Apr 11

First iWoz, now iSteve

Lots of Steve headlines suddenly:

On Friday, Steve Wozniak made news by letting loose that he’d “consider” a more active role within Apple if asked. (Trust me, there will be no asking.)

Then yesterday came the official word from Simon & Schuster that Steve Jobs’ official biography will be published in early 2012.

Let’s start with the latter, since it’s a tad more important.

First, I’m always amazed when the reporting gets sloppy. The first sentence of the news feed picked up by a ton of sites reads, “Apple CEO Steve Jobs has finally agreed to participate in a book about his life.”

As we know, Steve actually agreed to this over a year ago when he authorized legendary biographer Walter Isaacson to write the book. A case of mass amnesia?

Whatever, Simon & Schuster has now announced that the book will be published in early 2012. It will be titled iSteve: The Book of Jobs.

To say I’m looking forward to reading it would be an understatement. Steve has given Isaacson full access to his personal and professional life, including even his lieutenants inside Apple. Given the talent of the writer and the drama of the story, iSteve will surely be one of the biggest books of the year, if not the biggest.

However, let’s nitpick for a moment. For a book that achieves this level of importance, that “iSteve” thing is kind of cutesy, isn’t it? Not only that, but that other Steve already published his life story under the title iWoz.

Given the iWoz thing in particular, I’m surprised anyone had the nerve to suggest this title to Steve, and far more surprised that he approved it. Such must be the power of Walter Isaacson.

As for The Book of Jobs, that part made me laugh, only because of this little thing that appeared in Scoopertino just three weeks ago.

But back to the Woz story.

Woz’s expression of interest in returning to Apple must have been met with much eye-rolling at Apple HQ. But then he has induced much eye-rolling in the past. I suspect that this most recent story is just an example of Woz making an off-the-cuff remark, and that getting picked up by the Apple-focused press.

However, I think it’s safe to say that Woz does suffer from Pete Best syndrome. No matter how much “success” he achieves, he will always be the guy who left before the magic happened.

One has to wonder why he titled his biography iWoz, with its obvious link to Apple’s huge i-successes — when he was long gone before any i-product ever appeared. (He was out of Apple a full ten years before iMac.)

While the eccentric thing works for some people (Dancing With The Stars, anyone?), it keeps us from taking Woz too seriously. His image is goofy enough, he hasn’t a snowball’s chance of being given any real role at Apple again.

If Woz wants to be thought of on that level, he should take a lesson from the master — the other Steve. It’s all about brand-building. Woz is a brand, and it’s in sore need of building.

He could clearly use a good manager. He could also use a good designer. For the man who changed the world, his woz.org website is shockingly bad. You have to brush the cobwebs off your screen when you visit. It perfectly demonstrates the difference in taste between Steve 1 and Steve 2.

If Woz reinvigorated his image, one day Isaacson might come sniffing around to write his book too. Who knows, maybe he could even recycle the same title.

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  • Cory

    I think Steve Wozniak is still an employee of Apple and still gets a paycheque (paycheck), although he has ended is full time employment (circa February 1987) and really has done nothing for them since.

    Getting paid for nothing… nice gig!

  • ken segall

    Yes, Woz still collects a paycheck from Apple. One of the benefits of being a founder. Although he does have to wait online at the Apple Store for an iPhone like everyone else….

  • Cory

    I have often wondered how much he gets paid? We all know that Steve Jobs still only gets $1 per year (in salary – and during Apple’s recovery years – nothing else).

  • Taxi

    Hi Ken,

    I think this posting is really harsh. Woz’s recent contributions to Apple include basically inventing AirPort through his work in schools, and his legacy engineering work – such as the miniaturisation of power supplies which started with the Apple II – continues to this day. Have you seen the iPhone charger? Who do you think inspired that?

    It’s true that Woz’s public persona may be difficult. But after seeing him speak at a conference in Sydney a couple of years ago, my perception of him changed enormously. I think he’s a very intelligent man out to have a bit of fun, and I don’t really get the feeling that he yearns to return to everyday work. He loves technology and seems to enjoy life. But who’d give up the opportunity to work in a senior position at one of the most dynamic and successful businesses in the world? Especially if you’re one of the three guys who started it? Surely his answer to the question is entirely rational.

    It’s a shame you didn’t link to the actual quote so I could read it in context. That’s where this blog post starts to go seriously awry.

    Ultimately, Woz might not have the style and pizzaz of Jobs, but his legacy is enormous. It’s clear that he’s not the aesthete that Jobs is, but criticising his web site (which is clearly written up by some kind of publicist) as a defence of why he shouldn’t return to Apple is a bit unreasonable. Wouldn’t you like to work at, or with, Apple again? So, what’s your engineering qualification – what have you ever miniaturised? Apple is every bit as much an engineering company as it is a design company.

    Finally, to suggest that the “magic happened” only when the iDevices came about is pretty disingenuous. Surely, inventing the PC as we know it must have been an incredible ride. Helping invent the original Mac and changing the entire computing industry must have been pretty awesome too. Apple’s now in the process of revolutionising it’s third industry and creating a fourth, but the original revolution was the foundation for all that followed, and Woz made a huge contribution to that. I think he deserves a little more respect, even though you clearly don’t like the man.

    I really enjoy your blog, but this post made me a bit upset.

  • ken segall

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. You get one free slap at me if we should ever meet.

    I’d like to make a few clarifications. But first, I think you’re misunderstanding my feelings about Woz. I think he’s a certifiable legend who literally changed the world. I get the feeling from his interviews, appearances and book that he’d like to be better appreciated for his accomplishments. I believe he deserves that. Yet many today don’t know who he is, or if they do, they have a lightweight image of him. In my opinion, that’s because he’s mismanaged his own brand.

    You said that your own perception of Woz changed enormously when you heard him speak. I assume this means that your perception before that moment wasn’t nearly as good. That’s pretty much my point. 99.99% of the people in this world haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him speak, so his public persona is all we know.

    Apologies for not including the link. I’m normally pretty diligent about such things. This Reuters story offers little detail, but it’s the story all others seem to reference: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/08/us-apple-wozniak-idUSTRE7375PU20110408.

    When I talk about the magic happening after Woz left Apple, I don’t mean to minimize the importance of his contributions. But by any measure, the Apple of Woz’s day is a tiny shadow of what Apple is today. It’s hard to be precise when measuring in imaginary units like “magic,” but it’s safe to say that Apple only became a mainstream global phenomenon when iPod, iPhone and iPad kicked in.

    I think we’ll continue to disagree about the importance of Woz’s website. In my opinion, one’s site says a lot about who you are and what you believe. That’s conveyed in both substance and presentation. If Woz is perfectly content with the way the world views him now, then by all means he should keep things just as they are. If he would like more recognition and appreciation, I think his website deserves a major overhaul. He should be keeping it current and interesting. This alone won’t fix things, but it would be a step in the right direction.

    Last … Woz invented AirPort? Nothing comes up in Google. I worked with Apple during AirPort’s launch and never heard his name mentioned.

    Thanks for keeping me honest, and for sparking a little debate.

  • Taxi

    Hi Ken

    No offense taken.

    At the conference where I saw Woz speak, he said that Airport was created because he asked Jobs to come up with an easy to use base station to use in the schools that he was working in. He didn’t claim to design it (and wifi base stations were commercially available at the time) but he did claim to be the reason that Apple developed it. It turned out to be a very important product.


  • gkotsis

    Seems like Woz’s consideration is not actually true:

    The story was slashdotted and there is a comment that reposts Woz’s comment on his statement. I quote Woz from http://apple.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2076504&cid=35768486

    When I first saw the headlines it was just another totally wrong one. I did an interview in Brighton the other day with this female Reuters journalist. The entire interview was about Fusion-io, at the SQLbits European conference, with myself and David Flynn, our CEO. At the end she asked about whether I’d return to Apple and I thought and said “no” and told her some reasons it was impossible. So she sits there and asks “with all the exciting things going on at Apple, would you consider going back?”…I said “yes” but explained that it could not happen. What you read is based on the one “yes”. So I didn’t read a single article about it. I was on planes and am writing a speech now for a humanist award I’m receiving tonight in Boston and don’t have time to get into this one. Too bad.

    This reporter took notes by hand but I think the Fusion-io publicist Shannon might have recorded it.

  • tony danton

    The real reason it was changed was because of Steve Sailer, who has used iSteve as a trademark for years.