Steve Jobs was certainly right far more often than he was wrong. With a legendary distaste for focus groups, Jobs rebuilt Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) with a series of products that sought to satisfy needs consumers never knew they had.
Yet, Jobs wasn't always correct -- many of Apple's recent moves, in particular, stand in stark contrast to positions Jobs once publicly advocated.
No one wants a giant phone
Although Apple's iPhone 4 was a phenomenal handset for its time, an issue with its design -- so-called "antennagate" -- left it vulnerable to dropped calls. The controversy ultimately proved fleeting, but in 2010, Apple went so far as to hold a special press conference to confront the issue.
Asked about alternative designs that would have alleviated the problem, Jobs ripped into the larger handsets offered by his company's rivals. Describing them as "Hummers", Jobs argued that "no one" would buy a phone so large "you can't get your hand around it."
Apple's iPhone 6 Plus obviously stands in stark contrast to Jobs' sentiment, and even the smaller iPhone 6, at 4.7-inches, is much larger than many of the phones Apple's rivals were producing at the time. Samsung's competing Galaxy S, for example, featured a 4-inch screen -- larger than the 3.5-inch iPhone 4, but tiny compared to the iPhone 6.
Subscription-based music services won't catch on
In an interview with Rolling Stone back in 2003, Jobs was asked about the prospects of subscription-based music services. Understandably, Jobs was highly skeptical, justifiably writing the then-fledgling services off as failures, and characterizing the subscription-based model as "bankrupt."
But that was years before the iPhone -- long before the widespread adoption of smartphones, the rise of 3- and 4G networks, and the concept of the mobile app. Spotify, with its 10 million paying subscribers, has proved Jobs wrong, and Apple itself now appears to be betting heavily on subscription-based music. The recent acquisition of Beats has given Apple a subscription service of its own, one that it's already working to weave into its existing products.
Small tablets won't sell
Although Jobs was ultimately wrong about large phones and subscription-based music services, these prognostications, at the time, appeared reasonable. Indeed, it was only after several years that these predictions were debunked: It took Apple more than seven years to release an iPhone with a screen larger than 4-inches, for example, while the acquisition of Beats occurred more than a decade after the introduction of the iTunes Music Store.
Perhaps Jobs' most egregious error, then, was his take on the fate of small tablets: During Apple's fourth quarter conference call in October, 2010, Jobs slammed the growing number of forthcoming 7-inch tablets, sarcastically remarking that rival manufacturers should include sandpaper to shrink their users' hands to an appropriate size.
Yet, Jobs was quickly proven wrong, and Apple was forced to reverse its stance after just two years. In 2012 it introduced the iPad Mini, which ultimately went on to overtake the larger iPad in sales. Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, attempted to cover for his predecessor, arguing that Jobs' comments applied to 7-inch tablets -- the iPad Mini, at 7.9-inches, was not a 7-inch tablet. That's certainly true, but Jobs had gone further, arguing that a 10-inch screen was the "minimum size" required for tablet apps. The larger iPad may offer the better experience, but millions of Apple's customers seem to prefer the smaller iPad Mini.
Looking ahead: styluses and trucks
Will Jobs be proven wrong yet again? With the mobile computing market in a state of flux, it's entirely possible that Apple could, in the coming years, forsake more of Jobs' market observations: Two comments, in particular, stand out.
During the original iPhone's unveiling in 2007, Jobs took aim at the stylus, remarking that "no one wants [one]." The iPhone, with its touch-based interface, was a dramatic departure from prior smartphones, some of which made use of a stylus. Jobs despised the stylus, and has -- at least for the time being -- been proven right. Following the iPhone's debut, the stylus rapidly fell out of favor.
Yet, the stylus has made somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, led largely by Samsung and to a lesser extent Microsoft. Samsung's Galaxy Note series is defined by its S-Pen -- the built-in, smart stylus that adds additional functionality to its large-screen phones and tablets. Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet also includes a stylus, and the Surface Pro 3, in particular, is designed around stylus input. It may be unlikely, but it's not entirely inconceivable that Apple could eventually offer a stylus-equipped device of its own.
Jobs' second observation concerns the market for the PC: Specifically, whether tablets and traditional PCs serve different needs. Jobs, in an interview with AllThingsD in 2010, argued that tablets and PCs were fundamentally different products, and that PCs, like trucks, would still be around in the future, but catering only to a niche audience of dedicated enthusiasts.
It's still a rumor at this point, but reports have consistently indicated that Apple is developing a larger iPad, one with a screen that may measure 12.9-inches. If so, it could be an enterprise-focused tablet, one aimed more at replacing traditional laptops rather than offering the classic iPad experience.
Three years later
It has been more than three years since Steve Jobs passed, and in that time, the company he founded has continued to evolve. Though they appear to have been the correct moves, many of the changes Apple has undertaken since Jobs' passing stand in sharp contrast to the ideas he expressed when he was still running the company.
Jobs was a talented executive and an iconic leader, but he certainly wasn't infallible.