Computer pioneer Steve Jobs, co-founder and former chief executive officer of Apple Inc, died following a long battle with pancreatic cancer on Wednesday. He was 56.
Jobs was the central figure in transforming Apple into one of the world's largest and most envied companies.
He died just a day after Apple unveiled its latest device, the iPhone 4s, at an event that Jobs usually presided over with singular showmanship. It was the first such presentation in years where Jobs did not take the stage in his signature jeans and black turtleneck.
"Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives," Apple said in a statement. "His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts."
Also read: Steve Jobs Through the Years (Slideshow)
Jobs stepped away as CEO of the company he helped turn into a tech titan in August, citing his failing health. He was replaced by Tim Cook, but continued to serve as the company's chairman.
Apple's homepage currently bears an image of the company's co-founder, top, and advised those wishing to send condolences to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
His former rival, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, paid tribute to Apple's creative visionary, calling him a colleague, a competitor and a friend.
"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come," Gates said in a statement. "For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely."
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Though often brusque, Jobs inspired near messianic devotion from his employees and millions of customers. In addition to creating sleek computers, he helped transform the music and publishing industries by creating portable and user friendly products like the iPod, iPhone and the iPad.
Jobs also helped refashion a tiny graphics company into Pixar, the creator of such animated smashes as "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo." After Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, he became the media giant's largest shareholder.
Robert Iger, Disney CEO and president, said Wednesday that he mourned the loss of a trusted advisor.
"Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started," Iger said in a statement. "With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend."
Jobs, known for a keen interest in design, has his name on 313 Apple patents. His work in technology and entertainment made him an extremely wealthy man, worth an estimated $8.3 billion.
Jobs, who was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, was put up for adoption by his parents, who were students at Stanford. He has a sister, the celebrated novelist Mona Simpson, whom he met as an adult.
Jobs displayed an interest in technology early, attending after-school lectures at the Hewlett-Packard Company while still in high school, and landing a summer job at the company. Also working at the company that summer: Steve Wozniak, who would come to play a significant role later in Jobs' life.
In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak — along with Ronald Wayne — formed Apple Computers, soon after introducing Apple II, the first commercially successful line of personal computers.
Jobs left Apple in 1984 following a power struggle with the company's board of directors, going on to found the NeXT computer platform development company, but returned to the company in 1996, after Apple bought out NeXT.
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After being reinstated, Jobs focused on making the financially struggling Apple profitable again, canceling a number of projects and changing the licensing program for Mac clones, making it too costly for other companies to replicate the machines.
Once named CEO in 2000, Jobs greatly expanded Apple's product line, making Mac as much a lifestyle as a brand with such items as the iPod MP3 player, the iPhone and, more recently, the iPad tablet.
Jobs announced to his employees in 2004 that he had been diagnosed with a tumor in his pancreas, eventually undergoing a pancreaticoduodenectomy that seemed to have removed the tumor. Health concerns continued to plague him, though; in 2009, Jobs underwent a liver transplant, and took a medical leave of absence in January to focus on his heath.
In a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Jobs spoke movingly of his decision to drop out of college and his 1984 ouster from Apple, before delving into his cancer diagnosis. Although pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate, Jobs said he took the news in stride.
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose," Jobs told students. "You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene Powell, their three children Reed Paul, Erin Sienna and Eve, and a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, from a previous relationship.