I get that, and agree on a certain level.
However, look at Apple without him, and look at Apple with him.
I don't think you get what I'm saying then. I said that I think he's the greatest CEO of our generation, but that doesn't make him a great inventor. He was a decent inventor, with real inventions to his name.
But his inventions are tiny details and no the entire devices he is reported to have invented. Things like how a particular user interface should be are his kind of innovation, but he simply did not invent any of the devices categories that he's famous for. Many of us geeks were using those devices years before Apple made them good enough to go mainstream.
I happen to think that the polish is harder than the invention, but people like to reduce all that effort to some magical genius.
Credit him too much? I don't believe so. There would not have been hundreds of thousands of engineers laboring on a vision without the vision.
Yes there would be. It would just be less polished than Apple's standards. None of the big picture visions were his or Apple's. Other people dreamed of them and were working on them, he simply dreamed up more polished versions of them and thusly had greater market impact with the same fundamental ideas that others were trying.
His legacy doesn't need the kind of overstatement that pretends without him we wouldn't have things like computers and smartphones, we'd just have less well designed computers and smartphones and they would have less mainstream impact as a result.
The difference that Steve makes is that maybe our grandmothers woudn't be listening to digital music and using tablets, relegating the vision to the geeks like me who were playing with these visions long before they were ready for mainstream (the iPhone was something like my 5th smartphone, the iPod was not my first digital music player and so on).
We'd have all the same things, they just wouldn't work as well. And that alone is legacy enough. If they didn't work as well they wouldn't have gone mainstream.
Bill Gates had the tablet vision long before Steve Jobs did and had engineers working on it a decade ago. Unfortunately Bill Gates lacks any understanding of design and usability and was never able to make the vision usable. Steve knew how to recognize when technology was ready for a vision and how to make it useful enough to change the world. That is much more real credit than pretending like he invented things, which is much easier in comparison (for every technology that wows there were dozens of people who thought of it first, but didn't execute it).
Invention is a serendipitous accident, perfectionism is hard work. In my opinion crediting him with innovation is to give him short shrift. What he actually did was harder, if less glamorous-sounding.