MaCinJay’s Musings

another case of inverse vandalism

iWoz Apple

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One thing I love about the holidays is that I get to catch up on my reading. I was browsing in a bookshop the other day when I came across Steve Wozniak’s autobiography iWoz. Wozniak is, of course, the guy who invented the first Apple computers that were instrumental in bringing computers into everyday households.

I was interested to get an insight into his relationship with the man he co-founded Apple with and its current CEO, Steve Jobs. Wozniak relates how they met through a mutual acquaintance and formed an instant connection based on their love of electronics and their shared admiration of Bob Dylan’s music. Later on when Jobs was working at Atari he approached Wozniak for help in creating the game Breakout. The problem was that there was a very tight deadline and the two had to go without sleep for several days to meet it, becoming ill from fatigue in the process. In any event Jobs received payment for developing the game from Atari and paid Wozniak his share. Some time later though Wozniak found out that Jobs had actually shortchanged him, having received significantly more from Atari than he had let on.

After that Wozniak designed the computer that would become the Apple I. Both he and Jobs had been attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, which had inspired Wozniak to design the Apple I in the first place. Jobs got the idea to produce and sell printed circuit boards based on Wozniak’s design to other members of the club. He reasoned that they did not have the patience or skill to make the circuit boards themselves from Wozniak’s schematics, which were handed out at the meetings. Wozniak was skeptical whether the scheme would succeed but liked the idea of starting a business with Jobs. (Presumably he didn’t know that Jobs had shortchanged him on the Atari deal at this stage!) Jobs also came up with a name for the new company: Apple Computer. Ironically considering subsequent events Wozniak was concerned that there would be a possible trademark conflict with Apple Corps but the name stuck because they couldn’t think of anything better.

This combination worked well for the company in the early part of its existence – Wozniak’s brilliant engineering brain and Jobs’ astute business and marketing skills. Almost as soon as the Apple I was complete Wozniak started work on the Apple II, which was ultimately the first personal computer to sell more than one million units. According to Wozniak his design for the Apple II led to his first argument with Jobs. The design included eight expansion slots but Jobs wanted to reduce these to two in order to keep production costs down. Wozniak won that argument but Apple’s next computer, the ill-conceived Apple III, would have fewer expansion slots. (To this day Apple favours simplicity of design over providing Mac users with more versatility, at least as far as its consumer machines go.)

By 1980 the success of the Apple II culminated in an initial public offering that was (at that time) second only to that of the Ford Motor Company. Wozniak and Jobs became rich beyond their wildest dreams. But Wozniak wasn’t comfortable with the direction Apple then took; the Apple III (and later the Macintosh) received greater priority than the Apple II, even though the Apple II was still the company’s biggest selling computer. He also found that his work was being affected by other commitments outside Apple. Eventually he left Apple’s full-time employ (although he apparently remains on Apple’s payroll on some sort of consultancy basis to this day) to start up his own company making universal remote controls. By this time it seems Wozniak had grown so distant from Jobs that he didn’t bother to inform him of his resignation. This may explain why Jobs apparently ordered the plastics company Wozniak hired to produce the casings of his remote controls to stop doing business with him, throwing one of the prototypes against a wall in the process. The company obeyed, not wanting to alienate Apple, which was one of its biggest accounts, and Wozniak had to find someone else to make his cases.

Wozniak though does give credit to Jobs for doing such a good job at turning Apple’s fortunes around when Jobs returned to the company in 1997.

Besides this there is a lot of other interesting stuff in the book. Wozniak loved to pull pranks on people and he relates many of these. My own favourite is one involving his use of a self-made device that he used to interfere with people’s television signals, which if I recall correctly was mentioned with some fondness by Steve Jobs during his last Macworld keynote. Wozniak developed another device, called a “blue box”, to hack telephone networks in order to make free calls. This episode doesn’t altogether gel with Wozniak’s vision of himself as an ethics-first type of person, although he does his best to justify his actions. I was also fascinated to read about the plane crash Wozniak was involved in that temporarily damaged his short-term memory. His experiences reminded me of the film Memento, in which the hero is unable to remember events from one day to the next.

On the downside the writing style of the book is almost childlike in parts. Presumably the intention here was to reinforce Wozniak’s image of himself as a do-good kind of guy but it comes across as a bit cheesy. I was also a little surprised by the opportunistic use of the ubiquitous lower-case “i” in the book’s title. After all Wozniak hasn’t had any direct involvement with the development of products such as the iMac, iPod, iPhone etc. But these are really small quibbles; overall iWoz is an excellent read.

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Written by macinjay

December 24, 2007 at 11:24 am

2 Responses

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  1. This post is very hot, it is high ranked at http://www.adminor.info (daily weblog, weblog post ranking site)

    frmad

    December 25, 2007 at 8:09 am

  2. I need this book =)

    Rodrigo Barba

    December 28, 2007 at 3:03 am


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