Does Steve Jobs leave a legacy relevant to chip design? Well, he certainly leaves behind a lesson or two.
This may not be a perfect distinction, but I think that what Jobs came quickly to understand, if not better then certainly more influentially than any other technology leader of our time, is the distinction between achieving technological innovation and realizing technological change.
He was a ‘system’ guy before most of us began to discuss never mind try to implement projects on that basis. Apple’s end products are not about having the best-in-class hardware and software at every level, but rather about finding the best combination to deliver the most attractive end-result.
The company did not invent the PC, nor the MP3 player, nor the smartphone, nor the tablet. But when it attacked those markets, it did deliver (under Jobs’ meticulous and often cantankerous oversight) their best system implementations. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are seamless products, not just in terms of their industrial design but also (an often forgotten point) with regard to supply chain management. Jobs made sure that everything fit together.
Chip design faces similar challenges – and although there are differences, the influence of the consumer market is critical. A successful project must combine internal resources with a plethora of suppliers (software, IP, EDA, foundry, back-end, etc). Also, much as Jobs would do with Apple product functionality, any design manager has to try and strip away everything that does not contribute toward meeting the most finely tuned specification.
The fully justified eulogizing of Jobs has, in the mainstream press, concentrated on his abilities as both technologist and marketeer, but with perhaps more emphasis on the latter. The reality lay in a more equal balance and integration of those skills, one so deft that the question “What would Steve do?” is as relevant to those developing the systems that go into today’s electronic products as those who would use them to deliver the next breathtaking gizmo.
On reflection, that’s both a fantastic legacy and a fantastic lesson.