"I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful
"Booing on opening day is like telling grandma her house smells like old lady."--WOY
If comparisons are what we're looking for, I'd say he was our generation's Edison.
The quote I read the resonated with me was "R.I.P Steve ... You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful".
Which made sense to me. Technology usually is a cold and sterile world. Jobs was a visionary responsible for the enormously creative and innovative Macs, iPhones, iTunes, iPads, and Pixar movies. Juxtapose that with Bill Gates and Microsoft and Windows and there is a huge difference.
So he did make at least the technological world a better place and I'm thankful for that. But he was also worth $8.3B dollars so its a little hard to get all emotive about his passing.
Pay attention to the open sky
What Jobs/Apple did though was market their product better than anyone I have ever seen. Their products truly aren't any better than the competition (for the same price, I would argue their products are actually worse than their competition), but 90% of the population wouldn't believe that if you showed them because they market their stuff so well against the competition, while the competition doesn't market against them at all because the competition is made up of 10-20 different companies under one "umbrella" be it Windows platform computers or basically any other smart phone (Blackberry, Android, Windows phone, etc), but they can "attack" all of those at once with a broad stroke in an ad, where as if say HP wanted to say how much better their computers are, they would need to bring up 20 different companies and that simply isn't feasible for air time. Apple can just say "Windows sucks" and toss 20 companies under the bus because their shells (not the stuff inside, which is the exact stuff that Apple uses) use the Windows software.
But Apple product do free people up of having to be their own IT staff and research all 20-odd products to figure out how to do something and be savvy enough to be able to evaluate all 20-odd products against all the reset of their competition to figure out who is best. They get to mix music or edit digital movies rather than become a computer expert.
Pay attention to the open sky
A lot of people on here are tech savvy and don't understand the frustration that a lot of regular people have when it comes to dealing with computers and electronic devices. The overwhelming majority of consumers don't want to root an Android device, didn't want to remember DOS prompt commands, and didn't want to hassle with organizing MP3 files and transferring songs and playlists to their Rio MP3 player. Jobs realized that people would trade a little bit of functionality in order to own things that didn't require them to be a nerd (or talk with a nerd) to understand.
In a lot of areas (iPod / iTunes / iPad) Apple capitalized and dominated the market. In others (Mac / iPhone) they succeeded in a limited fashion but ultimately pushed the industry in a direction that was beneficial for consumers -- anyone under the age of 21 has no idea what a DOS prompt is these days, and Smartphones now are fairly accessible to anyone straight out of the box.
That's Jobs' contribution to society. And, frankly, I'll take that over people who make lots of speeches and take lots of stances on social issues but ultimately accomplish nothing.
23 Years and Counting...
I agree with what Dougdirt posted above. What set Apple apart was their marketing, not necessarily their product. They made products and then made you believe you had to have them. Overpriced? Sure, but when people believe they're buying the best they'll pay for it.
I'll admit to being somewhat annoyed by some of the Apple 'cult'. Like a joke I heard a while back..."You know how you can tell when someone has a Macbook Air?"...."They'll tell you". It also sucks for other companies that ended up getting driven into the ground because of Apple's stranglehold on certain markets. Like how Palm created Web OS, was then purchased by HP, and then was stopped because they could never compete in a market where the majority of people 'know' iPads and iPhones are the best. Good for Apple though, that's good business.
His genius marketing cannot be argued, that is what impressed me the most about him.
But he revolutionized the handheld devices. I had a dell MP3 player similar to the iPod. I used it for a few years but was constantly having problems with it. I got a bonus and bought one of the first generation iPods and it blew the Dell away. It was better, easier to use, lighter, more memory, etc. I had portable MP3 players for working out but the iPod shuffles put those to shame. I was skeptical of the iPad, thought it didn't do anything great just a lot of different things well, played with one and then bought one. And my wife's iPhone puts my droid to shame.
Apple made things that were easy to use, fast, and didn't screw up a lot. iTunes and the app store made your device even better to use. I just don't think that they marketed their products better, their products were better and they marketed the heck out of them.
From a performance and hardware POV I just don't think you are getting what you pay for. Like the iPhone 4, on it's release it was about on par technically with other phones which were released several months prior. Yet it hits the market at 199/299 when other similarly priced phones had much more to offer. In a way you were just paying for the brand and iTunes.
But like you said, their stuff works and almost never screws up. That piece of mind is enough for many people to fork over the dough.
Oh and as far as iMacs and Macbooks go, for the price you pay you could build a PC strong enough to run the internet haha.
23 Years and Counting...
I strongly disagree with Doug that Apple was all marketing, while their products weren't ground breaking in terms of hardware or technology in general, they were that much better than anyone else's because they refused to let you screw it up. They knew users couldn't leave well enough alone so they made it a non-open source product that works well so you can experience the most important part of today's technology, the experience, not the hardware.