Walter Isaacson's biography, "Steve Jobs," has arrived. It's a good read, and CNET News is teasing out tidbits from the 656-page book.
after a fight with pancreatic cancer. The book arrives when interest in Jobs and Apple--the company Jobs co-founded and led--is perhaps at an all-time high.
Isaacson's book brings forth an ocean of anecdotes about Jobs. Below is a look at a handful of them.
Disclosure: "Steve Jobs" is published by Simon & Schuster, which like CNET is owned by CBS.
Though some suggest being put up for adoption by his biological parents was a seminal part of his personality--his desire to control, his ability to be cruel--Jobs agreed only with the notion that it helped make him independent. When a girl suggested to a six- or seven-year-old Jobs that being adopted meant he'd been abandoned, "lightning bolts went off in my head," he said, and he talked to his parents about it. "They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said, 'We specifically picked you out,'" Jobs told Isaacson.
Paul Jobs "knew how to build anything" and marked off a section of his workbench for his son. One lesson, from building the fence around their Mountain View, Calif., home: finish the backs of cabinets and fences well even though they're hidden. Ever look inside a Mac Pro?
He grew up steeped in the Silicon Valley milieu, with "mysterious and high-tech" defense companies, and an engineer from Hewlett-Packard bringing him electronics "stuff to play with." One such object, a carbon microphone, led Jobs to the realization that "I was smarter than my parents." They accommodated him with ever-better schools, but it was a rough start for the boy: The schools "came close to really beating any curiosity out of me," he said. He played pranks and got sent home.
His savior was Imogene "Teddy" Hill, his fourth-grade teacher, who bribed him with a giant lollipop into doing challenging work. The bribes became unnecessary, though: "I just wanted to learn and to please her...if it hadn't been for her I'm sure I would have gone to jail."
His Lutheran upbringing ended at age 13 when he saw starving children on the cover of Life magazine and his pastor didn't have a satisfactory explanation about how God could know about it. "The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it," Jobs told Isaacson. He eventually took up Zen Buddhism, but reflected: "I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don't. It's the great mystery."
In the ninth grade, he took up with counterculture kids interested in electronics and LSD, with pot smoking beginning at age 15 and LSD by his senior year. At the same time, he took up Heathkit electronics projects and landed an assembly-line job at Hewlett-Packard after calling Bill Hewlett at his Palo Alto home phone number. He got along better with the engineers upstairs, though, and got early schooling in business by buying and reselling used electronics. At the end of high school, he discovered literature and music, too.
Steve Wozniak, who built a 100-transistor calculator in eighth grade but didn't find school a good match for his engineering talent, met the future Apple co-founder when Jobs was in high school but Wozniak was in college. The two bonded over pranks, electronics, and Bob Dylan bootleg recordings. When in 1971 "Woz" discovered Ron Rosenbaum's "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," which described how hackers figured out how to make long-distance calls for free by using audio tones to control AT&T network, the two snuck into the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center library through an unlocked door on a Sunday to find the necessary electronics frequencies.
Their first version, built by midnight that same day with the analog recipe, couldn't produce stable enough tones, but a later digital version did work. Jobs decided to start selling the Blue Boxes, going through about 100 of them at $150 apiece before calling it quits when somebody robbed them of one at gunpoint.
It was enough to get the bigger ball rolling, though. "If it hadn't been for the Blue Boxes, there wouldn't have been an Apple," Jobs said. The pattern worked well: Woz led the engineering, and Jobs led the user design, marketing, and money-making.
In 1972, Jobs started going to Reed College in Portland, Ore., where he discovered Zen Buddhism and vegetarianism. He was bored, and found Reed more to his liking after dropping out and auditing courses instead. And LSD remained a part of his life. He told Isaacson: "Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there's another side to the coin, and you can't remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important--creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could."
In 1974, he returned to his parents' house and found work at video game maker Atari, drawn by an ad that said, "Have fun, make money." He arrived in the lobby, demanded a job, and chief engineer Al Alcorn hired him. Jobs was wrongly convinced his diet would eliminate body odor, so Alcorn put Jobs on a night shift so he didn't have to deal with complaining coworkers.
After a dysentery-afflicted interlude in India, Jobs returned to Atari, where founder Nolan Bushnell did a little meta-engineering: he gave Jobs the challenge of creating a game that he suspected would bring Woz into the picture. Woz, who often hung around the Atari offices although working at HP, rose to the challenge. Woz designed the system while Jobs built the electronics, and the design was done in four days. They split the pay, but Jobs kept all of the bonus Bushnell paid for a design that used fewer than 50 microchips.
Skipping ahead past the founding of Apple itself, here's a look at the Apple II.
The Apple II towed the company into the big time. Its polished exterior required a lot more money to build, so newly incorporated Apple got a $250,000 line of credit and Woz, after much persuading, left HP. Guaranteeing the money and joining the company was business-savvy Mike Markkula, who'd grown wealthy off Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor stock. He wrote a short piece, "The Apple Marketing Philosophy," which laid out a course that remains at Apple to this day: "We will truly understand their needs better than any other company...In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities...People DO judge a book by its cover...We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities."
The Apple II tested the wills of Woz and Jobs. Jobs wanted a sealed box, but Woz threatened to quit unless it could be expanded with new circuit boards. Woz won--that time. But future Apple products generally took Jobs' route, becoming ever more self-contained. (The newer crop of MacBook Pros, following the course of iPods and iPhones, don't have replaceable batteries.)
The Apple II launch, at the West Coast Computer Faire, also foreshadowed a Jobs to come. He paid extra for prime real estate, obsessed over the appearance of the only three Apple II models that were completed, and took Markkula's advice to clean up and dress in a suit. It worked: Apple sold 300 of the metal-cased, beige systems.
Also prologue to Jobs' future was a will that was strong. Isaacson recounts the views of Mike Scott, Apple's first president, who told Jobs to bathe more often. Scott told Isaacson: "My very first walk [where Steve held important discussions] was to tell him to bathe more often...He said that in exchange I had to read his fruitarian diet book and consider it as a way to lose weight...Steve was adamant that he bathed once a week, and that was adequate as long as he was eating a fruitarian diet."
They clashed over Jobs' perfectionism, too. Pantone had 2,000 shades of beige, but "none of them were good enough for Steve," Scott told Isaacson. The early Apple was a place with plenty of conflict, but it sold 16 million Apple II systems and played a key role in launching the computing industry.
Jobs was at heart a calculating businessman. One anecdote from the book reveals just how much.
Daniel Kottke, who'd been Jobs' friend through college and India, joined Apple when it was still in Jobs' parents' garage. He worked as an hourly employee and wasn't eligible for stock options when Apple went public in 1980. Jobs wouldn't talk to Kottke about it, though. When Kottke finally brought it up in Jobs' office, Jobs was "cold," Isaacson recounts about the incident. He quotes Kottke: "I just got choked up and began to cry and just couldn't talk to him...Our friendship was all gone. It was so sad."
This was when Jobs was 25 years old.
His own wealth--$256 million from the initial public offering--made Jobs comfortable, but he pledged not to let it control his life. In the book, he said, "I made a promise to myself that I'm not going to let this money ruin my life."
Birth of the Mac
Jobs had extracted the famous graphical user interface technology from Xerox PARC--the Palo Alto Research Center--for 100,000 shares of Apple stock at $10 apiece before its IPO, a tidy investment. The technology started making its way into Apple's Lisa project. But Jobs was ejected from the Lisa project in September 1980 after management clashes and was stripped of his title, vice president for research and development.
Ultimately, it was fortuitous, because he ended up taking control of the Macintosh project, which proved much more influential and successful even though it began as a company sidelight. "It was like going back to the garage for me. I had my own ragtag team and I was in control," Jobs told Isaacson.
Macintosh was the embodiment of the vision of Jef Raskin, who wanted to build a computer for the masses. But he and Jobs fought, and Jobs won out. "Steve started acting on what he thought we should do, Jef started brooding, and it instantly was clear what the outcome would be," Mac team member Joanna Hoffman told Isaacson.
Raskin left, and Apple II engineer Andy Hertzfeld, took his place. He passed Jobs' scrutiny, but Hertzfelt said he needed to wrap up an Apple II project first and Jobs intervened forcefully, according to the book: "What's more important than working on the Macintosh? You're just wasting your time with that...Who cares about the Apple II? The Apple II will be dead in a few years. The Macintosh is the future of Apple, and you're going to start on it now!" And he unplugged Hertzfelt's Apple II, wiping out the code he had been working on.
One Mac programmer welcomed Hertzfeld by warning him about what he called Jobs' "reality distortion field": "In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he's not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules."
The term came to define Jobs.
Of it, Hertzfelt said: "The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand...Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective even if you were acutely aware of it. We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature."
Aiding the field was Jobs' exquisite sensitivity to the emotions and beliefs of whoever he was talking to. "It's a common trait in people who are charismatic and know how to manipulate people. Knowing that he can crush you makes you feel weakened and eager for his approval, so then he can elevate you and put you on a pedestal and own you," Hoffman said.
One example of his motivational skills came with engineer Larry Kenyon, who was working on the Mac's operating system software. Jobs wanted the computer to boot faster. "If it could save a person's life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?" Isaacson said he asked Kenyon, who said he probably could. Jobs then did the math: 5 million Mac users spending 10 extra seconds a day each to boot their Macs meant something like 3 million hours per year saved--more than 100 lifetimes. Kenyon peeled 28 seconds off the boot time.
During this period, Jobs cajoled the team with aphorisms: "Don't compromise." "The journey is the reward." "It's better to be a pirate than to join the navy." And famously brushing aside the idea of market research, "Customers don't know what they want until we've shown them." In 1983 when the Lisa beat the Mac to store shelves, Jobs told the Mac team that success meant bringing their product to market: "Real artists ship."
When the Mac did ship, though, the chief executive that Jobs had recruited to run Apple, John Sculley from PepsiCo, raised the price from the planned $1,995 to $2,495. Jobs disagreed yet went along with it. But he saw the decision as a fatal mistake: "It's the main reason the Macintosh sales slowed and Microsoft got to dominate the market," he said.
Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates
Isaacson spoke to both Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and got each to comment on his arch-rival. Each had sharp words, but only one of them was at all gracious.
Gates on Jobs: "He really never knew much about technology, but he had an amazing instinct for what works."
Jobs on Gates: "Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology...He just shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas."
Microsoft and Apple worked together several times, but rarely without friction. One example: when Gates was visiting Apple, privately showing Windows to Jobs, Gates recounted the meeting thus: "Steve didn't know what to say...He could either say, 'Oh, this is a violation of something,' but he didn't. He chose to say, 'Oh, it's actually really a piece of shit.'" Gates responded, "Yes, it's a nice little piece of shit," and though Windows 1.0 was a dud, Windows has long prevailed in the personal computer market.
The debate lives on. Jobs told Isaacson: "They just ripped us off completely, because Gates has no shame," to which Gates responded, "If he believes that, he really has entered into one of his own reality distortion fields."
After Mac sales sputtered, the mutual admiration of Sculley and Jobs turned sour, and eventually Jobs was squeezed out of operational responsibilities to become a chairman without a real job. He started working on what would become NeXT, luring five Apple employees in a move that led to even worse relations with Apple. Jobs resigned from the company he'd founded.
NeXT, though, had trouble, in part because of its exacting and impractical hardware specifications and in part because Gates badmouthed the system. One interesting moment in the book describes Jobs' licensing its Unix-based operating system to IBM and engaging in discussions with PC giants Dell and Compaq to do the same--but Jobs stopped short, the IBM relationship fizzled, and the world lost a potential Windows rival.
Jobs also took over Lucasfilm's Pixar unit, initially a combination of hardware, software, and animation. What succeeded, of course, was the animation work. Through Pixar, Jobs dealt with Intel's CEO at the time, Andy Grove, who'd asked Pixar for suggestions on improving how Intel chips could deal with 3D graphics. Jobs said that Pixar would have to be paid, Intel refused to pay, Jobs appealed to Grove, and Grove told him that's "what friendly companies and friends do for each other," Isaacson said.
After that, Jobs showed humility: "I have many faults, but one of them is not ingratitude...Therefore, I have changed my position 180 degrees--we will freely help. Thanks for the clearer perspective."
As Isaacson presents it, Jobs wouldn't have messed with the hardware and software of Pixar if he'd known how well the animation proved to turn out, but then again, he wouldn't have touched Pixar if it hadn't had the hardware and software. "Life kind of snookered me into doing that, and perhaps it was for the better," he concluded.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison saw "Toy Story" in the making many times. "I can't tell you the number of versions of Toy Story I saw before it came out," Ellison told Isaacson said. "It eventually became a form of torture. I'd go over there and see the latest 10 percent improvement. Steve is obsessed with getting it right--both the story and the technology--and isn't satisfied with anything less than perfection."
Difficulties paying for Pixar and "Toy Story" paid off with the company's IPO, during which the stock popped over the $22 per share asking price to close that day at $39. Jobs' 80 percent stake, for which he'd paid $50 million, became worth $1.2 billion.
In hammering out Pixar's deal with Disney, though, then-CEO Michael Eisner and Jobs played a game of brinksmanship. Jobs threatened to take future movies to a rival studio, but Eisner threatened to make "Toy Story" sequels.
"Eisner was reasonable and fair to me then," Jobs told Isaacson, "But eventually, over the course of a decade, I came to the conclusion that he was a dark man."
Ultimately, NeXT, too, paid off, even though its products flopped. Apple, adrift, bought the company for $400 million, talking Jobs down without too much trouble from his opening offer of $500 million. Jobs, conflicted over what role he should play, became merely "advisor to the chairman."
Bringing Apple back from the brink--including through a massive investment from Microsoft--was tough. Jobs also did in the clones such as Power Computing that had licensed the Mac OS.
"It was the dumbest thing in the world to let companies making crappier hardware use our operating system and cut into our sales," Jobs said.
And he drastically cut back the Mac product line by 70 percent and laying off staff. He laid out a clear direction at one strategy meeting, writing down two columns--consumer and pro--and two rows--desktop and portable. The company's job was to make only four products, one for each quadrant, he argued.
One casualty was the ill-fated Apple Newton handheld organizer. Isaacson quoted Jobs view: If "Apple had been in a less precarious situation, I would have drilled down myself to figure out how to make it work. I didn't trust the people running it. My gut was that there was some really good technology, but it was fucked up by mismanagement. By shutting it down, I freed up some good engineers who could work on new mobile devices. And eventually we got it right when we moved on to iPhones and the iPad."
The successes, though, helped boost Apple, perhaps most notably with the iMac, which brought new customers into the Apple fold. Behind the scenes, there was also a development process that integrated everything from design to manufacturing, new executives, and a better supply chain. And he tried to keep the "bozo explosion" from plaguing Apple with mediocre employees, as Isaacson recounts:
"For most things in life, the range between best and average is 30% or so. The best airplane flight, the best meal, they may be 30% better than your average one. What I saw with Woz was somebody who was fifty times better than the average engineer. He could have meetings in his head. The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that, A players. People said they wouldn't get along, they'd hate working with each other. But I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn't like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that's what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they're going to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers. My role model was J. Robert Oppenheimer. I read about the type of people he sought for the atom bomb project. I wasn't nearly as good as he was, but that's what I aspired to do."
The new hits came in succession. The next was the iPod, the product of Jobs' work to move beyond personal computers.
Here, Jobs banged the "Simplify!" drum over and over, Isaacson reported. Jobs said. "In order to make the iPod really easy to use--and this took a lot of arguing on my part--we needed to limit what the device itself would do. Instead we put that functionality in iTunes on the computer. For example, we made it so you couldn't make playlists using the device. You made playlists on iTunes, and then you synced with the device. That was controversial. But what made the Rio and other devices so brain-dead was that they were complicated. They had to do things like make playlists, because they weren't integrated with the jukebox software on your computer. So by owning the iTunes software and the iPod device, that allowed us to make the computer and the device work together, and it allowed us to put the complexity in the right place."
And Jobs discussed how he decided to market iPods as a way to market Macs: "I had this crazy idea that we could sell just as many Macs by advertising the iPod. In addition, the iPod would position Apple as evoking innovation and youth. So I moved $75 million of advertising money to the iPod, even though the category didn't justify one hundredth of that. That meant that we completely dominated the market for music players. We outspent everybody by a factor of about a hundred."
Ultimately, Jobs concluded he was almost uniquely positioned to fuel the digital-music revolution through the iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Store.
"I'm one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline," he told Isaacson.
Jobs balked for months when his deputies called for iTunes to run on Windows, not just Macs. Ultimately, the iPod conquered Microsoft's Zune. In Jobs' assessment: "The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don't really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you're doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you're not going to cheese out."
The Mac moves to Intel
Apple hasn't dethroned Windows personal computers by any stretch of the imagination, but Macs continue to make serious inroads. The iMac-on-a-stalk, the Cube, the curvy iBooks, the all-in-one iMacs--all have kept the more staid Windows machine builders scrambling.
The Macs suffered, however, because Motorola's PowerPC processors weren't competitive. Ultimately, in 2005, Apple switched to Intel processors, but Isaacson reveals that the move began in 1997, when Jobs was pushing for speedier laptop chip development in a call with Motorola CEO Chris Galvin. "Jobs offered his opinion that Motorola chips sucked," Isaacson reported.
"We had to find creative ways to bridge the numbers," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said of making the finances work, but Intel assigned a special team to the project, and the Intel-based Macs arrived six months early.
Gates was impressed, Isaacson said: ""If you'd said, 'Okay, we're going to change our microprocessor chip, and we're not going to lose a beat,' that sounds impossible."
iPhone and iPad
The iPhone was an Apple's triumph: it leaped past the Mac's position on the periphery of the personal computer market and led Apple to the heart of another industry that's at least as important. Jobs himself loathed the cell phones that were around in the early days of the iPod: "We would sit around talking about how much we hated our phones," he told Isaacson. "They were way too complicated. They had features nobody could figure out, including the address book. It was just Byzantine."
Apple also began developing multitouch tablets at the same time and decided to apply the technology to the iPhone. "They decided to proceed on two paths: P1 was the code name for the phone being developed using an iPod trackwheel, and P2 was the new alternative using a multitouch screen," Isaacson said. P2 was the bigger risk, but engineers had troubles making P1 simple enough, and Jobs opted for P2.
And Jobs was not a passive executive, apparently.
"Jobs spent part of every day for six months helping to refine the display," Isaacson said. "In session after session, with Jobs immersed in every detail, the team members figured out ways to simplify what other phones made complicated."
And Jobs interceded well into the product's design when he concluded the front face of the phone let the case, not the display, steal some of the show. "Guys, you've killed yourselves over this design for the last nine months, but we're going to change it," Isaacson said Jobs told the design team. They stepped up to the challenge, and Jobs said: "It was one of my proudest moments at Apple."
The iPad, too, was a personal project for Jobs. He took the initial criticisms personally, saying he was "depressed" on launch day by a flood of e-mailed complaints. But Apple sold a million in less than a month. "The reason Apple can create products like the iPad is that we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts," Jobs told Isaacson.
Securing content was one project for Jobs. Isaacson recounts negotiation between Jobs and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes. Bewkes wasn't upset that Apple wanted 30 percent of the subscription rate for a digital version of Time. But the deal hung up over the issue of which company the subscriber was a customer of.
"We have to figure something else out, because I don't want my whole subscription base to become subscribers of yours, for you to then aggregate at the Apple store...And the next thing you'll do, once you have a monopoly, is come back and tell me that my magazine shouldn't be $4 a copy but instead should be $1," Isaacson reported.
The old days of competing against Microsoft and PC makers changed in the new millennium. One major challenger was erstwhile ally Google, whose CEO, Eric Schmidt, had served on Apple's board.
When Google launched the Android operating system for mobile phones and then tablets, Jobs was livid--as angry as Isaacson had seen him. Apple sued Android handset makers for patent infringement, but Jobs made it clear to Isaacson that Google is the ultimate target: "Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.' Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products--Android, Google Docs--are shit.
A meeting with Schmidt afterward yielded nothing but further acrimony. Jobs told him, "We've got you red-handed. I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want."
And to Isaacson, he complained of Android's multitude of screen sizes and versions. "I like being responsible for the whole user experience. We do it not to make money. We do it because we want to make great products, not crap like Android," Jobs said.
Jobs also tangled with Adobe Systems over its Flash Player software, which he barred from the iPod and iPhone. "Flash is a spaghetti-ball piece of technology that has lousy performance and really bad security problems," he told Isaacson.
Evidently tangled up in the issue was Jobs' feelings toward Adobe. "I helped put Adobe on the map," with the desktop publishing revolution, Jobs said, but Adobe declined to support the Mac with video editing software in 1999. Adobe founder John Warnock retired in that period, and Jobs concluded, "The soul of Adobe disappeared when Warnock left. He was the inventor, the person I related to. It's been a bunch of suits since then, and the company has turned out crap."
Jobs' health declined with a third battle with cancer.
As he resigned as Apple's CEO in 2011, he effectively bid adieu to the world with Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and even Google's new CEO, Larry Page. To the latter, Jobs offered this advice: "I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby or being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It's now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they're dragging you down. They're turning you into Microsoft. They're causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great."
The day he told the board he was resigning, Jobs had lunch with two lieutenants, Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller. Isaacson recounts Jobs' first experience with what would become Siri, the voice-controlled assistant for the iPhone 4S: "Jobs grabbed the phone in the middle of the demo," Isaacson said, "and proceeded to see if he could confuse it. 'What's the weather in Palo Alto?' he asked. The app answered. After a few more questions, Jobs challenged it: 'Are you a man or a woman?' Amazingly, the app answered in its robotic voice, 'They did not assign me a gender.'"
That brightened the mood, but it reversed when they discussed how HP had abandoned its bid to carve a niche in the phone and tablet world. Jobs concluded: "Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands. But now it's being dismembered and destroyed. It's tragic. I hope I've left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple."
Updates: This article was updated a dozen times over the course of the night with the last update at 4:00 a.m. PT October 24.
Clarification: Jobs was referring to his adoptive parents as "my parents 1,000 percent."