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Playboy Interview: Steve Jobs (1985)- Part V

12 Oct

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

Playboy: At what point did you meet Steve Wozniak?

Jobs: I met Woz when I was 13, at a friend’s garage. He was about 18. He was, like, the first person I met who knew more electronics than I did at that point. We became good friends, because we shared an interest in computers and we had a sense of humor. We pulled all kinds of pranks together.

Playboy: For instance?

Jobs: [Grins] Normal stuff. Like making a huge flag with a giant one of these on it [gives the finger]. The idea was that we would unfurl it in the middle of a school graduation. Then there was the time Wozniak made something that looked and sounded like a bomb and took it to the school cafeteria. We also went into the blue-box business together.

Playboy: Those were illegal devices that allowed free long-distance phone calls, weren’t they?

Jobs: Mm-hm. The famous story about the boxes is when Woz called the Vatican and told them he was Henry Kissinger. They had someone going to wake the Pope up in the middle of the night before they figured out it wasn’t really Kissinger.

Playboy: Did you get into trouble for any of those things?

Jobs: Well, I was thrown out of school a few times.

Playboy: Were you then, or have you ever been, a computer nerd?

Jobs: I wasn’t completely in any one world for too long. There was so much else going on. Between my sophomore and junior years, I got stoned for the first time; I discovered Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and all that classic stuff. I read Moby Dick and went back as a junior taking creative-writing classes. By the time I was a senior, I’d gotten permission to spend about half my time at Stanford, taking classes.

Playboy: Was Wozniak obsessed at certain periods?

Jobs: [Laughs] Yes, but not just with computers. I think Woz was in a world that nobody understood. No one shared his interests, and he was a little ahead of his time. It was very lonely for him. He’s driven from inner sights rather than external expectations of him, so he survived OK. Woz and I are different in most ways, but there are some ways in which we’re the same, and we’re very close in those ways. We’re sort of like two planets in their own orbits that every so often intersect. It wasn’t just computers, either. Woz and I very much liked Bob Dylan’s poetry, and we spent a lot of time thinking about a lot of that stuff. This was California. You could get LSD fresh made from Stanford. You could sleep on the beach at night with your girlfriend. California has a sense of experimentation and a sense of openness‐‑openness to new possibilities. Besides Dylan, I was interested in Eastern mysticism, which hit the shores at about the same time. When I went to college at Reed, in Oregon, there was a constant flow of people stopping by, from Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert to Gary Snyder. There was a constant flow of intellectual questioning about the truth of life. That was a time when every college student in this country read Be Here Now and Diet for a Small Planet‐‑there were about ten books. You’d be hard pressed to find those books on too many college campuses today. I’m not saying it’s better or worse; it’s just different‐‑very different. In Search of Excellence [the book about business practices] has taken the place of Be Here Now.

Playboy: In retrospect, how did that influence what you’re doing now?

Jobs: The whole period had a huge influence. As it was clear that the Sixties were over, it was also clear that a lot of the people who had gone through the Sixties ended up not really accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, and because they had thrown their discipline to the wind, they didn’t have much to fall back on. Many of my friends have ended up ingrained with the idealism of that period but also with a certain  practicality, a cautiousness about ending up working behind the counter in a natural‐‑food store when they are 45, which is what they saw happen to some of their older friends. It’s not that that is bad in and of itself, but it’s bad if that’s not what you really wanted to do.

Playboy: After Reed, you returned to Silicon Valley and answered a now-famous ad that boasted, “Have fun and make money.”

Jobs: Right. I decided I wanted to travel, but I was lacking the necessary funds. I came back down to get a job. I was looking in the paper and there was this ad that said, yes, “Have fun and make money.” I called. It was Atari. I had never had a job before other than the one when I was a kid. By some stroke of luck, they called me up the next day and hired me.

Playboy: That must have been at Atari’s earliest stage.

Jobs: I was, like, employee number 40. It was a very small company. They had made Pong and two other games. My first job was helping a guy named Don work on a basketball game, which was a disaster. There was this basketball game, and somebody was working on a hockey game. They were trying to model all their games after simple field sports at that time, because Pong was such a success.

Playboy: You never lost sight of the reason for the job: to earn money so you could travel.

Jobs: Atari had shipped a bunch of games to Europe and they had some engineering defects in them, and I figured out how to fix them, but it was necessary for somebody to go over there and actually do the fixing. I volunteered to go and asked to take a leave of absence when I was there. They let me do it. I ended up in Switzerland and moved from Zurich to New Delhi. I spent some time in India.

Playboy: Where you shaved your head.

Jobs: That’s not quite the way it happened. I was walking around in the Himalayas and I stumbled onto this thing that turned out to be a religious festival. There was a baba, a holy man, who was the holy man of this particular festival, with his large group of followers. I could smell good food. I hadn’t been fortunate enough to smell good food for a long time, so I wandered up to pay my respects and eat some lunch. For some reason, this baba, upon seeing me sitting there eating, immediately walked over to me and sat down and burst out laughing. He didn’t speak much English and I spoke a little Hindi, but he tried to carry on a conversation and he was just rolling on the ground with laughter. Then he grabbed my arm and took me up this mountain trail. It was a little funny, because here were hundreds of Indians who had traveled for thousands of miles to hang out with this guy for ten seconds and I stumble in for something to eat and he’s dragging me up this mountain path. We get to the top of this mountain half an hour later and there’s this little well and pond at the top of this mountain, and he dunks my head in the water and pulls out a razor from his pocket and starts to shave my head. I’m completely stunned. I’m 19 years old, in a foreign country, up in the Himalayas, and here is this bizarre Indian baba who has just dragged me away from the rest of the crowd, shaving my head atop this mountain peak. I’m still not sure why he did it.

Playboy: What did you do when you came back?

Jobs: Coming back was more of a culture shock than going. Well, Atari called me up and wanted me to go back to work there. I didn’t really want to, but eventually they persuaded me to go back as a consultant. Wozniak and I were hanging out. He took me to some Homebrew Computer Club meetings, where computer hobbyists compared notes and stuff. I didn’t find them all that exciting, but some of them were fun. Wozniak went religiously.

Playboy: What was the thinking about computers then? Why were you interested?

Jobs: The clubs were based around a computer kit called the Altair. It was so amazing to all of us that somebody had actually come up with a way to build a computer you could own yourself. That had never been possible. Remember, when we were in high school, neither of us had access to a computer mainframe. We had to drive somewhere and have some large company take a benevolent attitude toward us and let us use the computer. But now, for the first time, you could actually buy a computer. The Altair was a kit that came out around 1975 and sold for less than $400. Even though it was relatively inexpensive, not everyone could afford one. That’s how the computer clubs started. People would band together and eventually become a club.

Playboy: What would you do with your makeshift computers?

Jobs: At that time, there were no graphics. It was all alphanumerics, and I used to be fascinated with the programming, simple programming. On the very early versions of computer kits, you didn’t even type; you threw switches that signaled characters.

Playboy: The Altair, then, presented the concept of a home computer.

Jobs: It was just sort of a computer that you could own. They really didn’t know what to do with it. The first thing that they did was to put languages on it, so you could write some programs. People didn’t start to apply them for practical things until a year or two later, and then it was simple things, like bookkeeping.

Playboy: And you decided you could do the Altair one better. Jobs: It sort of just happened. I was working a lot at Atari at night and I used to let Woz in. Atari put out a game called Gran Track, the first driving game with a steering wheel to drive it. Woz was a Gran Track addict. He would put great quantities of quarters into these games to play them, so I would just let him in at night and let him onto the production floor and he would play Gran Track all night long. When I came up against a stumbling block on a project, I would get Woz to take a break from his road rally for ten minutes and come and help me. He puttered around on some things, too. And at one point, he designed a computer terminal with video on it. At a later date, he ended up buying a microprocessor and hooking it up to the terminal and made what was to become the Apple I. Woz and I laid out the circuit board ourselves. That was basically it. P

Playboy: Again, the idea was just to do it?

Jobs: Yeah, sure. And to be able to show it off to your friends.

Playboy: What triggered the next step‐‑manufacturing and selling them to make money?

Jobs: Woz and I raised $1300 by selling my VW bus and his Hewlett-Packard calculator to finance them. A guy who started one of the first computer stores told us he could sell them if we could make them. It had not dawned on us until then.

Playboy: How did you and Wozniak work together?

Jobs: He designed most of it. I helped on the memory part and I helped when we decided to turn it into a product. Woz isn’t great at turning things into products, but he’s really a brilliant designer.

Playboy: The Apple I was for hobbyists?

Jobs: Completely. We sold only about 150 of them, ever. It wasn’t that big a deal, but we made about $95,000 and I started to see it as a business besides something to do. Apple I was just a printed circuit board. There was no case, there was no power supply; it wasn’t much of a product yet. It was just a printed circuit board. You had to go out and buy transformers for it. You had to buy your own keyboard [laughs].

Playboy: Did you and Wozniak have a vision once things started rolling? Were you both thinking about how big it could get and how computers would be able to change the world?

Jobs: No, not particularly. Neither of us had any idea that this would go anywhere. Woz is motivated by figuring things out. He concentrated more on the engineering and proceeded to do one of his most brilliant pieces of work, which was the disk drive, another key engineering feat that made the Apple II a possibility. I was trying to build the company‐‑trying to find out what a company was. I don’t think it would have happened without Woz and I don’t think it would have happened without me.

Playboy: What happened to the partnership as time went on?

Jobs: The main thing was that Woz was never really interested in Apple as a company. He was just sort of interested in getting the Apple II on a printed circuit board so he could have one and be able to carry it to his computer club without having the wires break on the way. He had done that and decided to go on to other things. He had other ideas.

Playboy: Such as the US Festival rock concert and computer show, where he lost something like $10,000,000.

Jobs: Well, I thought the US Festival was a little crazy, but Woz believed very strongly in it.

Playboy: How is it between the two of you now?

Jobs: When you work with somebody that close and you go through experiences like the ones we went through, there’s a bond in life. Whatever hassles you have, there is a bond. And even though he may not be your best friend as time goes on, there’s still something that transcends even friendship, in a way. Woz is living his own life now. He hasn’t been around Apple for about five years. But what he did will go down in history. He’s going around speaking to a lot of computer events now. He likes that.

Playboy: The two of you went on to create the Apple II, which actually started the computer revolution. How did that occur?

Jobs: It wasn’t just us. We brought in other people. Wozniak still did the logic of the Apple II, which certainly is a large part of it, but there were some other key parts. The power supply was really a key. The case was really a key. The real jump with the Apple II was that it was a finished product. It was the first computer that you could buy that wasn’t a kit. It was fully assembled and had its own case and its own keyboard, and you  could really sit down and start to use it. And that was the breakthrough of the Apple II: that it looked like a real product. Playboy: Was the initial market hobbyists? Jobs: The difference was that you didn’t have to be a hardware hobbyist with the Apple II. You could be a software hobbyist. That was one of the key breakthroughs with the Apple II: realizing that there were a whole lot more people who wanted to play with a computer, just like Woz and me, than there were people who could build their own. That’s what the Apple II was all about. Still, the first year, we sold only 3000 or 4000.

Playboy: Even that sounds like a lot for a few guys who barely knew what they were doing.

Jobs: It was giant! We did about $200,000 when our business was in the garage, in 1976. In 1977, about $7,000,000 in business. I mean, it was phenomenal! And in 1978, we did $17,000,000. In 1979, we did $47,000,000. That’s when we all really sensed that this was just going through the rafters. In 1980, we did $117,000,000. In 1981, we did $335,000,000. In 1982, we did $583,000,000. In 1983, we did $985,000,000, I think. This year, it will be a billion and a half.

Playboy: You don’t forget those numbers.

Jobs: Well, they’re just yardsticks, you know. The neatest thing was, by 1979, I was able to walk into classrooms that had 15 Apple computers and see the kids using them. And those are the kinds of things that are really the milestones.

Playboy: Which brings us full circle to your latest milestones, the Mac and your protracted shoot-out with IBM. In this Interview, you’ve repeatedly sounded as if there really are only two of you left in the field. But although the two of you account for something like 60 percent of the market, can you just write off the other 40 percent‐‑ the Radio Shacks, DECs, Epsons, et al.‐‑as insignificant? More important, are you ignoring your potentially biggest rival, A.T.&T.?

Jobs: A.T.&T.. is absolutely going to be in the business. There is a major transformation in the company that’s taking place right now. A.T.&T. is changing from a subsidized and regulated service-oriented company to a free-market, competitive-marketing technology company. A.T.&T.’s products per se have never been of the highest quality. All you have to do is go look at their telephones. They’re somewhat of an embarrassment. But they do possess great technology in their research labs. Their challenge is to learn how  to commercialize that technology. Also, they have to learn about consumer marketing. I think that they will do both of those things, but it’s going to take them years.

Playboy: Are you writing them off as a threat?

Jobs: I don’t think they’re going to be a giant factor in the next 24 months, but they will learn.

Playboy: What about Radio Shack?

Jobs: Radio Shack is totally out of the picture. They have missed the boat. Radio Shack tried to squeeze the computer into their model of retailing, which in my opinion often meant selling second-rate products or low-end products in a surplus-store environment. The sophistication of the computer buyer passed Radio Shack by without their really realizing it. Their market shares dropped through the floor. I don’t anticipate that they’re going to recover and again become a major player.

Playboy: How about Xerox? Texas Instruments? DEC? Wang?

Jobs: Xerox is out of the business. T.I. is doing nowhere near their expectations. As to some of the others, the large companies, like DEC and Wang, can sell to their installed bases. They can sell personal computers as advanced terminals, but that business is going to dwindle.

Playboy: How about the low-priced computers: Commodore and Atari? Jobs: I consider those a brochure for why you should buy an Apple II or Macintosh. I think people have already determined that the sub-$500 computers don’t do very much. They either tease people to want more or frustrate people completely.

Playboy: What about some of the smaller portables?

Jobs: They are OK if you’re a reporter and trying to take notes on the run. But for the average person, they’re really not that useful, and there’s not all that software for them, either. By the time you get your software done, a new one comes out with a slightly bigger display and your software is obsolete. So nobody is writing any software for them. Wait till we do it‐‑the power of a Macintosh in something the size of a book!

Playboy: What about Epson and some of the Japanese computer makers?

Jobs: I’ve said it before: The Japanese have hit the shores like dead fish. They’re just like dead fish washing up on the shores. The Epson has been a failure in this market place.

Playboy: Like computers, the automobile industry was an American industry that we almost lost to the Japanese. There is a lot of talk about American semiconductor companies’ losing ground to Japanese. How will you keep the edge?

Jobs: Japan’s very interesting. Some people think it copies things. I don’t think that anymore. I think what they do is reinvent things. They will get something that’s already been invented and study it until they thoroughly understand it. In some cases, they understand it better than the original inventor. Out of that understanding, they will reinvent it in a more refined second-generation version. That strategy works only when what they’re working with isn’t changing very much‐‑the stereo industry and the automobile industry are two examples. When the target is moving quickly, they find it very difficult, because that reinvention cycle takes a few years. As long as the definition of what a personal computer is keeps changing at the rate that it is, they will have a very hard time. Once the rate of change slows down, the Japanese will bring all of their strengths to bear on this market, because they absolutely want to dominate the computer business; there’s no question about that. They see that as a national priority. We think that in four to five years, the Japanese will finally figure out how to build a decent computer. And if we’re going to keep this industry one in which America leads, we have four years to become world-class manufacturers. Our manufacturing technology has to equal or surpass that of the Japanese.

Playboy: How do you plan to accomplish that?

Jobs: At the time we designed Macintosh, we also designed a machine to build the machine. We spent $20,000,000 building the computer industry’s most automated factory. But that’s not enough. Rather than take seven years to write off our factory, as most companies would do, we’re writing it off in two. We will throw it away at the end of 1985 and build our second one, and we will write that off in two years and throw that away, so that three years from now, we’ll be on to our third automated factory. That’s the only way we can learn fast enough.

Playboy: It’s not all competition with the Japanese: You buy your disk drives from Sony, for instance.

Jobs: We buy many of our components from the Japanese. We’re the largest user in the world of microprocessors, of high-technology RAM chips, of disk drives, of  keyboards. We save a ton of energy not having to make and design floppy-disk drives or microprocessors that we can spend on software.

Playboy: Let’s talk about software. What are the revolutionary changes in software development as you’ve seen it in the past few years?

Jobs: Certainly, the earlier programming, getting a programming language on a microprocessor chip, was a real breakthrough. VisiCalc was a breakthrough, because that was the first real use of computers in business, where business people could see tangible benefits of using one. Before that, you had to program your own applications, and the number of people who want to program is a small fraction‐‑one percent. Coupled with VisiCalc, the ability to graph things, graph information, was important, and so was Lotus.

Playboy: We’re dropping a lot of brand names with which people may not be familiar. Please explain them.

Jobs: What Lotus did was combine a good spread sheet and graphics program. The word-processing and data-base parts of Lotus are certainly not the most robust that one can purchase. The real key to Lotus was that it combined spread sheet and graphics in one program, so you could go between them very rapidly. The next breakthrough is happening now, thanks to the Macintosh, which brought that Lisa technology down to an affordable price. There exists, and there will be more, revolutionary software there. You generally want to truly evaluate a breakthrough a few years after it happens.

Playboy: What about word processing? You didn’t mention that on the list of breakthroughs.

Jobs: You’re right, I should have listed word processing after VisiCalc. Word processing is the most universally needed application and one of the easiest to understand. It’s probably the first use to which most people put their personal computer. There were word processors before personal computers, but a word processor on a personal computer was more of an economic breakthrough, while there was never any form of VisiCalc before the personal computer.

Playboy: Have there been breakthroughs in educational software?

Jobs: There has been a lot of very good software in education but not the breakthrough product, not the VisiCalc. I think that will come, but I don’t expect it in the next 24 months.

Playboy: You’ve stressed the fact that education is a high priority for you. How do you think computers are affecting it?

Jobs: Computers themselves, and software yet to be developed, will revolutionize the way we learn. We formed something called the Apple Education Foundation, and we give several million dollars in cash and equipment to people doing exploratory work with educational software and to schools that can’t afford computers. We also wanted Macintosh to become the computer of choice in colleges, just as the Apple II is for grade and high schools. So we looked for six universities that were out to make large-scale commitments to personal computers‐‑-by large, meaning more than 1000 apiece‐‑and instead of six, we found 24. We asked the colleges if they would invest at least $2,000,000 each to be part of the Macintosh program. All 24‐‑iincluding the entire Ivy League‐‑did. So in less than a year, Macintosh has become the standard in college computing. I could ship every Macintosh we make this year just to those 24 colleges. We can’t, of course, but the demand is there.

Playboy: But the software isn’t there, is it?

Jobs: Some of it’s there. What’s not there, the people at colleges are going to write themselves. IBM tried to stop us‐‑I hear it formed a 400-person task force to do it‐‑by giving away IBM PCs. But the colleges were fairly astute. They realized the software investment they were about to embark upon would far outweigh the hardware investment, and they didn’t want to spend all that software money on old technology like IBM’s. So in many cases, they turned down IBM’s offers and went with Macintoshes. In some cases, they used IBM grant money to buy Macintoshes.

Playboy: Will you name some colleges?

Jobs: Can’t. I’d get them in trouble.

 

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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Interview

 

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