SAN FRANCISCO - Steve Jobs saw the future and led the world to it. He moved technology from garages to pockets, took entertainment from discs to bytes and turned gadgets into extensions of the people who use them.
Jobs, who founded and ran Apple, told us what we needed before we wanted it.
"To some people, this is like Elvis Presley or John Lennon. It's a change in our times. It's the end of an era," said Scott Robbins, 34, a barber and an Apple fan. "It's like the end of the innovators."
Apple announced his death without giving a specific cause. He died peacefully on Wednesday, according to a statement from family members who were present. He was 56.
"Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives," Apple's board said in a statement. "The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."
President Barack Obama said in a statement that Jobs "exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity."
"Steve was among the greatest of American innovators brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world and talented enough to do it," he said.
Jobs had battled cancer in 2004 and underwent a liver transplant in 2009 after taking a leave of absence for unspecified health problems. He took another leave of absence in January his third since his health problems began and resigned in August. Jobs became Apple's chairman and handed the CEO job over to his hand-picked successor, Tim Cook.
Outside Apple's Cupertino headquarters, three flags an American flag, a California state flag and an Apple flag were flying at half-staff late Wednesday.
"Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor." Cook wrote in an email to Apple's employees. "Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple."
The news Apple fans and shareholders had been dreading came the day after Apple unveiled its latest iPhone, a device that got a lukewarm reception. Perhaps, there would have been more excitement had Jobs been well enough to show it off with his trademark theatrics.
Jobs started Apple with a high school friend in a Silicon Valley garage in 1976, was forced out a decade later and returned in 1997 to rescue the company. During his second stint, it grew into the most valuable technology company in the world with a market value of $351 billion. Almost all that wealth has been created since Jobs' return.
Cultivating Apple's countercultural sensibility and a minimalist design ethic, Jobs rolled out one sensational product after another, even in the face of the late-2000s recession and his own failing health.
He helped change computers from a geeky hobbyist's obsession to a necessity of modern life at work and home, and in the process he upended not just personal technology but the cellphone and music industries.
Perhaps most influentially, Jobs in 2001 launched the iPod, which offered "1,000 songs in your pocket." Over the next 10 years, its white earphones and thumb-dial control seemed to become more ubiquitous than the wristwatch.
In 2007 came the touch-screen iPhone, joined a year later by Apple's App Store, where developers could sell iPhone "apps" which made the phone a device not just for making calls but also for managing money, editing photos, playing games and social networking. And in 2010, Jobs introduced the iPad, a tablet-sized, all-touch computer that took off even though market analysts said no one really needed one.
By 2011, Apple had become the second-largest company of any kind in the United States by market value. In August, it briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company.
Under Jobs, the company cloaked itself in secrecy to build frenzied anticipation for each of its new products. Jobs himself had a wizardly sense of what his customers wanted, and where demand didn't exist, he leveraged a cult-like following to create it.
When he spoke at Apple presentations, almost always in faded blue jeans, sneakers and a black mock turtleneck, legions of Apple acolytes listened to every word. He often boasted about Apple successes, then coyly added a coda "one more thing" before introducing its latest ambitious idea.
In later years, Apple investors also watched these appearances for clues about his health. Jobs revealed in 2004 that he had been diagnosed with a very rare form of pancreatic cancer an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. He underwent surgery and said he had been cured. In 2009, following weight loss he initially attributed to a hormonal imbalance, he abruptly took a six-month leave. During that time, he received a liver transplant that became public two months after it was performed.
He went on another medical leave in January 2011, this time for an unspecified duration. He never went back and resigned as CEO in August, though he stayed on as chairman. Consistent with his penchant for secrecy, he didn't reference his illness in his resignation letter.
Steven Paul Jobs was born Feb. 24, 1955, in San Francisco to Joanne Simpson, then an unmarried graduate student, and Abdulfattah Jandali, a student from Syria. Simpson gave Jobs up for adoption, though she married Jandali and a few years later had a second child with him, Mona Simpson, who became a novelist.
Steven was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs of Los Altos, California, a working-class couple who nurtured his early interest in electronics. He saw his first computer terminal at NASA's Ames Research Center when he was around 11 and landed a summer job at Hewlett-Packard before he had finished high school.
Jobs enrolled in Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1972 but dropped out after six months.
"All of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it," he said at a Stanford University commencement address in 2005. "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out."
When he returned to California in 1974, Jobs worked for video game maker Atari and attended meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club a group of computer hobbyists with Steve Wozniak, a high school friend who was a few years older.
Wozniak's homemade computer drew attention from other enthusiasts, but Jobs saw its potential far beyond the geeky hobbyists of the time. The pair started Apple Computer Inc. in Jobs' parents' garage in 1976. According to Wozniak, Jobs suggested the name after visiting an "apple orchard" that Wozniak said was actually a commune.
"It was actually an unbelievably fortunate partnership, but it spoke a lot of life and the passion for life and the energy to do things. Steve and I used to, most days, talk about where life was going for people, what was important, what was right and what was good," Wozniak recalled on "The Early Show" Thursday.
Their first creation was the Apple I essentially, the guts of a computer without a case, keyboard or monitor.
The Apple II, which hit the market in 1977, was their first machine for the masses. It became so popular that Jobs was worth $100 million by age 25.
During a 1979 visit to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Jobs again spotted mass potential in a niche invention: a computer that allowed people to control computers with the click of a mouse, not typed commands. He returned to Apple and ordered his engineering team to copy what he had seen.
It foreshadowed a propensity to take other people's concepts, improve on them and spin them into wildly successful products. Under Jobs, Apple didn't invent computers, digital music players or smartphones it reinvented them for people who didn't want to learn computer programming or negotiate the technical hassles of keeping their gadgets working.
"We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas," Jobs said in an interview for the 1996 PBS series "Triumph of the Nerds."