May 162012

According to Variety, Sony Pictures has grabbed Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning writer of the “Social Network” to adapt Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of the late Steve Jobs. Amy Pascal, Co-Chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, noted:

There is no writer working in Hollywood today who is more capable of capturing such an extraordinary life for the screen than Aaron Sorkin; in his hands, we’re confident that the film will be everything that Jobs himself was: captivating, entertaining, and polarizing. 

Isaacson’s book on the Apple co-founder sold more than two million in hardcover and was Amazon’s best-selling book of 2011. Sorkin has his hand in a number of projects, including the new TV series, “The Newsroom,” a Broadway musical about Harry Houdini and an adaptation of Andrew Young’s book “The Politician” on the downfall of former Senator John Edwards. Sorkin may not always understand technology but he has a feel for fast-paced dialogue which is just what will be needed to bring Isaacson’s book the screen.

Scott Rudin will handle production and we’ll see who is chosen as director and of course, who will play the main role of Jobs – the latter choice will be very interesting to watch.

Christian Bale? Noah Wylie? Wylie played Jobs in the 1999 docudrama Pirates of Silicon Valley and supposedly Jobs like it.

Apr 302012

A wonderful story turns up in Business Insider on the book Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, an advertising exec at Chiat/Day who worked with Steve Jobs for almost two decades. It was part of plan to celebrate the millionth sale of an iMac and involved Jobs dressing up as the Willy Wonka character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as part of the PR strategy.

Steve JobsHere’s the except that was published over at MacRumors:

Steve’s idea was to do a Willy Wonka with it. Just as Wonka did in the movie, Steve wanted to put a golden certificate representing the millionth iMac inside the box of one iMac, and publicize that fact. Whoever opened the lucky iMac box would be refunded the purchase price and be flown to Cupertino, where he or she (and, presumably, the accompanying family) would be taken on a tour of the Apple campus. 

Steve had already instructed his internal creative group to design a prototype golden certificate, which he shared with us. But the killer was that Steve wanted to go all out on this. He wanted to meet the lucky winner in full Willy Wonka garb. Yes, complete with top hat and tails.

Of course it never happened - apparently by California State law, you cannot run a contest and require participants to purchase something. But there is a delicious humor in imaging what this would have been like.

For all the drive and intensity he embodied, perhaps there was a sense of humor lurking inside after all.

Jan 242012

Twenty-eight years ago today, January 24, 1884, a smiling Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh at the annual Apple shareholders meeting. Ever the showman, he pulls the computer out of a paper-bag, and eventually lets it speak, perhaps the most memorable line it could in a world rapidly moving from mainframes to the new paradigm of personal computing:

Never trust a computer you can’t lift.

Kelly Hodges nicely describes the event at the Unofficial Apple Weblog ( TUAW):

It’s hard to believe that 28 years have passed since the Macintosh was introduced by a young, bowtie-clad Steve Jobs, on January 24, 1984. It was Apple’s annual stockholder meeting and Jobs (and his Macintosh crew) were going to unveil the Macintosh to the public. It was a magic moment aptly described by Andy Hertzfeld on the Folklore website.

Even back then Steve was a showman, unveiling the Macintosh from underneath a bag. What audience member would believe that 23 years later, Jobs would pull out another Macintosh, the MacBook Air, from a manila envelope. It’s amazing when you look back and see how the Macintosh computer set the stage for much of what we have today.

When I watch the first Macintosh presentation, I see the the MacWrite and MacPaint apps as predecessors to iWork, iPhoto and iMovie. It’s not the apps themselves, but what you can do with a computer that Apple seemed to capture with that first Mac. Even the description of how the Mac team worked to exhaustion to get the applications ready just in time for the presentation reminds me of how startups today still operate.

When I see the scrolling text on the first Macintosh, I think of the iPad, sitting in a conference room, with a teleprompter app scrolling text across the screen. And when the first Macintosh talks to us, I can’t help but think of Siri. Yes, I know the underlying technology has changed, but the vision was there back in 1984.

The lighting and camera angles in the video are terrible but one has to be grateful that this moment was captured. Here’s the four minute segment:

Nov 042011

Dean Takahashi has an interesting piece at VentureBeat, comparing the publication of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to the release by Electronic Arts (EA) of the videogame Battlefield 3. No surprise that the game outsold the book, but the numbers are staggering: 379,000 copies of the book versus 5 million of the videogame. Taakahaski comments:

We could look at these numbers and joke about how we’ve become an illiterate nation. But books are a $40 billion industry in the U.S., twice the size of the video game business, according to market researcher DFC Intelligence. However, the Steve Jobs book generated about $13.2 million in sales, while Battlefield generated about $300 million. The difference tells us a lot about what it means to be a die-hard fan, and the social currency that goes with being part of a community. The value of the game fan appears to far outweigh the value of a book fan.

An industry twice the size, a widely praise biography that is rushed to print upon the death of an icon of the digital revolution, and it musters less than 8% of the copies of a single video game. Obviously, one can draw a range of conclusions here but most of them would miss the point. The game sales may well fall off while a book on Steve Jobs will continue to sell – with a significant bump from paperback sales down the road and perhaps even a long life in college and university courses. Battlefield 3 probably will probably have a much shorter half-life (though one doubts the Jobs book will ever surpass it).

Steve Jobs and Battlefield 3

Steve Jobs Book and Battlefield 3

But a couple of factors come into this, including the uniqueness of a videogame – there’s any number of ways one might learn about Steve Jobs life – and the sense of urgency that the game community fosters. And it’s the latter that is intriguing: people need to purchase the game now as it incorporates a broad online community. Miss out on the initial release and one is missing out on much more – including playing online and interaction with other gamers on discussion forums and the like. The book moves slowly: in fact, I might even gain from not reading the book now and soaking up some of the other information on the former head of Apple before I tackle his biography.

But it also says is that there is no vital community centered on the act of reading, at least not in the same sense. And to the degree that there are loose connections between readers, I can (sort of) participate just by saying I heard of the book and plan on reading it. That doesn’t happen with a videogame as the act of playing is essential to participation in the community. EA has already setup the Battlelog social network and it’s vitality will most like wane in a few years with the release of a Battlefield 4 or gamers fleeing to another product altogether.

Takahashi concludes:

For good or bad, games command more than their fair share of pop culture attention. And that’s why they’re also taking an outsized share of the profits in the entertainment industry. Treated right, these game fans are a gold mine. But never try to deliver anything but the best possible game to them, or they’ll turn on you quickly.

Book publishers only wish that they could skate on both sides of this double-edged sword. 

Books will never have this kind of social community and perhaps that’s just as it should be. But perhaps we need a different format – some eBooks have tried to build in community interaction (though with only varying degrees of success). Perhaps we need a different way of reading – it’s only been since Gutenberg (and really, the 19th century) that people read the way they do. I don’t have the answers here, but I do know that something grounded in a vital sense of community has a good chance of overwhelming its counterpart if it’s pursued as a solitary practice.

After all, we are social animals at heart.

Oct 312011
Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell

Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell

Sad, funny, and thought-provoking.

With all that has been said and written about Steve Jobs, this one stands out. Mona Simpson’s eulogy for her brother, delivered October 16th and published this Sunday in the New York Times. Put aside a few minutes to read and reflect on it. As she said:

We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.

How true of Steve. How true of us all.

Oct 212011
Steve Wozniak at Apple Store

Steve Wozniak at Apple Store - ABC News

Jobs died 16 days ago but the tributes continue this week. Apple held a memorial event on the campus in Cupertino with performances by Randy Newman, Norah Jones (doing a cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young”) and Coldplay. Apple stores closed for the event and there is now a memorial page on the Apple Web site where you can read a few of the million messages Apple has received and add your own thoughts/reflections about his passing.

The iPhone 4S was released with 4 million units sold over Friday through Sunday last weekend (double the iPhone 4′s original record for an opening weekend), with long lines at the stores and, fittingly enough, Steve Wozniack as number one in line at an Apple store in San Francisco.

At EDUCAUSE, I had a chance to hear Danah Boyd (NYU professor and Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research) on how kids continually negotiate the arenas of privacy and identity in social networks.  But while the issue here was behavior and not technology, you couldn’t help but wonder about the underlying role played by Jobs; the iPhone was a game-changing device that rethought the interface from the ground up and pushed phone manufacturers in a new direction. With easy-to-use portable devices, social networks become truly ubiquitous and for a younger generation the boundaries between the face-to-face and online worlds are increasingly fluid. In fact, there is no “and” here – they blend together as a continuum.

Back at the Apple site, the tributes pour in from all over the world. Jobs played an out-sized role when he was here, but may well step into an even larger one now that he’s gone.

Apple Storefront with Post-it Notes

Apple Storefront

Oct 102011

If there was a common thread throughout the disparate views of Jobs, it would be his focus on those who have shaped our culture, who thought differently – who thought outside the box, who were mavericks (sorry Sarah, you’re not even on the same planet). So Apple’s Think Different advertising campaign embodied what he celebrated in human beings, what he held up as the ideal – and love or hate him, agree or disagree with him, everyone knew the type of person he idealized.

So here is the first Think Different commercial, with one major difference: Steve Jobs is the narrator. Shot in 1997, it would never run as the final voiceover would be done by Richard Dreyfuss. Did Jobs do this just to set the tone? Did he originally plan to do the narrations for the entire ad campaign? Or did the ad with his voice fall short of his own extreme standards of perfection? We’ll probably never know, but it’s fascinating to watch while listening to him do the narration.

Oct 092011

Apple Campus, 1 Infinite Loop - Sign

Steve Jobs was well known as an impossibly difficult person to work for, generating both fierce loyalty and profound fear among employees. For all the words written this week, one of the most striking articles was done back in May by Adam Lashinsky (Senior Editor at Large at Fortune). It provides more details than most on the work environment inside the headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA, a near impossible task given Apple’s secrecy (even former staff members are reticent to talk openly about their experience). It also has an insufferably long title, “From Steve Jobs down to the janitor: How America’s most successful – and most secretive – big company really operates.

You know in something like this there will be stories of Jobs elevating or demoting staff based on his immediate reaction to their work. And it doesn’t disappoint with a recounting of a meeting between him and the development team for MobileMe. At one point, he’s not happy with MobileMe, calls the team together, rips into the entire group and before the meeting was over, had replaced the person in charge of the project. In short, you produced, or you got out of the way. As former staff Andrew Borovsky, a former Apple designer who runs the New York design shop 80/20 put it:

On a regular basis you either get positive feedback or are told to stop doing stupid shit.

The Inner Circle: (from left) Jonathan Ive, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, and Scott Forstall, on the Apple campus in 2010.

But the most fascinating insights comes not from these accounts but from the way Steve Jobs reinvented Apple, creating one of the world’s largest technology companies that had the heart and soul of start-up just getting off the ground. Perhaps not surprising given that he was involved in all facets of the company from food in the cafeteria to the design of the buses that carried employees back and forth from San Francisco.

So here’s what is striking in an environment with a single-minded focus on detail, deeply secretive, and where constant (and unforgiving) feedback was the norm:

  • The creative process involved continually preparing someone – “be it one’s boss, one’s boss’s boss, or oneself” – to make a presentation to him. And everything rode on these presentations.
  • Jobs liked to tell a story of a janitor who didn’t empty the garbage in an office for days as the locks had been changed. The janitor had a reason – and a valid one at that – as he didn’t have the keys, but as you move up the increasing levels of responsibility to a VP, reasons simply become excuses. They no longer matter, serving only as justifications for failure.
  • Every facet of every project, every meeting agenda, and every action item that came out of meetings seemed to have a DRI – a Directly Responsible Individual.
  • Only one person – the Chief Financial Officer – focused specifically on P/L, profit and loss. Everyone else keeps their eye on process and products.
  • Specialization is the key. Each person focuses on one thing and does it best-in-class. For, example Ron Johnson who handles Apple’s retail stores doesn’t have to deal with inventory as that was handled by Tim Cook.

An executive who worked at both Microsoft and Apple described the different corporate visions this way:

Microsoft (MSFT) tries to find pockets of unrealized revenue and then figures out what to make. Apple is just the opposite: It thinks of great products, then sells them. Prototypes and demos always come before spreadsheets.

And that was Steve Jobs. He created a work environment that had the agility, flexibility and the ruthlessness to act like a start-up even though it has 50,000 employees, almost 100 billion in revenue and a 60% growth rate. And just how successful was this approach? I don’t want to fall back on numbers, but the following chart reveal an astonishing record:


Apple Under Steve Jobs - 1997-2011

You didn’t need a spreadsheet; you needed an idea and a means of executing it. If you focused solely on the product, and organized everyone around functions instead of reporting lines and profit and loss, the rest would take care of itself.

And indeed, it has.

Oct 072011

No one has counted the number of times Steve Job was on a magazine cover (though he made eight on Time magazine), but he had a public image that personified innovation and was the public face of Apple. He jealously guarded his privacy and his personal life was strictly off-limits.

But the personal was there and Lisen Stromberg’s article (which has long gone viral) paints a fascinating portrait, one of a neighbor who dressed up like Frankenstein for Halloween, went to Parent/Teachers nights, and shed tears at his son’s graduation:

While Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and CNET continue to drone on about the impact of the Steve Jobs era, I won’t be pondering the MacBook Air I write on or the iPhone I talk on. I will think of the day I saw him at his son’s high school graduation. There Steve stood, tears streaming down his cheeks, his smile wide and proud, as his son received his diploma and walked on into his own bright future, leaving behind a good man and a good father who can be sure of the rightness of this, perhaps his most important legacy of all.

Walking his Pug

Despite the sharp divide between the public and the personal, Jobs description of meeting his wife Laurene shows that the same impulsiveness and focus that drove his work at Apple was at the heart of his personal life:

I was in the parking lot with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, ‘If this is my last night on earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?’ I ran across the parking lot, asked her if she’d have dinner with me. She said yes, we walked into town and we’ve been together ever since.

Some of the magazine covers here:

Steve Jobs Magazine Covers

Steve Jobs Magazine Covers

Oct 072011

An excellent article “Steve Jobs in Four Easy Steps” in Spectrum Magazine at IEEE (the world’s largest technical professional society) where G. Pascal Zachary looks at his work from a technical/engineering perspective. Short and worth a read, Jobs is seen as a “human-centered technologist” even as he defied current conventions and expectations:

Steve Jobs - Apple Website

Steve Jobs - Apple Website

First, Jobs refused to accept that software and hardware were best designed and engineered separately. For him, the venerable insight summarized by Thomas Hughes, the grand historian of American technology, as “the system must be first” became a lodestar. Jobs understood that Apple was fundamentally a builder of technological systems, not a generator of products. As a young man, he watched IBM lose its central role in computing by handing off the PC’s basic operating system to an outsider (Microsoft). When in the 2000s Microsoft struggled (and largely failed) to persuade cellphone makers to adopt a variant of Windows, Jobs turned the industry upside down by building a cellphone with an Apple OS at its core. In embracing what traditional industrialists called “vertical integration,” he propelled Apple to first place in smartphones.

Second, Jobs denied what is perhaps the most closely held article of faith of the information age: that openness and the wisdom of crowds are essential for successful technological systems. Under his leadership, Apple produced “closed” systems—devices whose basic functions could not be altered—and consumers loved them. “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want,” Jobs once famously said. Though an ex-hippie, he proved to be a throwback to an earlier age of top-down leadership: A direct line runs from Henry Ford’s Model T to the iPad. To Jobs, Apple’s systems are always open—in the sense that their uses can be adapted to an owner’s needs and desires. But as iTunes demonstrates, Apple’s ability to control the content, the applications, and the purchase opportunities on its mobile devices is far greater than anything carried off by its rivals.

Third, Jobs found a way of selling Apple’s products directly—through company-owned stores or online—which was perhaps his greatest and mostly unlikely business triumph. Makers of computers and consumer electronics had always offloaded the task of reaching customers to a motley crew of retailers, who provided no consistent purchasing experience or brand loyalty while shredding the manufacturer’s profit margins. Again, going against convention, Jobs created the most valuable retail stores in the world (outselling Tiffany’s on a per-square-meter basis). He then sold the inimitable iPhone through those stores and via one other channel (AT&T), in what was a daring business tactic that paid enormous dividends.

Fourth, Jobs found a way to dominate consumer electronics, an arena that the United States seemed to have irretrievably lost to Japan, Korea, and China. The iPod, first released by Apple 10 years ago, marked a stunning shift in global competitive dynamics in consumer electronics. No longer did U.S. firms need to presume they couldn’t compete with Canon, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and other Asian powerhouses in miniaturized digital appliances. To be sure, Jobs relied heavily on Asian production networks—Apple reportedly employs 10 times as many people in China as in the United States—but the style, engineering, and interactivity of Apple’s devices are classically American. . . .


Oct 062011
Grand Central - October 5 2011 - Apple Store Site Under Development

Grand Central - October 5 2011 - Apple Store Site

I lingered for a few minutes last night at the site of the new Apple store that will open in mid-November, the one that Steve Jobs will never see. The construction crews have been busy for weeks now, but of course nothing is heard or seen behind the veil that Apple throws over all its work. The only hint of activity is a few construction workers bring in supplies and a MTA employee standing guard by the entrance.

And yes, the black drapes take on an entirely new meaning. I see them every day but last night was different and not in the way that any of us wanted.

But in the next couple of posts, just a few reflections on his life. There are so many tributes; far be it for me to add one more. But I want to look at his life and work from a couple of different perspectives that I think have been overlooked.

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -2

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -2


Back to the store that will open next month. Here are two architectural renderings for the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) which he probably did approve since this store is to be a showpiece of Apple’s retail business. As always, focus and simplicity are the key elements here as they were in his life’s work.

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -3

Grand Central Apple Store Proposal -3