Steve Jobs is the Grandfather of consumerization

Published: October 20th, 2011

As the tech world paused this month to mark the passing of one of its greats, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, besides the trademark black turtleneck it’s mainly the innovative consumer offerings he’s remembered for, from the iMac to the iPod and the iPad. And while Apple’s focus has always been on the consumer, I’d argue his legacy will be even greater in the enterprise. Because Jobs was the Grandfather of consumerization.

Consumerization, and the related bring your own device phenomenon, are trends enterprise IT departments are being forced to deal with, albeit reluctantly. And they have Mr. Jobs to thank for that. But it goes beyond just being forced to support employee-owned iPhones. Jobs helped chang the very dynamic between the corporate user and IT, and the level of service users should expect.

Related story: Video Rewind: Apple without Steve Jobs

It’s ironic, because Apple has long made a point of refusing to specifically target or address the commercial market, although they sell more laptops to businesses now than they do to consumers. But Apple’s strategy has already been consumer-first, letting the users be their soldiers in the commercial trenches.

Jobs’ influence in enterprise IT long predates the iPhone. From the days of Apple’s early graphical user interfaces to the Tangerine iMacs, Jobs and Apple long challenged the myths that PCs had to be boring grey boxes with clunky text-based interfaces. He didn’t invent the portable MP3 player, or the tablet computer, or the smartphone. But he made them cool, and easy to use.

And he forced everyone to reconsider what each of those categories were really about. Both users, who learned things could be different, as well as vendors, who were forced to innovate to keep up with a re-defined market.

Windows-based PCs dominate the enterprise, but imagine what Windows would look like if it hadn’t had the Apple OS pushing it. As much as RIM is still struggling to compete with Apple, we’d have a very different BlackBerry today without the iPhone’s influence. Touch-screens, cameras, non-business apps : all responses to competition.

More than just re-shaping product categories though, Jobs helped to slowly shift the power dynamic in the world of enterprise IT, from the IT department. It may not have an Apple logo on it, but it may be the most lasting impact that Jobs made.