The film opens in 2001 with a middle-aged Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) introducing the iPod at an Apple Town Hall meeting.
The story flashes back to Reed College in 1974. The high tuition forces Jobs to drop out, but Dean Jack Dudman (James Woods) allows him to sit in on classes. Jobs is particularly interested in a calligraphy course. Jobs meets up with his friend Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas), who is excited to see Jobs with a copy of Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass. Influenced by this book and their experiences with LSD, Jobs and Kottke spend time in India.
Two years later, Jobs is back in Los Altos, California, living with his adoptive parents Paul (John Getz) and Clara (Lesley Ann Warren). While working for Atari as a video game developer, Jobs develops a partnership with his friend Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Josh Gad). Jobs is encharged by his boss Al Alcorn (David Denman) to re-develop an arcade video game (Breakout), which he ends up having Wozniak build in his place. The job is such a success that Alcorn presents it to President Nolan Bushnell, but Jobs inequitably distributes the salary for the game development between Wozniak and himself.
Later, Jobs discovers that Wozniak has built a prototype for a “personal home computer” (the Apple I), which he expresses interest in commercialising. They name their new company Apple Computer, though there is another company called Apple Records that is owned by The Beatles (Wozniak teases Jobs that this symbolizes his preference for Bob Dylan). After a failed sale at his employer company HP, Wozniak reluctantly demonstrates the Apple I at the Homebrew Computer Club, much to the audience’s boredom. Jobs is later approached by Paul Terrell (Brad William Henke) who shows interest in the Apple I. Jobs persuades his father Paul to let them set up their new company in the family garage (which is a carpentry/tool center). Jobs also recruits Kottke, fellow engineer Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk), and young neighbour Chris Espinosa (Eddie Hassell) to the Apple team.
Terrell’s disappointment in the Apple I (in his opinion, being only a motherboard and not a full computer as promised), inspires Jobs to restart with a second model. He hires Rod Holt (Ron Eldard) to re-conceptualize the power supply for what will be called the Apple II. Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), a venture capitalist, notices Jobs and Wozniak’s work, and also joins Apple. The Apple II is released at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire where it is a remarkable success.
Apple’s success eventually causes Jobs to distance himself from his friends. Upon learning his high-school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Ahna O’Reilly) is pregnant, Jobs ends their relationship. Brennan gives birth to Lisa Brennan whom Jobs denies is his child. Kottke (now an Apple II Plus repairer) meanwhile leaves the company after acknowledging that his friend Jobs (who hardly even has any time to talk to him) is not rewarding the Apple I team with any Apple stocks (Apple is now in the stock exchange market). John Sculley (Matthew Modine) is recruited as CEO of the company. As Jobs’ behavior grows more erratic (for example firing an employee for not appreciating his investment in using fonts), Jobs is moved from the Apple Lisa development team to the Macintosh Group where he works with Bill Atkinson, Burrell Smith (Lenny Jacobson), Chris Espinosa, and Andy Hertzfeld (Elden Henson). Despite the change, his behavior does not change: he forces out Jef Raskin, the original Macintosh Group team 1 leader, and takes his place, and later ragefully phones Microsoft founder Bill Gates, legally threatening him because their Word software is, in his opinion, a plagiarism of his team’s word processor. In this period, Wozniak (part of the Apple IIe team) realizes that Jobs’s ego has distantiated the company too much from their original intentions, and leaves the company, bidding a last farewell to Jobs, mellowing him.
Though the Macintosh is introduced with great fanfare in 1984, including a high-budget television commercial, it is seen as a failure due to the disproportionately high cost (as compared to the competitor IBM’s DOS-based PCs). Jobs, convinced that the error is the limited random-access memory of the system, tries to repair by launching a new, more advanced version, but Scully forces him out of the company in 1985.
The film jumps to 1996. Jobs is married to Laurene Powell Jobs (Abby Brammell) and he has accepted Lisa (Annika Bertea) as his daughter (she now lives with them). He has a son, Reed (Paul Baretto) and is also running NeXT. When Apple buys NeXT, then-CEO Gil Amelio asks Jobs to return to Apple as a consultant. Jobs is soon named the new CEO, and ultimately fires Amelio and also his ex-friend Markkula (who refused to support him when he was forced out of Apple 11 years prior). Jobs becomes interested in the work of Jony Ive (Giles Matthey), particularly during the design of the iMac and strives to reinvent Apple. The film ends with Jobs recording the dialogue for the Think Different commercial in 1997. Before the credits, there is a photo montage of the main characters paired with film clips of the actor playing the part, plus a dedication to Steve Jobs.