Steve Jobs’ Legacy Is More Complicated Than Ever Four Years After His Death

Controversial new films show there was more to the man than his products

Four years after his death, a new movie is reopening debate about Steve Jobs.(Photo: James Mitchell/Flickr)
Four years after his death, a new movie is reopening debate about Steve Jobs. (Photo: James Mitchell/Flickr) James Mitchell/Flickr

On October 5, 2011, Steve Jobs died at the age of 56 of complications from pancreatic cancer. As co-founder of Apple (AAPL), one of the world’s most influential tech companies, Mr. Jobs introduced the world to a quartet of now ubiquitous tech products: the Mac computer, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. He was also one of the lead funders of Pixar.

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Apple has continued to assert its dominance since Mr. Jobs’ death, thanks to products like the Apple Watch and Apple Music—although the recent announcement of the Apple Pencil confused many tech industry insiders who remembered Mr. Jobs’ rhetorical question “Who wants a stylus?”

But according to an email that Apple CEO Tim Cook sent to staff this morning, it’s the people at Apple who augment Mr. Jobs’ vision to create “the greatest products on Earth.”

“What is his legacy? I see it all around us,” Mr. Cook said. “An incredible team that embodies innovation and creativity.”

Outside Apple’s Cupertino, CA headquarters, however, Mr. Jobs’ legacy is more complicated. That’s largely thanks to two new films about him.

A recent documentary, Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, got negative press when Apple executive Eddy Cue walked out of a screening.

More notably, Steve Jobs, which will be released on Friday, is an adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography. It has an excellent pedigree—Oscar winner Danny Boyle directed, Oscar and Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender plays Mr. Jobs.

Despite Oscar buzz and stellar early reviews, however, the lead-up to the film’s release has been riddled with controversies—Mr. Cook, who admittedly hasn’t seen the movie, worried that any biopic of Mr. Jobs would be “too opportunistic,” which led to a mini-feud with Mr. Sorkin.

And in today’s Wall Street Journal, Laurene Powell Jobs, Mr. Jobs’ widow, says the film paints her husband as “cruel and inhumane.” Other sources in the article claim Mrs. Jobs tried to stop the film from being made.

Not all the news has been bad, though—Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Mr. Jobs, was paid to consult on the film. Unsurprisingly, he praised it, saying “I felt like I was actually watching Steve Jobs.” (Mr. Wozniak is portrayed by Seth Rogen in Steve Jobs.)

Was Mr. Jobs an innovative creator, or an evil genius? If nothing else, the latest round of press serves to compound the mystery.

Steve Jobs’ Legacy Is More Complicated Than Ever Four Years After His Death