steve jobs
© Jeff Chiu, APCEO Steve Jobs holds up the new MacBook Air after giving the keynote address at the Apple MacWorld Conference in San Francisco. Apple on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 said Jobs has died.

San Francisco - Steve Jobs, the innovative co-founder of Apple who transformed personal use of technology as well as entire industries with products such as the iPod, iPad, iPhone, Macintosh computer and the iTunes music store, has died.

The Apple chairman was 56.

The iconic American CEO, whose impact many have compared to auto magnate Henry Ford and Walt Disney - whom Jobs openly admired - abruptly stepped down from his position as CEO of Apple in August because of health concerns. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, a former Apple board member, called Jobs the best CEO of the past 50 years - perhaps 100 years.

A seminal business and technology leader, Jobs' success flowed from a relentless focus on making products that were easy and intuitive for the average consumer to use. His products were characterized by groundbreaking design and style that, along with their technological usefulness, made them objects of intense desire by consumers around the world.

He was known as a demanding, mercurial boss and an almost mystical figure in technology circles as well as American popular culture. Author and business consultant Jim Collins once called Jobs the "Beethoven of business."

He was one of the figures who made Silicon Valley the capital of technological innovation and related venture capital fortunes.

His creation of iTunes as an online way to purchase music digitally helped transform the music industry and delivered a blow to the standard industry practice of packaging music in albums or CDs. With iTunes, consumers could buy individual songs for 99 cents. The music industry didn't welcome the change at first, but, after waging an intense battle against illegal music downloads, it came to rely on the business model iTunes created.

Jobs' work at Apple and other projects made him a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in 2011 at $8.3 billion. He was No.110 on Forbes' list of billionaires worldwide and No.34 in the United States, as of the magazine's March 2011 estimates.

Unlike tech rival Bill Gates of Microsoft or business leader Warren Buffett, Jobs did not make a practice of public philanthropy. While he may have made anonymous gifts to charity, he did not publicly embrace Gates' and Buffett's call for the wealthiest Americans to pledge to donate half their fortunes.

Jobs was married to Laurene Powell Jobs, 47. He had four children, three with Powell Jobs. A fourth child, Lisa, had an early Apple computer -- a predecessor to the Macintosh -- named after her. though the family succeeded in keeping the children out of the spotlight and largely unknown to the public. He was Buddhist.

Apple, and a re-boot

Jobs dropped out of Reed College to build computers with high school friend Steve Wozniak, creating what became the Apple I computer in 1976.

With sales lagging by the 1980s, Jobs was ousted from the company's leadership in a 1985 boardroom coup led by then-Apple CEO John Sculley. He returned in 1996 after Apple bought his technology start-up, NeXT, for $400 million. Within months, Jobs took over as Apple CEO for the ousted Gil Amelio and led a major corporate turnaround.

Five years later, with the release of the iPod personal digital music player, Apple had leaped from computer maker to become the leading consumer electronics giant worldwide.

Millions of its computers and gadgets were produced in Asia and sold to U.S. and worldwide markets, making the company one of the most recognizable and beloved brand names ever.

Once on the brink of financial abyss, Apple had a market value of $350 billion - not far behind No.2 Exxon Mobil - by the time Jobs resigned as CEO in August 2011.

After his forced departure from Apple, Jobs bought what became Pixar from filmmaker George Lucas. The digital animation movie company has produced box-office hits including Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Disney bought the company for $7.4 billion in 2006. Jobs held a 7.3% ownership stake in Disney.

Health concerns

He was known for creating a culture of secrecy at Apple that fueled intense media speculation about the company's next product. Jobs himself introduced major products with flair at highly anticipated events that proved to be one of the company's best marketing tools.

Jobs didn't hesitate to level caustic comments at competitors, particularly Microsoft in earlier years and later Google, which he ridiculed as evil, mediocre and lacking in taste. His skewering of Microsoft was parodied in a series of TV ads featuring the characters "Mac" and "PC."

Jobs was known for firing employees in profanity-laced tantrums and reducing some subordinates to tears. Yet many of his top deputies at Apple and Pixar worked with him for years.

Jobs is listed as an inventor or co-inventor on 313 Apple patents, including the iPod's user interface.

Though he brought simple, elegant technology to the masses, the reclusive Jobs was often uncomfortable around people and rarely spoke publicly. On rare occasions when he spoke with reporters, Jobs offered few or no personal insights.

Jobs' reluctance to appear publicly led to questions about his health, as did a dramatic loss in weight and gaunt appearance.

Jobs was diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer in 2003. He informed Apple employees in 2004.

"No one wants to die," he said in a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. "And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it."

Jobs' status as a corporate star put him on the covers of Time, Fortune and Forbes.

"Jobs led an enormous cultural shift of the businessman as a creative, even artistic, force," says Alan Deutschman, author of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs.

"When Jobs first came on the scene, it wasn't cool to be in business," Deutschman says. "Through the 1970s, the Dow hardly moved. Being in business was seen as being a total sellout. But Jobs was young and glamorous, and gave business that image. Now, young people aspire to be in business."

The early years

Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, to unwed parents. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs of Mountain View, Calif.

The young Jobs contacted William Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, to ask for parts for a class project. Impressed, Hewlett offered Jobs a summer internship.

Upon graduating from Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., in 1972, Jobs briefly went to Reed College in Portland, Ore. After a stint as a video-game designer at Atari, Jobs trekked to India in 1974, where he embraced Eastern culture and religion. Shortly after that, he lived in a commune in California.

In 1975, Jobs began hanging out with the Homebrew Computer Club and a friend from high school, Steve Wozniak. Jobs, then 21, and Wozniak - the "two Steves," as they became known - co-founded Apple Computer in Jobs' parents' garage in 1976.

By 25, Jobs was a millionaire. Jobs' first go-around at Apple was highlighted by the creation and introduction, in 1984, of the Macintosh, a revolutionary personal computer with an inviting graphical user-interface and mouse that popularized PCs for the masses.

The influence of the Beatles ran deep to Apple's core, too. Jobs presented a Mac to Yoko Ono, wife of the late John Lennon, and was ensnared in a long-running trademark lawsuit with the music group's Apple Corps label. It was settled in 2007.

In a 1996 interview in San Francisco, Jobs offered a glimpse of his hopes to mirror the success of Walt Disney and George Lucas. "Computers are commodities with a six-month shelf life," he said. "Classics like Snow White and Fantasia are passed from generation to generation."

Wozniak said Apple is a reflection of Jobs' creative daring.

"He helped it achieve incredible things in music, smartphones, tablets and retail, while still making great computers," said Wozniak, who said he and Jobs occasionally talk.

Leander Kahney, author of Inside Steve's Brain, said Jobs reconciled conflicting personality traits into an eclectic business philosophy.

"Jobs embraced the personality traits that some considered flaws - narcissism, perfectionism, total faith in his intuition - to lead Apple and Pixar to triumph against steep odds," Kahney says. "In the process, he became a self-made billionaire."