Live From Pulse 2012: Turbo Interviews Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak On Life, Loss, & Android v. iOS
There’s a lot of cool things about my job. But today had to have been one of the cooler opportunities I’ve had, and that was to sit down for a few minutes and chat with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
So many of us of my generation, and those that came after, owe a debt of gratitude to Steve and Steve and the revolution they helped create in computing. What they unleashed upon the world was nothing short of amazing, and it’s easy to take the technologies they and their company created and let it get lost in the fog of history. But I still remember the first Apple II I ever saw, on the campus of my home university. And I can still remember the first time I used an Apple Computer (a Macintosh SE) in 1987 for doing productive work. It was a thing of beauty.
And yet here we are, 25 years later, and I’m writing this blog post introduction on probably my favorite computing device of all time, an 11″ MacBook Air. That’s over a quarter century of innovation! So, after a brilliant keynote discussion between IBM’s Grady Booch and Steve Wozniak on the main stage here at Pulse 2012, I decided I had to take my allotted seven minutes before Woz fled for the airport, and really make them count with the questions I wanted to hear the answers to most. Nothing like the clock of a gun to your head to make the seconds count.
All this, on the very same day that Apple was out in California introducing the new iPad HD…Which is precisely where we started with on my first question for Woz:
Turbo: What in the world are you doing at an IBM event the very same day that Apple is introducing the iPad HD?
Woz: Everyday of my life is full of conflicts. It’s the problem with being popular, and they always want me to come and speak at all these different places. If you saw my calendar, you would die.
Turbo: I can only imagine.
Woz: I don’t know how I keep up with it.
Turbo: So I’m curious when you began this adventure long ago starting Apple, you and Steve, if you had any inkling as to the potential change you were about to unleash on the world.
Woz: We were just gonna try and start a little company just like anybody might, and we didn’t even think we’d make a profit. But we justified it as having a company having two best friends who had done so many things together. And then we thought well maybe we’ll have a company with this Apple II product, and we’ll make a million dollars or something. Well, our investor came in and said this is going to be one of those rare times when a product that’s gonna make a billion dollar company in five years.
I mean, he talked those big numbers, and I just assumed, well, you learn to talk those bigger numbers. But he really knew what he was talking about. And, it’s such an important part of our life…our total life is involved in our computers. Especially our mobile devices today…could we have envisioned that? No! We weren’t even talking about how a computer could have enough memory even for a song! So, where they (computers) went in the world was much greater than we ever thought, but we wanted to have a stake in it and we did.
Turbo: So my friend Noah wanted me to ask you what kind of wood did you use in the Apple I, do you remember?
Woz: No, because I didn’t build the case myself. My friend Randy Binghamton..his father or his brother built the case…but I am gonna say it was mahogany.
Turbo: Mahogany, okay. So flashing forward a bit, what are your thoughts on all these consumer-centric devices making their way into the enterprise? I use my iPad now inside IBM, for example, so Apple’s “disruption” seems to continue on and on.
Woz: Apple is…the technology is there for everyone to do it. But Apple sort of sets the direction so strongly with so many faithful followers because of one good product after another good product after another, that when Apple takes a direction, all of a sudden, all the other companies in the world are gonna go in that mode. And that lets a lot of things happen in our life that wouldn’t if all the companies were struggling to find a formula that would be popular enough. So Apple’s more of a standard setter. Moving to mobile technology coming into the workplace, it’s sooo much a part of our life. It’s like you get used to a certain kind of clothes, you kinda got wear those kinda clothes to work. It’s almost that ingrained.
Turbo: In Helene Armitage’s keynote this morning, that was one of the things she mentioned, that consumer devices are driving the way data centers are going to be.
Woz: Look at personal computers. All of a sudden, when the spreadsheet came out, you went into all these companies that had big huge mainframes and it took them forever to write programs and put them in punchcards into a window, and printouts would come back a day later, and all of a sudden someone had a little computer on their desk and could whip out answers very quickly and instantly, and it was like all of a sudden a little computer could do something a big one couldn’t: The spreadsheet.
And that’s sort of what these mobile devices have got. They’ve really given us a lot of abilities that didn’t make sense in a real computer. Even in my personal life, I still have a lot of apps on my iPhone that let me do things wherever I am. They’re important apps. They could be written on a computer, but they wouldn’t make sense, because when I’m by a computer, these aren’t when I need them. So that’s why the mobile explosion has changed our lives so much, and yet they’ve changed it in ways that we just expect everything in the world to work that way.
Now I finally have a computer in my pocket instead of a phone in my pocket!
Turbo: Speaking of which, you’ve talked about how you’re testing out Android. I’m doing the same thing, by the way. I had an iPhone 4 for a long time, and still do. IOS versus Android: Is it going to be a horse race? Is there a stalking horse we don’t even yet know about being built by some kid in a garage out there somewhere?
Woz: You can even go back and look at Macintosh versus Windows. And there wasn’t one way you could say one did something the other couldn’t do. Maybe certain pieces of software got written due to market share. One thing I’ve learned is you can’t go and say is “Oh my gosh, one platform is superior and the other is bad, and anyone that uses it isn’t very smart.” You can’t say that. They’ve both very good platforms. The guy that brought Android to Google, Andy Rubin, was a very good friend of mine. I served on his board at Danger, where they developed the Sidekick, which was like a smartphone before this era.
Turbo: I remember.
Woz: His thinking is so Apple-like! So much…like Apple DNA and Apple products, and that kind of thinking about human approaches to things that are really trust…in other words, they aren’t in the place that Microsoft was, which was trying to avoid the step toward humanism.
Turbo: You said in your keynote you want “answer engines” not “search engines.” I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.
Woz: It turns out that once I had certain abilities on my phone..of course, you’ve always got Google on your phone. You can Google it…you can even speak to it…but I want to just speak in a question and get answers. All day long, my wife and I…like, I think most educated people, that’s how they run their families….An idea comes up…what color is such and such…how high is Mount Everest…You used to look it up in an encyclopedia…now you look it up online with a search, that gets you a link to a site, that tells you the answer.
But I have so many questions that I just want the answer. “What are the five largest lakes in California?” I don’t want links to articles about lakes in California that don’t even have a list. I want my answer! So this is where something like Siri represents answer engines, and to some extent when you use Wolfram Alpha, and Google is more like search engines. So it’s almost like Apple is superior over Google. Except look at Google’s search engine. If I type in “What is Apple” in Spanish, it comes back with a whole bunch of links, but at the top, it gives you the answer: “Manzana” in Spanish. So, actually, Google is partly an answer engine.
Turbo: Okay, one last question, and this is kind of a bittersweet one. You said in the keynote you miss Steve, and I think a lot of us miss him, even those of us who didn’t know him personally but miss him through his communications. I was just wondering what do you miss most about him, and also, how much do you think the world lost by having had him be taken so soon?
Woz: I very much worry about the future of the great products that Steve was in control of and caused to happen. That if we stopped to innovate as much, that would be a bad thing in life. But I have personal things that I miss…just car rides that we took driving him up to college and things like that…and talks we did…and little pranks that we’d work on night after night…and little extreme things and almost being afraid we were going to get caught by the cops for things…those kind of personal stories…you know you’re going to lose every friend you have, too….everyone’s going to die.
Blogger’s Note: A very special thank you to Chris Drury and Mark Felix with the Drury Entertainment Group team. They make the magic happen at IBM events, and they always make the magic appear to make these kinds of interviews possible, even under the most challenging and pressing of circumstances. Thank you, as always.