Irreplaceable. That’s the word many use to describe Steve Jobs, the Apple founder and heralded tech luminary who died Wednesday following a protracted battle with cancer.
Yet as the tech sector remembers his legacy -- the Mac computer, the iPad, the iPod, the iPhone and more -- there's still work to be done. Computers are still hard to use. Most of us still rely on a clunky keyboard and mouse at work, even though touchscreen tablets are so prevalent.
Who will save the day now? What other bright thinker could invent a computer interface that makes us all more productive, or finally figures out how to make a smartphone battery last longer than a day? Though it's possible no one can fill Jobs' shoes, these folks might introduce us to a whole new kind of footwear. Sandals, anyone?
1. Mark Pincus
Have you played Farmville? Then you already know the work of Mark Pincus, the CEO and co-founder of a San Francisco start-up called Zynga that has made a killing with Facebook apps. According to an SEC filing, about 232 million people play Zynga games routinely. This past summer, the Wall Street Journal valued the five-year-old company at a hefty $15 billion to $20 billion. Pincus is a social marketing genius with a broad smile, bright ideas and plenty of charisma.
2. Caterina Fake
Fake has a long history of innovation -- her entrepreneurial record in Silicon Valley is legendary. She helped launch the site Flickr.com in 2004, which paved the wave for other Web 2.0 services that allow user contributions, tagging (to make images easier to find) and discussion over content. (The site was sold to Yahoo! in 2005. Her latest project, called Hunch.com, goes a step further, allowing users to share their preferences and create an on-going recommendation system for books, movies, or just about anything you can find on the Web.
3. Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg has the same golden aura and visionary outlook of Jobs. The CEO and co-founder of Facebook said during a recent Facebook tech conference that his company stands at “the intersection of technology and social issues,” so he’s prone to make grand statements. His main contribution is building what's become a second Internet of sorts, a safe and mostly secure haven for storing your digital life: photos, conversations, news and more. The company is steadily closing in on 1 billion users on the network -- all of this, and the guy is only 27.
4. Jon Rubenstein
Born a year after Steve Jobs, in 1956, Jon Rubenstein worked at Apple up until 2006. According to Rob Enderle, a consumer analyst, Rubenstein was being groomed to replace Steve Jobs. He even has the same knack for creating a “reality distortion field” at product launches. Rubenstein helped create the original iPod but eventually left Apple for Palm. His efforts to create a new smartphone interface called WebOS fell flat: the company was eventually sold to HP. Still, there’s signs he will rise to prominence from within HP as a tech executive.
5. Marissa Meyer
Named one of the 50 most powerful woman by Fortune Magazine, Marissa Meyer has a bright tech future. A vice president at Google, this well-liked visionary is also the “face” of the company: She's said to have created the basic building blocks for the Google.com and Gmail interfaces. Meyer is well-spoken, chats easily with press and has a upbeat personality.
6. Dean Kamen
The inventor of the Segway, Kamen has the bright spark of the entrepreneur about him. And he's clearly got "that vision thing": When he invents something, it takes a while for people to realize how innovative it is. The Segway is still an uncommon sight on sidewalks, but lately he has worked with science foundations for kids, invented alternative engines and founded a research institute.
7. Larry Page and Sergey Brin
The co-founders of Google have a youthful exuberance about technology and a penchant for inventing products everyone uses. Even the mission statement at Google is far-reaching: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Charles King, an IT analyst at PUND-IT, says the two founders did more than just create a search engine -- they invented (or at least popularized) the idea of using the Web for data processing and storage.
8. Tony Hseih
Here’s a name you might not know, unless you've read his best-selling book about entrepreneurship, "Delivering Happiness." In the book, the founder of Zappos.com -- a shoe retailer now owned by Amazon -- makes a case for pleasing customers by making a company all about customer service. Hseih’s greatest gift is in communicating ideas, something that served Steve Jobs well throughout his career.
9. Michael Dell
A wild card pick, Michael Dell is a successful entrepreneur and visionary who started Dell in 1984. He’s older than Zuckerberg, who was born in 1984, and his contributions in tech have more to do with enterprise computing (the servers that run in a company), IT services (helping a business run efficiently) and direct marketing to consumers. His time may finally come now that HP has pulled out of the PC business.
John Brandon is a science and technology reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @jmbrandonbb.