A year after the death of Steve Jobs, tech industry pundits ponder who, if anyone, will achieve his level of innovation and greatness.
Jobs died on October 5 last year after a seven-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He gave birth to products that changed the way people use computers and phones, listened to music and read books. He transformed seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores and digital publishing.
No one can possibly match him.
But there are two candidates who can claim the mantle of the next tech icon and visionary. One is Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of e-commerce giant Amazon; the other is Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Brin, 39, the “propeller head” who leads Google X Lab, the search titan’s secret research facility, is turning science fiction into reality. From here emerged Google Glass, a full-blown computer worn as a pair of glasses.
The gadget displays the Internet on a small screen above the right eye. It lets a user communicate with others as he would with a phone. It is a sexy gizmo but still a prototype. Commercial versions are due in 2014.
Google X Lab has also been researching driver-less cars. Computers built into cars can detect speed, direction, distance, weather conditions, traffic and road signals and signs. They can share information with other similar cars.
Brin is turning Google X Lab into America’s next Bell Labs, pushing the tech envelope to create never-seen-before gizmos and services.
Bezos’ innovation is Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.
The 48-year-old former hedge-fund manager understood that warehouses and a scalable infocomm technology system would form the pillars of a successful e-commerce business.
He was harangued by Wall Street for bleeding the Internet firm he listed in 1997 by building warehouses. Amazon did not make money until 2002. But the warehouses let Amazon ship orders quickly – satisfying customers.
Amazon was the first to introduce customer reviews and a system which recommends other titles to a customer based on his buying pattern.
The business expanded beyond books to CDs, movies, toys, clothing and even expensive watches.
In late 2007, Bezos introduced the Kindle, an e-book reader capable of downloading books wirelessly, about three years ahead of Apple’s iPad. The Kindle was more affordable and seriously undercut Apple’s iPad.
Significantly, Bezos knows how to unveil products by demonstrating what they are good at and announcing price and product availability the way Jobs did with Apple products. No other company has done this before.
He has driven up Amazon’s worth to about US$113 billion – an e-commerce giant that is unparalleled anywhere. He has also built an ecosystem as seamless as Apple’s. It offers customers on-demand services.
They can download e-books, music, movies and Android apps and pay for them in an e-commerce system first developed for his online book business.
While Brin has captured the imagination of many with the sexy Google Glass and driverless car concepts, Bezos’s work has already touched millions of users and impacted industry.
He has my vote as the next tech icon and visionary.