|Photo by Michael Bulbenko|
On April 1, 1976, young entrepreneurs Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with a personal computer Wozniak had engineered. At the time, they were 25 and 21, respectively, and their invention would be the first of many groundbreaking consumer electronics to be introduced by what is now one of the world’s largest information technology companies.
We caught up with “the Woz” to discuss Apple’s early days, his tips for inventors and the future of technology.
Apple Computer celebrated its thirty-eighth anniversary April 1. What’s it like to look back on the company today?
It’s amazing how much it’s done and what the whole journey has been, from trying to bring something we thought was a useful device for people and seeing how far it’s gone. Apple’s role in it has been incredible, and we’ve really been the biggest push for change, to setting the new directions to get adopted by everyone else. So I’m extremely proud of Apple, and the products are still the best in the world.
There have been rumors over the years about your relationship with Steve Jobs—getting along, not getting along—what was it actually like?
[We were] always getting along. We were very close friends for many years leading up to Apple. Over and over, I would design things and Steve Jobs would do the business end to get some money for them. We had been running as a little partnership long before April 1, 1976, selling all sorts of different things.
When Apple started, Steve wanted to somehow always be dabbling at the top of a company, which is a founder’s right. I prefer to stay away from the politics and just do plain engineering. I wanted to be in the laboratory, designing new hardware, writing new software. So we were in different quarters of the building and we weren’t together 24-7 from that point on.
Our personalities were quite a bit different then, but he was in his young 20s and I was in my mid-20s. My personality was pretty settled, but his had changed at that point from the fun-loving, “Let’s play pranks” Steve Jobs of before. He became very serious about turning the business into something big in life.
But you’ll never find anybody who saw us argue or had a fight. He was always very respectful to me and myself to him. Sometimes there was a difference of opinion, but it wasn’t [a big fight] expressed between us. We both understood each other. He was reminiscent about the old days, right to the end—how much fun that had been. It really meant a lot to him.
Speaking of “let’s play pranks,” you had an affinity for pulling them when you were younger. Can you think of some good ones you’ve done?
I’ve done so many that I keep doing to this day. But there was one that stands out. I got an announcement put into our high school announcements that says at 3:00 in room B52, Stanford University’s head janitor will speak on higher custodial education. That was very well worded. The students would laugh and the teachers would tell them, “No, it’s serious. It’s real.”
And I’m always looking for little holes and lapses in systems where they didn’t intend to let something through, but you can find a way to do it. It’s kind of like minor hacking. I’ve definitely found one recently. The United States has the highest airport security in the world, but when you put in security, you put in flaws and extra holes. I found an incredible hole for getting contraband into the United States. But I’m not going to talk about it for this article.
Fair enough. What’s your one best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A lot of people who are entrepreneurs come from a business point of view: “I have an idea for a product. Now I’ve got to find the money, and then I’ll find somebody who can build it.” My advice is include engineers, who are the greatest problem-solving people in the world. Get them thinking about what your product is, because they often come up with clever ideas to get one little function to do two different things and do a lot more than you would’ve thought of.
Also, I always say: Try to have a working model before you raise money—even if it’s a virtual model on a computer screen—so [potential investors] can actually feel as though they’re using it. Get some good artwork to make it realistic. That way, you’ll have a lot better presentation to raise money, and you’ll own more of what you get, because you’ll be further along. It will also help your own thinking and make sure you get the product.
In Apple’s case, we had the whole computer that was going to be all of Apple’s revenue for the first 10 years—the Apple II—completely designed and being demonstrated before we raised any money.
Do you use all Apple products?
I use almost every variety of Apple products, but I also experiment with other brands of mobile Internet devices—mostly other brands of smartphones. And I find that some do things better than other brands do. So sometimes, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, I might use an alternate brand.
But the iPhone’s my favorite. Everybody has a good regard for it. It’s kind of simple, and it doesn’t change much. It’s very easy to use for everything.
What other kinds of technology would you like to see developed in your lifetime?
I would like to see computers become almost conscious, that they think out methods to tell themselves how to solve their own problems rather than rely on humans to program them. I would like them to have feelings and understanding of other humans and other computers. And I’d like to see them become more like humans, where you just walk up and have a conversation [with them] like we’re having right now. I’d like to see them be real thinkers and help save us from a lot of our own thinking. …
All my life, artificial intelligence hardly moved anywhere, but now it’s showing up. We’ve got computers like IBM’s Watson that goes on game shows and beats humans. It’s just a nice experience. We’re holding our phones like they’re a part of our body. It’s a part of our life so much. You can’t give it up; you’re on it all the time. It’s an important conduit to the world. …
Now, psychologists are finding that with our latest mobile devices, there are actually psychological and physical changes in the body that very much resemble when you fall in love with a person. So will a smartphone become a best friend instead of a human being a best friend? It might be 20 years off.
What else are you up to these days?
I’m speaking almost all the time. I’m traveling the world, giving like 70 speeches a year, and most of them are foreign, so you can figure out how much time goes into that. My wife would tell you how busy I actually am.
What was your best travel experience lately?
I had an incredible one in China. It was an unbelievable experience to see so many people who are sharp in technology and looking forward to being part of and creating the future. I even saw a Tesla electronic vehicle showroom. They also showed [my wife and I] a lot of art, gave us a lot of incredible gifts—they were just unbelievably nice to us.