Sep 11

Steve Jobs: two visionaries in one

There are two kinds of visionaries in this world.

One imagines a new today and goes about creating it. The other imagines a new tomorrow — one that’s beyond the range of our current capabilities.

Steve Jobs has done a pretty good job in the here-and-now by revolutionizing computers, music, phones and tablets. But how good is he when it comes to looking, say, 15 years into the future?

This video from the 1997 WWDC provides a great insight into that. Answering a question from the audience, Steve talks about how information should be accessible from any device, anytime and anywhere, and we shouldn’t know or care where the information actually lives. It should be that simple for us. In other words, he’s describing cloud computing 15 years before it became reality.

Keep in mind, he’s saying these things before OS X, before iTunes, before apps, when phones were for phone calls and most of our data was spread out over the 4-gigabyte hard drive in our new iMacs.

The whole clip is pretty fascinating, but this highlight comes at the 4:24 mark:

One of my hopes is that Apple can do for this new type of network … with gigabit Ethernet technologies and some of the new server stuff that’s coming down the pike, and some thinner hardware clients … that Apple can make that as plug-and-play for mere mortals as it made the user experience over a decade ago. That’s one of things where I think there’s a giant hole and I can’t communicate to you how awesome this is unless you use it. And what you would decide within a day or two is that carrying around these non-connected computers or computers with tons of state in them, tons of data and state in them, is byzantine by comparison.

I suppose there’s nothing in The Official Visionary’s Handbook that requires a visionary to actually deliver on his vision. Maybe others had a similar vision about the cloud.

So let’s consider it a bonus that Steve didn’t just sit in his chair, Nostradamus-like, and imagine a future he had no intention of creating.

[Thanks to Jorge for the tip.]

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  • My favourite part of the longer video is when he brushes off the Newton as “that squiggle thing”.

  • “most of our data was spread out over the 4-gigabyte hard drive in our new iMacs.”


    This talk was in 1997. The iMac shipped in 1998.

    Other than that, spot on.

  • ken segall

    Ya caught me! I should’ve known better. Interestingly, this talk also happened before Steve was in charge of things. At this point, just after Apple purchased NeXT, he was only an “advisor” to Gil Amelio. Methinks that Gil never inspired people in quite this way…

  • Erik Akerblom

    Thanks Ken. I was there that day and never forgot this.