Prior to his return to Apple, it was obvious that the company was in trouble. Larry Ellison had floated the idea of a hostile takeover of the company, but it seemed to some of us Apple watchers that then-CEO Gil Amelio’s turnaround plan might work.
I wrote an impassioned email to Steve at Pixar, pleading with him to find something else to do with his time. “Please,” I implored him, “don’t come back to Apple, you’ll ruin it.”
At the time, I really thought Steve and Larry were just twisting the knife into an already struggling company. As I made my living on Macs, I wanted the company to survive and not be distracted by Steve and Larry’s games.
Shortly thereafter, Steve emailed me. He explained what he was trying to do, and that he was trying to save Apple.
And then he wrote the words I’ll never forget:
“You may be right. But if I succeed, remember to look in the mirror and call yourself an asshole for me.”
Consider it done, Steve. I could not have been more mistaken.
It was just a monumental experience for me.
I lived in fear of being ripped and shredded in front of hundred people. I really did, everybody did, and with hindsight fear drove great accomplishment. We were deathly afraid of being embarrassed and ripped by him.
About five years ago, one evening, just as I had sat down with my wife and daughter at Saravana Bhavan, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant in Sunnyvale, in walked Steve Jobs with his wife and son. They sat down on the table behind us. It was a busy school night and the place was packed with loud kids and hungry Indians vying for attention of the woefully inadequate staff. Like the clientele at this hangout - mostly Indian techies looking for cheap but authentic food - the staff is also authentic Indian: many speak limited English only and are not aware of the rich and famous of the Silicon Valley.
So, it was with great amusement, we watched Steve raise his hand several times to attract the attention of the waiter, who summarily ignored him. As the only white guy in the restaurant, we thought he would be instantly recognized and served with special attention. Instead, he had the worst table in the house. A bored waiter passed plastic menu cards at his family without giving a second glance. Eventually, he did get served with the mass efficiency of an overworked staff. And, no one bothered him during his dinner either.
My wife and I observed in awe as Steve and his family enjoyed a quiet meal in the riotous, inexpensive place in the heart of Silicon Valley. It dawned on us that no one in the restaurant had recognized Steve in his low key attire and a stubble. At the end, when no one came to his table to present the check, Steve rose up, dropped a few cash notes on the table and walked out, as the server wiped his table.
Just then, the manager walked by, and I asked him, “Did you know that was Steve Jobs?”. He smiled and gave me the Indian head shake - a cross between yes and no. To this day, I don’t know what he meant.
When my daughter was at Stanford he got in touch with me, and said, “It’s hard to travel to see your child when you’re President. I’ve got a place out in the country. You and Hillary can stay there and bring Chelsea and her friends there any time you want to.” He gave me a priceless gift: the opportunity to see my child while I was still a very public figure, so I’m highly biased in his favor. Plus, even I can work an iPad and iPhone.
He was always thinking. It wasn’t like there was a new idea everyday, but he was so determined and focused, and when he got sick, he just got better. I went to see him a few months before he passed. The last time I talked to him, he said, “This cancer I have is clever. It keeps coming up with new ways to attack me. I don’t think I have any weapons left, but I had a good time trying to beat it.”
When I was still at Sun Microsystems, I visited him at NeXT—we did a bunch of deals with him. He was exactly the same way he was at Apple: strongly opinionated, knew what he was doing. He was so passionate about object-oriented programming. He had this extraordinary depth. I have a PhD in this area, and he was so charismatic he could convince me of things I didn’t actually believe.
I should tell you this story. We’re in a meeting at NeXT, before Steve went back to Apple. I’ve got my chief scientist. After the meeting, we leave and try to unravel the argument to figure out where Steve was wrong—because he was obviously wrong. And we couldn’t do it. We’re standing in the parking lot. He sees us from his office, and he comes back out to argue with us some more. It was over a technical issue involving Objective C, a computer language. Why he would care about this was beyond me. I’ve never seen that kind of passion.
At NeXT he built this platform—a powerful workstation platform for the kind of computing that I was doing, enterprise computing. When he came back to Apple, he was able to take the technology he invented at NeXT and sort of slide it underneath the Mac platform. So today, if I dig deep inside my Mac, I can find all of that NeXT technology. Now, this may not be of interest to users, but without the ability to do that the Mac would have died. I was surprised that he was able to do that. But he did it.
When he went to Apple, he was basically down to 1 percent market share. Apple was near bankruptcy, the company had been for sale, there were a series of management changes. I talked to him about it. He said, “The thing that I have that no one else has is very loyal customers.” He had these fanatical people who would line up all night for a product that wasn’t any good. He figured correctly that by upgrading and investing in and broadening the portfolio, he could do it. At some level he foresaw the next 10 years.
I met Steve Jobs randomly while working as an intern at Apple in the summer of 2010. I had stepped into an elevator on the main Apple campus when, just as the door was closing, Steve Jobs strolled in. He saw that I had an intern badge on, and asked me what I was working on over the summer.
When he asked me this question, I wasn’t sure what to say. Should I tell him what I was working on, and risk getting in trouble for disclosing what I was working on (as we had been instructed not to do during orientation), or should I just tell him that I wasn’t allowed to tell him?
I went with the latter, telling him, “Sorry, but I’m not supposed to tell you.” Steve flashed a smile, chuckled a little, and stepped out of the elevator.
In 2008, my colleague Ray Marshall and I had the privilege of being able to demo TypePad’s iPhone app onstage during the keynote of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.
It started a week before the keynote, when we arrived at 1 Infinite Loop with our app and two minute demo script. We thought we were ready. We weren’t. They worked with us non-stop that week to refine our app, shape our story and polish our script. We rehearsed hundreds and hundreds of times (“Better. Now do it again,” was a constant refrain), and presented to dozens of different people inside Apple.
On the Wednesday afternoon before the Monday keynote we were to present in the theater on Apple’s campus to Steve, Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller; they’d have the final word on whether we’d make it to the big stage at Moscone. The wait outside the theater was torture, the walk down the aisle was nerve wracking, and the two minute demo we gave went by in a blur. I’m pretty sure I rushed it.
But Steve smiled. He said he liked it, that we had done a great job. And then gave us advice. Move a line up, emphasize this particular point, fix that button on the app. Coming from him it was all obvious stuff — we felt foolish for not seeing those flaws earlier. And then he cocked his head and asked if those were stock photos that we were using. Which, of course, they were. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We can get you photos. We have great photos. Thanks guys.” And with that we were done. By the weekend’s rehearsals, the demo iPhones were loaded with a few of Apple’s beautiful in-house photos. And on that Monday the whole thing went off without a hitch.
One day in Fall 2010, not long after starting a full-time job at Apple, my friend Lita visited me at 1 Infinite Loop. It was a nice, warm, sunny day. We were getting lunch at Caffe Macs, waiting in line for some salmon teriyaki. When I turned around in line, I was surprised to find Steve Jobs right behind us. What’s most interesting was that he wasn’t wearing his usual black turtleneck sweater. Instead, he had on this black-and-white-striped long-sleeved shirt, which I’d never seen him wear before. Lita whispered to me, “OMG that’s Steve Jobs!”
After we had our lunch, we decided to get some gelato. Caffe Macs served _amazing_ gelato. Incredibly, Steve was right behind us again! My friend couldn’t hold it in any longer and said something random like “Isn’t it a bit warm to be wearing that shirt?” Steve replied, “But I don’t have any short sleeve shirts!” And that was that. It was totally random, but very amusing.
Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.”
And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.
I worked at Apple from April of 1999 through July of 2011. I’ve never written publicly about that experience, but I wanted to share a little moment that will always be with me, even though it’s not of any great significance.
After leaving my job at Apple, I dropped in for lunch one day. I was exiting the main building, Infinite Loop One, and just ahead of me was Steve Jobs, walking with the usual spring in his step that never seemed to go away even as he started looking more frail. Bumping into Steve was a surprisingly common occurrence for such a large company as Apple.
Steve was heading towards a car parked next to the curb with its door open, waiting for him. The car was idling. A family was standing near the Apple sign outside the building, a common site for people to take photos on their pilgrimages to Apple.
The father turned to Steve as he passed close by and asked, “Excuse me, sir, would you mind taking our photo?”
Steve paused for a moment as an iPhone was extended to him, realizing that they didn’t seem to know who he was. With a hint of enthusiasm, he said “Sure!” as he took the iPhone into his hands.
Steve took a great deal of care composing the photo, backing up a few steps several times, tapping the iPhone screen to lock focus, then said “Smile!” as he snapped the photo, grinning a little bit himself to encourage the family to follow suit.
He handed back the iPhone and they said “Thank you, sir” as Steve stepped into his car, closed the door, and was driven away. The family looked at the photo that Steve had taken and all agreed that it looked great. Then the iPhone was pocketed and they were on their way.
And that was the last time I saw Steve Jobs.