What If: Steve Jobs never returned to Apple
By all accounts, Steve Jobs' recent decision to step down as Apple's (Stock Quote: AAPL) CEO was a well-planned, relatively drama-free transition of power to Tim Cook.
Past power shifts were hardly so simple.
Here's how history actually took place.
After being bounced from the CEO position, Jobs and Apple fully parted ways in 1985 during a three-way battle between he, CEO John Sculley and the company's board of directors.
Jobs headed off and, in addition to helping Pixar get off the ground, started NeXT Software. He tried to sell NeXT to Apple, pitching its technology as perfect for a new operating system. Apple said "yes," paid $400 million for the company and brought Jobs back into the family as an adviser. Once back in the fold, in 1997, Jobs finagled his way back to the corner office once CEO Gil Amelio was ousted by the board of directors.
What would have happened if Jobs never returned? A better question might be what wouldn't have happened.
Had Jobs decided against the NeXT deal, Apple would have probably gone instead with a competing product, BeOS, and struggled to sell consumers on such fare as the Newton, Performa and PowerBook.
Without NeXT to build from, OS X and its feline-named successors wouldn't have happened. There would certainly have been an evolution of the OS, but unlikely the giant leap forward that happened under Jobs' watch.
Without Jobs' penchant for design and bold moves, would Apple have dared enter the crowded market for MP3 players? Even if something like an iPod eventually emerged, would there have been an iTunes? It is unlikely, just as we might never have seen the iMac, Macbook, iPad or any of the other "it is kind of crazy, but it just might work" ideas Jobs fostered. Heck, we might still be packaging floppy disk drives with new PCs if Jobs hadn't decided they were obsolete when introducing the iMac. And, given Jobs' push away from rewritable media to Web-based data (hence the "i" for Internet prefix on everything) would we still be moving so rapidly into the "cloud?"
Microsoft, hardly the most innovative of companies over the years, might have been even less forward-thinking without its longtime rival to push it.
There also would also not be an Apple to invest in, meaning Microsoft's ability to push off the Justice Department would have failed and it would have been declared a monopoly and broken up into pieces. In some alternate universe, perhaps, Jobs' failure to return to Apple might have been a fatal blow to Microsoft as well.