what he or she wants until we make it.

And so he had this gut, this feeling of I understand what people are going to want before they realize it and I'm going to make those products. And I'm going to make them so beautifully and have them work so well, that people will not be able to resist it.

And, you know, he practically invented the personal computer industry. He persuaded the music industry to go digital. He's the first person who really succeeded in doing that. He created the iPad, which nobody even thought there was any use for and now people can barely live without.

And so, again and again and again that's what he did.

MONTAGNE: Joe, thanks very much.

NOCERA: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Joe Nocera is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.