What makes him powerful: Steve Jobs' ascent to the top of the wireless heap mirrors a massive paradigm shift in the structure of the industry itself. The 2007 introduction of Apple's iPhone rewrote the rules that long governed the wireless marketplace, wresting absolute power away from operators while illustrating to consumers the full technological promise of the mobile platform. A year later, Jobs and company did it again, debuting the next-generation iPhone 3G and its accompanying virtual storefront the App Store, a move that revolutionized the distribution and sale of mobile software. Not just a personal technology visionary but by all accounts a canny and ruthless negotiator as well, Jobs is above all a merchant of cool, spearheading a series of trailblazing gadgets that emerged as must-have accessories for urban hipsters and soccer moms alike.
A college dropout who co-founded Apple in 1976, Jobs established his company's reputation by bringing to market devices that emphasized elegance and simplicity in both their user interfaces and product designs: Apple's Macintosh is generally considered the first user-friendly PC. But the computing giant enjoyed even greater cultural influence with its iPod portable music device--Apple has sold more than 153 million iPods since the device's introduction in October 2001, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the portable media player market according to research firm the NPD Group. The iTunes digital music store, opened in April 2003, has since sold more than 5 billion songs, becoming the world's premier website for legal premium downloads as well as the biggest-selling music retailer in the U.S.
For the iPhone--the product of a reported $150 million development cycle--Jobs cut an unprecedented five-year, exclusive revenue-sharing partnership with U.S. mobile operator AT&T that granted Apple $3 per month (over the life of a 24-month contract) for every iPhone customer already with AT&T and $11 per month for every new subscriber, at least according to a Piper Jaffray estimate. Never before had a device manufacturer demanded and won the concessions awarded to Apple in its negotiations with AT&T, but the iPhone lived up to the hype, selling close to 2 million units in its first six months on the market and winning Invention of the Year honors from Time Magazine.
Most of all, the iPhone and its signature touchscreen introduced to consumers an intuitive, immersive user experience that realized the true potential and scope of mobile data services. According to AT&T president and CEO Ralph de la Vega, more than 95 percent of iPhone owners regularly surf the mobile web. The App Store, launched in mid-2008, is no less a game-changer: Within its first month alone, consumers downloaded more than 60 million iPhone and iPod touch applications, a $21 million windfall for applications developers. No wonder the mobile industry can't wait to see what Jobs does next.