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Playboy Interview: Steve Jobs (1985) – Part III

12 Oct

This is in continuation of Steve Job’s interview for Playboy n 198. Click here for Part I and Part II

Playboy: Specifically, what kind of breakthrough are you talking about?

Jobs: I can only begin to speculate. We see that a lot in our industry: You don’t know exactly what’s going to result, but you know it’s something very big and very good.

Playboy: Then for now, aren’t you asking home-computer buyers to invest $3000 in what is essentially an act of faith?

Jobs: In the future, it won’t be an act of faith. The hard part of what we’re up against now is that people ask you about specifics and you can’t tell them. A hundred years ago, if somebody had asked Alexander Graham Bell, “What are you going to be able to do with a telephone?” he wouldn’t have been able to tell him the ways the telephone would affect the world. He didn’t know that people would use the telephone to call up and find out what movies were playing that night or to order some groceries or call a relative on the other side of the globe. But remember that first the public telegraph was  inaugurated, in 1844. It was an amazing breakthrough in communications. You could actually send messages from New York to San Francisco in an afternoon. People talked about putting a telegraph on every desk in America to improve productivity. But it wouldn’t have worked. It required that people learn this whole sequence of strange incantations, Morse code, dots and dashes, to use the telegraph. It took about 40 hours to learn. The majority of people would never learn how to use it. So, fortunately, in the 1870s, Bell filed the patents for the telephone. It performed basically the same function as the telegraph, but people already knew how to use it. Also, the neatest thing about it was that besides allowing you to communicate with just words, it allowed you to sing.

Playboy: Meaning what?

Jobs: It allowed you to intone your words with meaning beyond the simple linguistics. And we’re in the same situation today. Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won’t work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are “slash q-zs” and things like that. The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel‐‑one that reads like a mystery to most people. They’re not going to learn slash q-z any more than they’re going to learn Morse code. That is what Macintosh is all about. It’s the first “telephone” of our industry. And, besides that, the neatest thing about it, to me, is that the Macintosh lets you sing the way the telephone did. You don’t simply communicate words, you have special print styles and the ability to draw and add pictures to express yourself.

Playboy: Is that really significant or is it simply a novelty? The Macintosh has been called “the world’s most expensive Etch A Sketch” by at least one critic.

Jobs: It’s as significant as the difference between the telephone and the telegraph. Imagine what you could have done if you had this sophisticated an Etch A Sketch when you were growing up. But that’s only a small part of it. Not only can it help you increase your productivity and your creativity enormously, but it also allows us to communicate more efficiently by using pictures and graphs as well as words and numbers.

Playboy: Most computers use key strokes to enter instructions, but Macintosh replaces many of them with something called a mouse‐‑a little box that is rolled around on your desk and guides a pointer on your computer screen. It’s a big change for people used to keyboards. Why the mouse?

Jobs: If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I’m not going to do it linguistically: “There’s a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.” If you have a spot‐‑”There!” [He points]‐‑I’ll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know. We’ve done a lot of studies and tests on that, and it’s much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it’s not only easier to use but more efficient.

Playboy: How long did it take to develop Macintosh?

Jobs: It was more than two years on the computer itself. We had been working on the technology behind it for years before that. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn’t be ours anymore. When we finally presented it at the shareholders’ meeting, everyone in the auditorium stood up and gave it a five-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe that we’d actually finished it. Everyone started crying.

Playboy: We were warned about you: Before this Interview began, someone said we were “about to be snowed by the best.”

Jobs: [Smiling] We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.

Playboy: But considering that enthusiasm, the multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and your own ability to get press coverage, how does the consumer know what’s behind the hype?

Jobs: Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM’s ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.

Playboy: Aside from some of the recurrent criticisms‐‑that the mouse is inefficient, that the Macintosh screen is only black and white‐‑the most serious charge is that Apple overprices its products. Do you care to answer any or all?

Jobs: We’ve done studies that prove that the mouse is faster than traditional ways of moving through data or applications. Someday we may be able to build a color screen for a reasonable price. As to overpricing, the start-up of a new product makes it more expensive than it will be later. The more we can produce, the lower the price will get.

Playboy: That’s what critics charge you with: hooking the enthusiasts with premium prices, then turning around and lowering your prices to catch the rest of the market.

Jobs: That’s simply untrue. As soon as we can lower prices, we do. It’s true that our computers are less expensive today than they were a few years ago, or even last year. But that’s also true of the IBM PC. Our goal is to get computers out to tens of millions of people, and the cheaper we can make them, the easier it’s going to be to do that. I’d love it if Macintosh cost $1000.

Playboy: How about people who bought Lisa and Apple III, the two computers you released prior to Macintosh? You’ve left them with incompatible, out-of-date products.

Jobs: If you want to try that one, add the people who bought the IBM PCs or the PCs to that list, too. As far as Lisa is concerned, since some of its technology was used in the Macintosh, it can now run Macintosh software and is being seen as a big brother to Macintosh; though it was unsuccessful at first, our sales of Lisa are going through the roof. We’re also still selling more than 2000 Apple IIIs a month‐‑more than half to repeat buyers. The over-all point is that new technology will not necessarily replace old technology, but it will date it. By definition. Eventually, it will replace it. But it’s like people who had black-and-white TVs when color came out. They eventually decided whether or not the new technology was worth the investment.

Playboy: At the rate things are changing, won’t Mac itself be out of date within a few years?

Jobs: Before Macintosh, there were two standards: Apple II and IBM PC. Those two standards are like rivers carved in the rock bed of a canyon. It’s taken years to carve them‐‑seven years to carve the Apple II and four years to carve the IBM. What we have done with Macintosh is that in less than a year, through the momentum of the revolutionary aspects of the product and through every ounce of marketing that we have as a company, we have been able to blast a third channel through that rock and make a third river, a third standard. In my opinion, there are only two companies that can do that today, Apple and IBM. Maybe that’s too bad, but to do it right now is just a monumental effort, and I don’t think that Apple or IBM will do that in the next three or four years. Toward the end of the Eighties, we may be seeing some new things.

Playboy: And in the meantime?

Jobs: The developments will be in making the products more and more portable, networking them, getting out laser printers, getting out shared data bases, getting out more communications ability, maybe the merging of the telephone and the personal computer.

Playboy: You have a lot riding on this one. Some people have said that Macintosh will make or break Apple. After Lisa and Apple III, Apple stock plummeted and the industry speculated that Apple might not survive. Jobs: Yeah, we felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that we had to pull the rabbit out of the hat with Macintosh, or else we’d never realize the dreams we had for either the products or the company.

 

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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Interview

 

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