How Important Is Steve Jobs to Apple’s Product Development?

There’s always been a lot of guessing about Steve Jobs’s role in Apple’s product development. Does he come up with every idea himself? Does he oversee every hardware design, every software feature, every icon placement and color? Is he primarily a visionary that hands of most of the execution to others? Or is it something else?

Jobs gave a hint during his interview with Walt Mossberg at the D8 Conference last year. Mossberg asked Jobs about the genesis of the iPhone and the iPad. Jobs answered, “I had this idea of being able to get rid of the keyboard and type on a multitouch glass display. And I asked our folks, could we come up with a multitouch display?” Here’s the clip:

The key here is that Steve Jobs uses the first-person singular pronoun “I” when describing the original idea for what became the iPad. Anyone who pays any attention to how Steve Jobs speaks knows that every word is deliberate. He would not have used the word “I” if he didn’t mean it.

That’s at least one clue that Steve Jobs personally plays a very critical and direct role in product development.

I wonder: if someone else inside Apple had come up with the idea of building a tablet with a multitouch glass display, how hard would it have been for that person to get six months invested in building prototype hardware and several weeks invested in building prototype software to validate the concept? The answer to that question may say a great deal about how Apple may change once Steve Jobs retires (which, to be clear, I believe will be a long time from now).