Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
What makes him powerful: 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. Two years and two iPhone revamps later, Apple continues to revolutionize the mobile experience--its App Store virtual storefront is now responsible for more than 85,000 applications and 2 billion downloads, giving rise to a vibrant developer community encompassing more than 125,000 registered programmers. No less remarkable, consumer interest in the smartphone continues to surge--AT&T, Apple's exclusive U.S. operator partner, activated 3.2 million new iPhones in the third quarter of 2009, its largest quarterly total to date, adding that 40 percent of third quarter activations involved customers new to the carrier.
Although Apple CEO Steve Jobs spent much of 2009 on the sidelines following a liver transplant, his September return capped off the most profitable quarter in the company's history: revenues of $9.87 billion, buoyed by record-setting sales of the iPhone 3GS, introduced in mid-June. Even during his medical leave, Jobs remained closely involved in key aspects of Apple's day-to-day business, regularly reviewing products and playing an instrumental role in the development of the iPhone OS 3.0 software update--few if any other American executives are as closely tied to their company's public and professional identity, or so synonymous with innovation and ingenuity. 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 have 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 220 million iPods since the device's introduction in October 2001. Further, the iTunes digital music store, opened in April 2003, is now 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. 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.
While the 2008 launch of the App Store forever altered the distribution and sale of mobile software, Apple's mysterious and often perplexing approval policies remain a point of contention within the developer community, culminating in a recent FCC inquiry following the firm's decision to remove a pair of third-party Google Voice applications and reject Google's own VoIP client. Apple later explained that Google Voice was not banned outright and is still under review, but the firestorm is widely considered a catalyst behind FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's call to implement net neutrality principles across the Web and mobile platforms. Add to that indications that Apple's exclusive iPhone deal with AT&T is drawing to a close, and it becomes clear that Jobs' influence on the future of the mobile segment will only continue to grow. --Jason