“We didn’t do three years of research and come up with this concept. What we did was follow our own instincts and construct a computer – that was what we wanted.” Steve Jobs on the early years at Apple.
“Woz was the first person I met who knew more about electronics than I did.” Steve Jobs about Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
On March 5, 1975, a small group of techies, anti-establishment revolutionaries, engineering whiz kids, computer aficionados and hobbyists got together for the first time in a small garage in Menlo Park, California. The group was to become known as the Homebrew Computer Club. Two months earlier, January 1975, Popular Electronics magazine had featured the Altair 8800 on its front cover with the intriguing text “World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models” . The machine had been built by Ed Roberts and was sold for $379. Although the Altair did not come with any program, had no keyboard and no screen – it could do little more then blink its lights on the front – the members of the Homebrew group immediately recognized it for what it was – a true computer – and they all were keen to lay their hands on one, or even better: to build their own. One year later the Apple I had been born and was available to the public for just a few hundred dollars. The personal computer revolution had started.
Steven Paul Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco. His biological parents, two young students, decided to give him up for adoption and he was raised by his adoptive parents, Paul and Clara Jobs of Mountain View, California, where he also attended school. Because Steve was unhappy there, his parents moved to Los Altos in California where Steve attended Homestead High School.
Education and early career
During his high school years Jobs attended after-school lectures in electronics at the Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto, California. This emboldened him to approach William Hewlett, the co-founder of HP, and simply ask for some spare electronic parts which he needed for a high school project. Hewlett-Packard rewarded the bright youngster and offered him summer holidays’ employment. Here he met the young electronics engineer Steve Wozniak in 1971. Wozniak – who was called “Woz” or “The Woz” by everyone – was 5 years older than the 16-year old Jobs. Both Steves enjoyed the same type of humour and both loved to play pranks on other people.
In 1972, Jobs graduated from high school and started his studies in Physics and Literature at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He soon lost interest and after just one semester he dropped out. However, he was allowed to stay in its residency. This enabled him to attend classes on only those subjects he found interesting, such as philosophy and calligraphy. This last subject caused Jobs to later remark “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportional spacing.”
In 1974, Jobs returned to California and got a part-time job as technician at Atari, a company which produced games for the video arcade market. His purpose was to save sufficient money to make a spiritual trip to India. A few months later he had saved enough and left for India together with a college friend. When he became ill with dysentery, he had to return to the United States. By that time he had become shaven-headed, wore sandals and had become a Buddhist. His strict vegetarianism, which he had embraced during his freshman year at Reed College, was reinforced by his Zen Buddhism – he often lived for days on just carrots and apples or vegetables and water, interspersed with fasts to clean his digestive system. Upon his return he rejoined his old employer, Atari, where he was given the job of developing a circuit board for the game Breakout. Atari offered him $100 for every chip he managed to eliminate from the machine. Since Jobs didn’t know too much about circuit board design, he linked up again with his old friend, the Woz, who still was employed by HP, and they agreed to split the bonus if Woz was prepared to help him out. Amazingly, Wozniak managed to reduce the number of chips by 50. Jobs gave his friend $350 after telling him Atari had paid him a bonus of only $700. The remainder of the payment he kept himself. Another product of their early cooperation was the telephone “blue box”, an illegal device that allowed them to make free long-distance calls and which Jobs managed to sell to a few customers.
The start of Apple Computers
At the Homebrew Computer Club, both Steves looked and listened with interest to the discussions. When the first Altair was shown, Jobs considered how to get a computer built and sell it to the public as he saw the growing market interest, while Wozniak’s interest was purely in the electronics of the new machine. Woz realized that he had already built something similar. He had shown his first attempt of a micro computer to his seniors at Hewlett-Packard, but his machine was rejected since they did not consider it an appropriate product for HP. When the Woz told Jobs that he could built a computer like that, Jobs encouraged him to build a working model, so he could start selling them. Wozniak later recalled how on June 29, 1975, for the first time he typed a character on a keyboard and it showed up on a screen. “Every computer before the Apple I had that front panel of switches and lights. Every computer since has had a keyboard and a screen.” Wozniak had written the BASIC programming language for his machine. When he showed the result at Homebrew, the crowd was impressed. Jobs had come up with a name for the new computer: Apple. He preferred a name that appeared before Atari in the telephone book. Jobs immediately saw the interest it generated and tried to convince his friend to join him and start a company, building Apple computers. The first Apple was fairly rudimentary: it had no casing, no keyboard, and no power supply. One had to connect the basic machine to both keyboard and a screen, as well as a transformer, but the true hobbyist did not mind that – now he could at least put his hands on a real computer. Wozniak was reluctant to give up his secure job at HP, but he relented and agreed to start the Apple Computer company with Jobs, while he continued his job at HP. The two pranksters decided on April 1, 1976, as the starting day for their new company. Its logo was based on the company name and the word “byte”. In order to pay for the necessary materials to enable them to build their Apples, Jobs sold his Volkswagen Microbus and Wozniak sold his two HP calculators, resulting in a starting capital of $1,300 for the new company. Jobs then approached a local electronics retailer, the Byte Shop, to try and sell the Apple to a wider public then just the Homebrew crowd. The Byte Shop placed an order for 50 computers – they were in business because with the order they could get the necessary credit from their suppliers. 29 Days later, Jobs delivered the 50 Apple computers which they sold for $666 each (the number is a joking reference to Rev.13 : 18 and signifies the Number of the Beast).
The third co-founder
Apart from the two Steves, initially there was a third co-founder: Ronald Wayne. Wayne was about twenty years older than Jobs and Wozniak but agreed to help fund the new Apple company to the tune of $500. In exchange for this amount he received a 10% stake in the company. However, after having drawn up the first Apple logo and his writing of the Apple I manual, he saw little future in the fledgling newcomer and relinguished his share for $800 just twelve days after Apple’s founding – a bit unlucky because by now it would have been worth $35 billion. At present (2011) Wayne survives on a government pension and sells stamps to make some extra money. Maybe there is a lesson in it for us.
The two personalities: Wozniak - Jobs
The Woz was the easiest of the two to get along with – a shy, socially awkward person who shunned the limelight and rather gave his inventions away than asking payment for it. An immature loner who came across as childlike and naïve, even as an adult. A whizzkid in electronics, which he had learned from his father, who rather tinkered with his circuit boards, then talking to his peers. He had a passion for Bob Dylan which he shared with Steve Jobs, who was one of the few people who understood this technical genius.
Jobs, on the other hand, was a far more complex personality. He could be extremely hurtful to people, but he also cajoled and sweet talked people when it served him. He had a mercurial personality and was subject to extreme mood swings. He had no problem in shouting and cursing at people using a string of four-letter words. He had a very black and white view of the world. Something was “brilliant” or it was “extremely shitty” (his words). The same applied to people and he had no problem in voicing his opinion to the unhappy recipient in front of other people. Jobs thought he could do anything and that normal rules did not apply to him. This ultimately resulted in what his colleagues called “Steve’s reality distortion field”. He could distort the reality (some may call it “lying”) to such an extent that he believed it himself and willed others to believe it as well. He often made his staff accomplish tasks which they thought to be impossible. If he thought something could be done, it often would be done.
Research for this article revealed several interesting adjectives and attributes describing the complex personality that was Steve Jobs: ambitious, arrogant, articulate, brutal, calculating, charismatic, cold, competitive, complex, creative, cruel, customer-oriented, dedicated, demanding, dictatorial, driven, domineering, dynamic, entrepreneurial, evangelist, overbearing, passionate, persistent, prankster, pushy, ruthless, showman, skilled marketing man, stubborn, visionary, workaholic, zealous. All of that and more – that’s the legendary Steve Jobs.
Notice the early Apple logo on the screen, the disk drive and on the keyboard (enlarged).
The text at the bottom of the stamp reads : Apple II Personal Computer becomes
available to individuals, streamlining home offices. 1977”
The Apple II
By the end of 1976, Wozniak started on the next version of their computer – the Apple II. Again a general purpose computer - but this time with connectivity to a keyboard and a colour display. It looked an impressive machine. That same year Jobs finally managed to convince Wozniak to leave his job at HP and dedicate himself to Apple becoming its Vice President Research and Development with Jobs being its CEO. In 1977 Apple advertised its new Apple II in Playboy magazine, signifying Apple’s intention to get national attention. Jobs wanted to sell his computers not only to computer enthusiasts but also to the general public. Where Wozniak had been responsible for the technical design of the Apple II, it was Jobs who realized how critical its marketing was. He also was responsible for the Apple II’s looks, a cream colored plastic casing rather then the metal boxes used by other mini-computer manufacturers. The Apple II casing came with a built-in keyboard and a disk drive, rather than the cumbersome cassette tape readers used by others. Steve Wozniak had designed the remarkable disk drive, named Disk II, and thereby revolutionized the micro computer industry. The Disk II was sold initially for $495. Jobs made sure that the Apple products looked professional and attractive. With the Apple II came another product – the Silentype – a small 80-column thermal printer with a price tag of $599. Also available was the world’s first spreadsheet program VisiCalc – its two inventors, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, had co-developed it on and for the Apple in 1979. VisiCalc became an immediate hit and being the first spreadsheet for micro computers, it made the Apple even an attractive proposition for small businesses. Being only available on the Apple computer initially, VisiCalc helped the sales of Apple computers significantly, and vice versa. The Apple II resulted in a sales of $2.7 million in its first year. The new kid on the block with its starting capital of $1,300 grew within its first three years of existence to a turnover of $200 million. In 1982 it reached $1 billion in annual sales. In 1980, Apple went public; on its first day of trading its share price rose from $22 to $29, giving Apple a market value of $2.1 billion.
Apple encounters problems
In 1981, Jobs released the Apple III, an improved version of the Apple II, aimed at the business user. The machine’s launch was initially announced for July 1980, but problems in production resulted in a date nearly one year later. The Apple III was a dismal failure. Upon release only three software programs were available for it. Due to design errors – this machine was not designed by Wozniak – the motherboard overheated causing the plastic casing to warp, chips were popping out and the operating software contained obvious bugs – for example, use of the 'Save' command, often resulted in a system crash. Apple had to recall 14,000 machines to re-engineer the box. Clearly its customers were not impressed and lost confidence in the product. To add to Jobs’ problems, IBM had entered the fray and announced its Personal Computer in February that same year. This immediately gave the little computer standing and reputation. Unable to recover from its bad name, the Apple III was discontinued two years later.
Early 1982, Steve Jobs announced the Lisa – named after his daughter – again aimed at the business user. The Lisa came with the now familiar mouse – a novelty in those days that Jobs had “copied” from what he had seen during a visit to the Xerox PARC facilities. Xerox had implemented the mouse – originally invented by Doug Engelbart in 1967 – but let Apple and later Microsoft run with it. Lisa’s mouse and screen icons resulted in a very user-friendly interface. However, its high price of $10,000 made it a prohibitive proposition for its intended market. In addition, Apple customers started complaining that its computers were not compatible with previous versions – software that ran on the Apple II could not run on the Apple III or the Lisa. Although Apple had invested around $50 million in the development of the Lisa, the Lisa became a commercial failure. In 1987, Apple dumped thousands of unsold Lisa computers in a landfill site in Utah. It is estimated that by 1983 Apple’s problems has caused it to lose half of its market share to IBM.
Jobs leaves Apple
To address the problems besetting Apple, Jobs called in John Sculley from Pepsi Cola – “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” – and appointed him as CEO of Apple in 1983. In 1984 Jobs released his next computer, the Macintosh. The Mac – as Apple fans called it – had similar features as the Lisa. It came with a 3½-inch disk drive, and had a price tag of only $2,495, a fraction of the cost of the Lisa. In addition one could buy a laser printer and an extra disk drive with it. Due to its powerful graphics capabilities the Mac soon became the preferred computer in the desktop publishing environment, a niche market where Apple has become unrivalled, a position it has maintained even today. The Mac’s operating software could only be described as elegant with its colourful icons on the screen – therefore it comes as no surprise that Microsoft would later try to copy its features into its Windows operating system. Although the Macintosh was quite successful initially, its sales tailed off later that same year. Plagued by infighting between its different divisions – competition between divisions was often encouraged by Steve to get better results out of each division – combined with poor inventory control and overproduction, Sculley reorganized Apple to reduce the number of management layers and applied cost cutting techniques and staff layoffs. Jobs disagreed with Sculley’s approach and their relationship turned sour to such an extent that Jobs decided to get rid of him. However, when Sculley asked in an Apple board meeting that Jobs be relieved of his duties, the members of the board backed Sculley. The co-founder of Apple was defeated and that same year (1985) Steve Jobs left Apple Computers, taking five senior managers with him. Steve Wozniak left Apple two years later.
“I feel like somebody just punched me in the stomach and knocked all my wind out. I'm only 30 years old and I want to have a chance to continue creating things. I know I've got at least one more great computer in me. And Apple is not going to give me a chance to do that.” Steve Jobs on his expulsion from any position of authority at Apple (in an interview in Playboy, September 1987).
On his own: NeXT
Together with the five ex-Apple staff, Jobs started his new company: NeXT, Inc. His intention was to build a powerful workstation which could be used by university students. Apple was not impressed and sued its former CEO for “nefarious schemes” taking advantage of “insider information”. Jobs’ comment: “It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans.” Before the lawsuit went to trial, the case was withdrawn. It took Jobs and his people three years to develop the NeXT. In 1988, the first prototypes were shown to the media. It was an impressive all-black cube magnesium box. It played music and housed the complete works of Shakespeare on its hard disk. Although the launch resulted in a standing ovation for Jobs, the NeXT made little headway after its initial success. By 1993 it had sold a disappointing 50,000 units. But the NeXT had created an enthusiastic following, not in the least because of its innovative software which used object-oriented design, a novelty in those days. One could use email on the NeXT computer using its own NeXTMail which allowed the inclusion of graphics and audio, and NeXT users loved its superb graphics. After discontinuing the NeXT box itself, Jobs started concentrating on software development and released NeXTSTEP, a multitasking object-orientated operating system for workstations and having sophisticated graphical user interface facilities.
Shortly after the start of NeXT, in 1986, Jobs bought the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm, Ltd. for $10 million and renamed it Pixar. Although it made a number of prize-winning short animation films, the company was hardly profitable. In 1991 (the same year in which Steve got married), Pixar teamed up with the Walt Disney Company to produce a number of computer-animated films which would be marketed and financed primarily by Disney. Its first film, Toy Story, was released in 1995 and became a runaway success. Pixar had turned the corner and followed up this success with hits, such as A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and others. Several of these films received an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The collaboration between Pixar and Disney was extremely successful, despite some hiccups between the two parties. Disney realised their successes heavily depended on the people at Pixar and purchased the company in 2006 in an all-stock transaction worth $1.7 billion making Jobs the largest share holder of Disney – he now owned 7% of the Disney company’s stock.
Jobs back at Apple
While Jobs had been busy with getting NeXT of the ground, Apple had been on a downward spiral: more layoffs of employees, further cost cutting, Sculley left in 1994. As the competition became stronger, Apple became weaker. Discussions about a merger were held but were unsuccessful, later Apple was even looking for a buyer. Apple was down and nearly out – it needed a miracle maker to solve its massive problems.
In 1996, Apple decided to acquire NeXT for $377 million. Jobs was back at Apple and was received with thunderous applause at the MacWorld Expo that same year when he took the stage in his customary black polo neck and jeans. But Jobs was not even sure that Apple could be saved. In a 1997 Time magazine interview he commented: “Apple has some tremendous assets, but I believe without some attention, the company could, could, could — I'm searching for the right word — could, could die.” The comment was not surprising, because Apple posted a staggering loss of $1 billion that same year, having suffered a $800 million loss the previous year. Its share price which had in 1991 traded at over $70 per share, now traded at a low $14. Drastic action was required – a number of product lines were dropped by Jobs in order to return Apple to profitability. Thousands of employees were laid off and surplus stock was sold to Microsoft resulting in a much needed cash injection of $150 million. The NeXTSTEP operating system was incorporated in Apple’s products as Mac OS X. This was first used in the famous iMAC which was a completely revamped Macintosh desktop computer and sold for the low price of $1,999. The “i” in iMAC was explained by Jobs as standing for “internet” and for the “i” in “individual” – it would become the signature letter in future Apple products such as the iPod, iPad, iTunes and iPhone. Emphasis was placed on the easy out-of-the-box experience and only two steps were needed to set up the iMAC and connect it to the internet. The iMAC was released in 1998: it came in a beautifully designed blue-coloured see-through casing setting a high standard for other manufacturers of personal computers – the market loved it. The iMAC became a best-seller and Apple was slowly getting back on its feet. Steve Jobs, who had been appointed as special advisor upon his return to Apple, became its Interim CEO in 1997. Two years later he dropped the word “interim” in his title and he came up on the MacWorld Expo under a banner reading "iCEO".
In 2001, Jobs announced the Apple iPod, a smooth-looking portable music player. It soon became a fashion icon, “I must have one.” It was a runaway success for Apple. Subsequent new versions went by names like iPod Classic (like the original, but upgraded), the iPod Mini, the iPod Nano, the iPod Shuffle and the iPod Touch (first released in 2007). In 2003, Apple released its iTunes and iTunes Store, an electronic store of digital music, video, podcasts and tv shows. iTunes interfaces with the iPod and the iPhone and manages the audio tracks on the iPod. iTunes accounts for 70% of the world’s online sales of digital music. In 2008 Jobs announced the availability of iTunes movie rentals. Apple was making serious inroads in the traditional media industry.
“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. It's very fortunate if you can work on just one of these in your career. ... Apple's been very fortunate in that it's introduced a few of these.” Steve Jobs when unveiling the iPhone on January 9, 2007.
In 2007, Apple announced the iPhone: a smart slim camera phone, with texting and visual voicemail, a portable media player and internet connectivity. It had Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a multi-touch screen and a virtual keyboard. Again, it became a “must have” fashion item and Apple sold more than 33 million iPhones in the first 3 years since its launch. The iPhone changed the mobile telephone industry by setting a new standard of design, facilities and applications. In January 2010, Jobs announced the iPad – an Apple tablet computer measuring 24.3x18.9x1.34 cm (9.56x7.47x0.53 in) with a weight of 680 to 730 g depending on the model. By October 2010, Apple had sold 4 million iPads. Whether the iPad will be equally successful as its sister products, remains to be seen. Complaints have been raised that the tablet can do everything the iPhone can do, except phone.
Concerns about Steve’s health
In 2004, Jobs announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but apparently it was a less aggressive form. Jobs initially tried to beat the cancer with his strictly vegan eating regime, but later had to agree to be operated upon. The operation later that same year was considered successful and no further treatment was necessary. His appearance at the 2006 Apple’s Worldwide Development Conference again raised concerns about his health because he looked to have lost weight. Two years later the same concerns were raised when Steve looked emaciated, but Apple stated that its CEO had “a common bug” and was taking antibiotics, otherwise he was fine. Similar questions about his health were raised on and off over the next few years. In 2009, Jobs stated in an open letter to the Apple community that he had lost a lot of weight and that he suffered from a “hormone imbalance” but one week later he released a statement that he had “learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought” and he took a six months leave of absence. In June that same year, Jobs underwent a liver transplant. Although a small inner circle of family and friends knew the cancer had spread, this development was withheld from the media, the wider public and even the Apple directors.
In 2010, my daily newspaper carried a small news item: “Apple boss Steve Jobs sent each of the 33 Chilean miners who miraculously had been rescued after 68 days underground, an Apple iPod.” Steve seemed to be doing well.
In January 2011 Jobs requested - and was granted - medical leave of absence so he could focus on his health. Although looking gaunt, this did not stop him from explaining Apple’s new iCloud computing service to the 5000 strong audience of Apple’s annual worldwide developers conference held in June 2011 in San Francisco.
Steve Jobs during the iPad launch in San Francisco, California, on January 27, 2010, standing beneath a giant photograph of him and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
On August 24, 2011, Steve Jobs resigned as CEO from Apple Inc. writing “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” in his resignation letter. Although no reference was made to his illnesses, his deteriorating health was generally believed to be the cause for his stepping down. Google chairman Eric Schmidt commented as follows on what he called “the most successful CEO in the US of the last 25 years”: “He uniquely combined an artist’s touch and an engineer’s vision to build an extraordinary company. One of the greatest American leaders in history.” A truly iconic figure.
The end of an era
The world was shocked to learn on Wednesday, October 5, 2011, that Steve Jobs had died at the age of 56 following his long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was survived by his wife Laurene and three children.
The Apple website posted the following tribute: “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote on his Facebook page: “Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives. The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”
US President Barack Obama commented: “Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it … The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”
Steve Jobs honoured
Steve Jobs has received a number of awards:
1985 – President Ronald Reagan awarded Jobs and Wozniak the National Medal of Technology.
1987 – Received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in the category “Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Under”.
2002 – Received the Vanguard Award from the Producers Guild of America for the contribution by Pixar Animated Studios and its “achievements in new media and technology”.
2007 – Fortune magazine named Jobs the “most powerful person in business”.
2007 – Inducted in the California Hall of Fame by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
2009 – Forbes magazine ranked Jobs #57 in its list of ”The World’s Most Powerful People”.
2009 – Fortune magazine named Jobs “CEO of the Decade”.
2010 – Named the Mobile Personality of the Year by the Global System Mobile Association. Jobs was not present to accept his award having taken leave of absence.
Steve Jobs is featured on only a few stamps: Palau portrayed him and Steve Wozniak on two of the stamps in its 25-stamp sheet “The Information Age: Visionaries in the Twentieth Century”, issued on June 30, 1999 (see my article “About cyber geeks, gurus and geniuses). Jobs is also shown in the margin of a 2007 Guinea souvenir sheet, on two 2008 issues of Guinea and on a 2009 Guinea-Bissau stamp. Hungary issued a non-postal in memoriam sheet in 2011 and Mali followed in November 2011 with a souvenir sheet showing several of his inventions. Mozambique also issued two sheetlets in 2011 in a tribute to Steve Jobs. Surely more will follow.
© Wobbe Vegter, 2010, updated in 2011