​19 questions you might be asking after seeing 'Steve Jobs'

The movie dramatizes key moments from the life of Apple's co-founder. How much is real and how much made up?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Michael Fassbender is Steve Jobs in the new movie.


You've just seen "Steve Jobs", the new movie about the life and times of Apple's divisive co-founder. The filmmakers have said the movie is a "painting, rather than a photograph". So, how much is real and how much is made up?

The movie is based on Walter Isaacson's in-depth Jobs biography and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's meetings with key figures in Jobs' life. Despite depicting many real people and events, the movie plays fast and loose with the details.

Here are answers to some questions you might be left with after watching "Steve Jobs".

Warning: Spoilers throughout!

What were the three product launches shown in the movie?

The first was that of the original Macintosh personal computer, held during an Apple shareholder meeting on 24 January 1984 in the Flint Center at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California.

The second was that of the NeXT Computer, held 12 October 1988 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

The third was the iMac G3's launch, held 6 May 1998. Jobs, newly reinstated at Apple, symbolically returned to the Flint Center.

Inside 'Steve Jobs,' the movie (pictures)

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One example of the movie's dramatic license: Jobs hadn't yet adopted his now famous black-turtleneck uniform by the third launch. In reality, he unveiled the iMac while wearing a white shirt and pin-striped jacket.

Who were the people Jobs kept meeting?

Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet) was a marketing executive who joined Apple in 1980 and later followed Jobs to NeXT. Hoffman encouraged Jobs to be a better father, according to Isaacson's book, because she didn't know her own father until she was ten.

Watch this: See who's playing whom in the new Steve Jobs movie

John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) was recruited by Jobs from Pepsi in 1982 with the infamous invitation, "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?" Sculley was CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993.

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Michael Stuhlbarg (left) plays engineer Andy Hertzfeld and Kate Winslet (right) plays Joanna Hoffman, Apple's marketing whizz and confidant to Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs (centre).

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Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) co-founded Apple with Jobs in a garage in 1976. He designed the Apple I and Apple II. By the time of the events portrayed in the movie, Wozniak had largely moved on from Apple.

Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) was a software engineer who joined Apple in 1979 and later joined the Macintosh team. He left Apple in 1985. The other Andy in the movie is PR consultant Andrea Cunningham (Sarah Snook).

Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) was Jobs' ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Lisa. Lisa is played at different ages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Mackenzie Moss.

The lurking journalist Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz) is a fictional character created for the movie.

Were the same people really at every launch?

No. As Sorkin said, "Steve Jobs did not as far as I know have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch. That is plainly a writer's conceit."

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The original Macintosh team, including the real Joanna Hoffman (second from left) and Andy Hertzfeld (centre, standing).

Norman Seef/Courtesy Dan Kottke

No Apple employees were among the 3,000 people invited to the NeXT launch. Hoffman was there, but she had joined Jobs when he was forced out of Apple. Despite no longer working for Apple, both Wozniak and Hertzfeld were at the iMac launch, along with many of the original Mac team.

Sculley certainly wasn't at every launch. Jobs saw him as the man who ousted him from Apple.

Did everybody at Apple really have big public arguments?

As portrayed in the movie, no. However, the infamously volatile Jobs would often yell at and belittle employees. Apple employee Mike Murray described it as "management by character assassination."

Who's Daniel Kottke?

In the first act of the movie, Jobs is angry about a magazine article in which his friend Daniel Kottke told a journalist about the daughter Jobs had abandoned. Kottke, mentioned in the movie but never seen, was a college friend of Jobs and worked for Apple from its inception. The incident with the article really happened, but in 1982, not 1984 as shown in the film.

Was Jobs really going to be Time's Man of the Year?

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The 3 January 1983 issue of Time magazine that offended Steve Jobs by naming the computer "machine of the year" for 1982.


No. The movie gets this anecdote right, though it fudges the date from 1982 to 1984. Jobs mistakenly thought he was to be named Time's Man of the Year, in the same issue that featured the offending article mentioned above. He actually cried when he saw that the computer was given the accolade. Jobs was never in the running, and as Joanna Hoffman points out in the movie, the decision had been made months in advance in order to commission the George Segal sculpture that graced the cover.

Who's Lee Clow?

Another person mentioned several times but never seen, Lee Clow was creative director at advertising firm Chiat/Day and one of the people behind the famous "1984" advert. He remained a lifelong friend of Jobs and was often consulted on marketing decisions.

Was Steve Jobs really lying in his big presentations?

The drama of the first two acts may be exaggerated, but the facts are broadly correct.

As depicted in the first act, Hertzfeld really did use a prototype 512K model to pull off the Macintosh demonstration. The official 128K model couldn't handle the different elements of the demo, including saying "Hello."

The NeXT Computer wasn't ready either. It was demonstrated live at the launch and again to software developers and people from the education sector the next day. However, finished hardware and software were not released until late the following year. When asked about the NeXT's lengthy delay, Jobs replied, "It's not late -- it's five years ahead of its time!"

Did other people at Apple really hate the iconic "1984" advert?

The board of directors certainly did. As Sculley tells Jobs in the movie, Apple had two slots during the 1984 Super Bowl but got cold feet and ordered them sold. The firm behind the ad, Chiat/Day, slyly kept one of the slots and aired the ad. It was subsequently named best advert of all time by TV Guide and Advertising Age.

Were there really skinheads in the "1984" ad?

Yes. The advert was directed by Ridley Scott, who'd recently shot "Blade Runner" in London, where local skinheads were recruited as extras.

Why did Jobs keep refusing to acknowledge the Apple II team?

The Apple II was instrumental in Apple's meteoric rise to success in the early 1980s. After it had been around for a few years, Jobs believed the company needed to forge a new future. He actively turned Apple against itself when he took charge of the maverick Macintosh project. When Jobs poached Hertzfeld from the Apple II team, he physically ripped out the power cord of Hertzfeld's computer while the engineer was doing Apple II work and marched him to the Mac building.

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Writer Aaron Sorkin (right) with director Danny Boyle on the set of "Steve Jobs".

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Was there really an award at Apple for standing up to Jobs?

There was. Joanna Hoffman won it in 1981 and 1982. Once, when Jobs was making a scene over a vegan meal in a restaurant, she threatened to pour her coffee in his lap if he didn't belt up.

Other women at Apple who stood up to Jobs include director of manufacturing Debi Coleman, who won the award in 1983, and human resources manager Ann Bowers.

What was the Guy Kawasaki article about?

In the movie, Hertzfeld enthusiastically shows Jobs a satirical article written by Guy Kawasaki. The article joked that Apple would buy NeXT's software and bring Jobs back as CEO. Kawasaki did indeed write that extraordinarily prescient article , but not until a full six years later than depicted in the movie. The article was published in Macworld in November 1994.

Are there any "Sorkinisms" in the movie?

Yup. Sorkin infamously repeats phrases across his writing on TV shows like "The West Wing", "Sports Night" and "The Newsroom" and in movies like "The Social Network". "Steve Jobs" is no exception, including phrases Sorkin fans will recognise such as "Not for nothing..." and "Don't talk to me like I'm other people."

Was Steve Jobs really using NeXT to get back into Apple?

Sorkin strongly insinuates that NeXT was a forward-thinking gambit by Jobs. Apple did indeed buy NeXT's operating system but not until 1995, nearly a full decade after it debuted. Even for Jobs, that's a heck of a long con.

Did Lisa really play "Both Sides Now" for Jobs?

In the movie, Lisa plays her father two different versions of Joni Mitchell singing "Both Sides Now", recorded years apart in 1969 and 2000. While he doesn't mention where Jobs first heard the songs, Isaacson noted that Jobs had the songs on his iPad in 2011 and reflected on how the different performances show the way people age.

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Steve Jobs with the Apple Lisa, which he insisted he had not named after his daughter. Although Apple said it stood for "Local Integrated System Architecture" -- and developers including Andy Hertzfeld called it "Lisa: Invented Stupid Acronym" -- Steve jobs admitted to biographer Walter Isaacson that "of course it was named for my daughter."

Ted Thai/Getty Images

Did Jobs really refuse to pay his daughters' tuition even after they reconciled?

That's true. Jobs began the process of reconciliation with his daughter when she was three. By the time Lisa was 14, she had moved in with Jobs, his wife Laurene Powell and their young family.

However, both father and daughter had strong personalities. When Lisa went to Harvard, they often wouldn't talk for months at a time. As depicted in the movie, Hertzfeld did indeed pay Lisa's tuition on one occasion. Though in real life, Jobs found out and paid him back immediately.

Did Jobs really meet his biological father without realising it?

Yes. As he recounts in the movie, his biological sister Mona Simpson tracked down their father, Abdulfattah "John" Jandali. Jobs refused to meet him, but Simpson didn't. During their meeting Jandali told Simpson about a Mediterranean restaurant near San Jose, California, that he had managed, which was frequented by Silicon Valley luminaries including the by-then famous Jobs.

Steve Jobs in photos: 35 years of an American icon

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One more thing... did Jobs really conceive the iPod to replace his daughter's Walkman?

Jobs had been fascinated by the Sony Walkman portable cassette player since he was given one of the earliest models by Sony boss Akio Morita. In 1998, when the movie portrays Jobs promising Lisa 1,000 songs in her pocket, the iPod was still years away. Digital music was so far from Jobs' mind, he launched the iMac without a CD burner, a misstep rectified in subsequent models. Jobs began lobbying in late 2000 for Apple to make a portable music player, according to Isaacson. iTunes was launched in January 2001, and the iPod followed in October.

"Steve Jobs" is out now in the US and will hit UK cinemas on 13 November. It's out in Australia in January 2016.