Ahead of Nat Geo Channel’s new series “American Genius,” which portrays some of the greatest genius rivalries in U.S. history, reporters had their own brush with genius: Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. He was on hand to discuss the series’ first episode (premieres June 1), featuring the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The following are his thoughts on everything from the differences between the two entrepreneurs, the ethics of stealing ideas and his take on the Internet of Things.
On the philosophical differences between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates:
The real differences between where Steve Jobs is portrayed compared to Bill Gates is Steve Jobs having a very futuristic forward vision, almost a bit of the science fiction, “Here’s what life could be,” but Bill Gates had more of an execution ability to build the things that are needed now, to build a company now, make the profits now, in the short-term.
I think Steve Jobs actually felt that Bill Gates should be giving up the current and really pushing the world towards the future of a mouse-based point and click type of computer machinery and that Bill Gates was just in it more for the money. I mean the world market for computers grew ten times and Microsoft got it all… You really need the vision like Steve Jobs has, but the vision doesn’t go anywhere if you try to jump in and build products before they are cost effective for what they do, return on investment is there.
On previous dramatic portrayals of Steve Jobs in film and on TV:
I think that there were a lot of weaknesses about the Jobs movie, the one with Ashton Kutcher, a lot of weaknesses from the screen writing and all, but I gave it a chance. I was hoping it would be a great movie. It didn’t get into the inner thinking of Steve Jobs, [and] the movie was about Steve Jobs.
It didn’t get into how he worked inside and how he actually negotiated and worked on people and portrayed his ideas through. It kind of shortened everything. It sort of had the outside Steve Jobs, the frill, the façade and done very well, but I wanted more. I want to really know what is behind this thinking that goes a step further than other people.
I absolutely feel that it can be captured and has been captured in drama style. [The TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley] not only captured inside of Steve Jobs. It’s the events that occurred and what was their meaning in the development of computers… I loved watching it. Maybe because it was first it caught more attention. I thought they did a better job… I really think a lot of this Steve Jobs versus Bill Gates is going to be the best way to portray what people really want.
On whether a sense ethics, i.e. stealing ideas from one another, is loose in the computer business:
I did not have to be a businessman and convert my ethics. There’s personal ethics and there’s business ethics and they are not the same. Mike Markkula, our investor, told us that face-to-face right from the start that things that were right or wrong on a personal level were not how you run a business. All that matters is the profit and I buy into that. So, I didn’t want to be the businessman running things…
All this stealing from each other, you’re always influenced by things you’ve seen in the past, seen people do. I had a reputation though for all my designs of having come up with things that were never in a book, in any forum, just total invalid ways of thinking about what computers could do. I look back on myself and I can’t believe; where did I come up with those ideas? Like that was an amazing person, but that’s unusual. Usually it’s people that know the business and decide, well, here’s what’s going to be worth money.
Well now these large companies like Apple can just buy small people who have patents and new technology and the important things so they can say, “We’re creating it.” But still, very often—look at Steve Jobs’ Apple II, the real success. The first time Apple increased its size over the Apple II days was with the iPod. Our valuation doubled. Steve Jobs was given jet planes by the board and all of that. It was hugely successful, the iPod.
Well, it was a case where we opened up and we even wrote iTunes, the music program, that was going to change the world of distribution of music. We wrote it for Windows so that every single person in the world could use it.
On companies like Twitter, that aren’t yet profitable despite their scale and usefulness to the public:
When you think about it, aside from products like Xbox, Microsoft is largely software; Apple largely hardware and there’s more money in hardware. We grew up knowing hardware. Steve Jobs and myself have been around hardware and we built that machine. So, it wasn’t like we deliberately decided how to jump in.
Today, it’s harder to jump into the hardware world. It’s very well defined. There are a few different choices that kind of control everything. So, most people who are young, university-educated in technology, have brilliant minds for thinking out ways to solve things, they go into software and that’s why you wind up with Facebooks and Twitters, things that don’t really require a hardware element.
In my opinion, that’s one of Steve Jobs’ geniuses. When we started the company, it was actually our investor, Mike Markkula, who said we have to be high profit. Fortunately, we started with a product that was going to be Apple’s successful product for its first ten years. We had a great, great product, and we can build it for less than our competitors and yet charge three times as much. The idea was that if you have a lot of profit you can grow a good successful company.
So, we always wanted to be in that position, but really it hinged on really great, incredible products that work well and just don’t let you down and do their jobs better than other people. That sort of became Apple’s mantra or driving force. That’s where we are today; really, build the products that command that sort of a margin and don’t ever let customers down… Software, it’s harder because other people can also jump in and do the software. You’ve got to get a good lead, a good amount of software and a lot of good followers that believe in you and don’t let those followers down.
On the Internet of Things:
Internet of Things is going to attract so many companies because it says every little small thing in the world can be put on the Internet. The feeling I get is that it’s a bubble and a bubble because when the Internet started I had the same feelings. All these things you can do with the Internet. It’s going to change everything in life, but the trouble is life can only change at a certain speed.
So, there are way too many companies invested in, properly invested in—the Internet was going to become everything in life, but the investments were just too soon for the speed that it can happen, that much change can happen at and we had the bubble burst.
Internet of Things is going to grow and grow and become very important, but it’s also like all the machinery in the world can control things without us humans making the decisions we used to make. It’s a little part of that dumbing us down where we don’t have to think anymore because it’s being done for us and that leaves us very dependent.
If you lose your smartphone, can you call your mother? Do you even know her phone number? By the way, I have an artificial intelligence point of view, it’s not part of the movie, but that if there’s an intelligence in the future that totally runs everything and dominates over humans, and I have reasons to say that it’ll be that intelligent in 20 years from now, but not really able to do it because it doesn’t control everything that moves for maybe 200 years, it’s sending back to the past, which is now, it’s ideas of telling humans what to build that it will need and what it needs is the Internet of Things.
On who might be considered the Steve Jobs of today:
The iPhone came with every little detail handpicked by Steve Jobs so it would work well for him. When one person with that kind of a mind is in control of a product, that’s when you get the exceptionality.
The Apple II, for example, that started Apple, it was everything I wanted in a computer and it didn’t exist anywhere in the world. So, I had to build it, but it was absolutely fine-tuned and it would do the things in the end that I needed. I look at Elon Musk. Not only is his product exceptional, the Tesla Model S, but his company and the business model—buy a car and you get free charging for life and you get free Internet without having to sign all these contracts and you have very simplified purchase procedures compared to normal car sales.
I just admire that so much and I am going to follow Elon Musk. I just ordered a recent book that I’m going to read on my Kindle.