The results are in: Some 35% of readers voted the death of Steve Jobs as the biggest technology story of 2011. In second place was political hacking, with almost 23% of the vote.

A couple of days before the introduction of what we now know as the iPad, I read a vigorous online debate in which a blogger and dozens of readers were trying to guess the name of the product. Although Apple didn't announce in advance of its January 27, 2010 presentation that it would be introducing the iPad (hard to believe it was barely just two years ago), it was common knowledge that Apple would be presenting its tablet computer – and the debate on the blog surrounded what this device would be called.

Knowing Apple's penchant for snappy, easy to remember names – as well as its affinity for the “i” prefix in terms (iPad, iMac, etc.), numerous readers made educated guesses as to what Apple would call the product – iTablet, iDevice, iReader. But not one guessed “iPad” - which, of course, is the one that makes the most sense. Interestingly, this debate seemed to be taking place on many blogs, I discovered later – and in the follow ups that I read, not one reader claimed to have come up with the name “iPad.”

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You know someone is a marketing genius when you see a product they designed, hear the name they chose, and say “of course!” Considering how clunky and geeky computer products can be, have always been, and are supposed to be, it takes a marketing genius to look beyond what is, and foresee what can be. What should be. And to the victor belongs the spoils; when that marketing genius starts selling the products that make so much sense, its a sure thing that people are going to flock to those products, making their marketer – and the company that markets them – rich.

That's why the loss of Steve Jobs – the man, the marketer, the Apple leader – is, by far, the top tech story of 2011. Anybody can invent a music player, and anybody can try to sell them. Jobs did neither; he did not invent music players, and he did not try to sell them. What he invented and sold was a music ecology, an easy to understand, easy to use, and easy to listen to infrastructure, doing the “heavy lifting” of searching, buying, and updating for busy consumers who just want to listen to music in peace. That's genius, being able to envision something as old as time itself in a new light.

And here's the kicker; he called the music manager “iTunes,” and the device to play the music on the “iPod.” Get it? “I,” as in “me, mine, chilling out the way I like,” together with “tunes” - and played on a little device that looks like a “pod.” Two syllables – emphasis on the “i” - and you've got not a product or a piece of software, but a concept, an infrastructure, a guaranteed winner. Ditto for the iPhone, iPad, and any other “i's” Jobs managed to put into the pipeline before his death. All of them are based not on the product, but on a concept – and those concepts have changed the world of computing beyond anything any of us could have envisioned. Except for Steve Jobs, of course, who knew all along just where he was taking us.

As I was preparing this story, I did a little Googling to see what others are saying about Jobs's legacy at the end of this fateful year – and I found some surprising stuff. For example, a page discussing Jobs's impact on the auto industry (Smartphones slowly but surely turning dedicated GPS devices into outmoded relics, dedicated iPod connections on car radios replacing CD players); the sports industry (the iPhone as a device to take video at games, making fantasy sports, statistics, etc. more accessible to fans); the media (iPads reviving the fortunes of news sites, streaming Internet radio anywhere and anytime); and others. Those are the fruits of the revolution that Jobs begot.

As are the explosion of tablets from Samsung and Amazon, the entire Android phone business, and Amazon's cloud. And let's not forget Microsoft Windows, inspired, at the very least, by the Macintosh operating system. It's certainly possible that any or all of these innovations would have come about without Apple showing the way – but it's unlikely. Microsoft was quite satisfied with MS-DOS for the longest time, and five years ago the phone everyone was trying to emulate (or duplicate) was the Blackberry.

Of course, critics will dismiss some, or even most, of this paean to Jobs: Apple ripped off the Mac OS from Xerox, Jobs's dictatorial personality shows itself in the “walled Apple garden” that demands tight control of the software you can install on iPhones and iPads, the iPad is just “a big iPhone,” Jobs just took existing products and “touched them up,” never actually inventing anything new – etc. That's OK – its the critics' job to criticize. But even they have to admit it: When they hear a cellphone ringing with that distinct iPhone ringtone (called “Marimba”); when they see a sleek laptop with the Apple logo lit up on its cover; when they see a jogger with those white earbuds attached to an iPod; or when they're sitting on a plane next to someone watching a movie on their iPad – they take a second look.

Nobody takes a second look at a Samsung Galaxy Tab, or an HTC cellphone, or a Coby MP3 player. No offense to any of these fine companies – but they're not “i” products, and they don't have the Jobs touch. That touch is what we lost with Jobs, and it's going to be very difficult – if not impossible - to replace.

That could be why Apple is planning to open an R&D center in Israel. Israeli hi-tech has come up with so many genius ideas, Apple figures that it's about time they got in on the action. Because ultimately, all of its competitors have a significant presence in Israel. Microsoft and Google have been here for years, and Amazon's Kindle was basically invented here in Israel (at Oracle, formerly Sun, in Herzliya). Why did Apple wait until now?

Because until now Apple had all the genius it needed. That genius is Jobs's legacy, and now that it's gone, innovation just won't be the same.

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