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Interview: Apple's Steve Wozniak

'PC is the most efficient access to the world'

Steve Wozniak may not be as famous as his Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, but "Woz" invented the Apple I in 1976 and the Apple II in 1977. Which should matter - as the Apple II was one of the best-selling PCs of that time.

When I met up with him recently, Wozniak, who turns 57 on August 11, told me about how he met Jobs, his most cherished inventions and why he believes that thinking robots and artificial intelligence will never happen.

Peter Moon: You said in your autobiography that you and Steve Jobs had complementary personalities. While you were the technical mind, he got the business vision; while you were shy he was extroverted. When and how did you first meet?

Wozniak: We first met during my college years, while he was in high school. It was 1971 when a friend said, you should meet Steve Jobs, because he likes electronics and he also plays pranks.

So he introduced us. We both loved electronics and the way we used to hook up digital chips. Very few people, especially back then had any idea what chips were, how they worked and what they could do.

I had designed many computers so I was way ahead of him in electronics and computer design, but we still had common interests. We both had pretty much sort of an independent attitude about things in the world, we were both smart enough to think things up for ourselves and not have followed the common disregard of the day, like counterculture.

Steve was more apart of the counterculture thinking and I was really disclosed to it.

Peter Moon: Are you still friends? Do you meet him regularly and still exchange opinions about technology?

Wozniak: Yes, we're still friends. We talk regularly but not much about things related to technology anymore.

Peter Moon: Why did you quit Apple?

Wozniak: Being the sort of designer I was, I was designing things all on my own, working alone, and now the company grew to a point that it had organised engineering departments.

I could still hang around and do any project I felt like, but I wanted to do real things with people in order to change the world and bring new products.

So I didn't leave Apple. I just went to start other companies, and I stayed in Apple as an employee. I never left being employed at Apple. Up to this day I still get a small paycheck to settle royalties.

Peter Moon: Do you think Apple was right by not licensing the Macintosh operating system?

Wozniak: That's very hard to say even now. Consider the iPod, what it means to Apple even in terms of money. To make Apple such a great company in the computer field we also had to consider a lot of things. If Apple had licensed the operating system would we still be as large and as good creating such great products? You can never look back and decide how the future would have turned out for Apple.

...A lot of our biggest assets are customer loyalty and a lot of customer loyalty comes from people who believe in what Apple was, partly because it was the company that made the whole thing, the operating system, the hardware, the application, services...

It's the greatness of products that come through when we get control over all the aspects of the computer.

Peter Moon: Do you think the PC era is over?

Wozniak: Well, that's a good question. A lot of people could sprout out random ideas. Basically, if you're a human being, you want to get some things done in the world for some reason. If you want some financial analysis for your company, what are you going to do?

One thing you could do is look for information on the web using your computer. Are we going to use our voices, are we going to use our minds to communicate instead of the computer?

My answer is: I don't think so. Computers have a keyboard input for you to write down your message to get the computer to work. And the keyboard is operated by the fingers. Why would that change?

Now, apart from the fact that you can instantly look up some information and grab it for everyone in the world that wants it through the internet, the computer is just the versatile tool that really gives the human beings an interface to that world. But the computer has other purposes now. It is storage for more things, like music, photographs, home videos, email. The computer is so important and you just can't see those things going away.

You could see a few things like applications being used on the web, using Google Calendar instead of the iCalendar software for Macintosh. You could see people using different applications, but pretty much doing the same thing on their keyboard.

Will the personal computer go away?

...As long as you have a computer, it's going to be the most efficient access to the world. When you get to the point where everything is on the web, including applications, then you can use anybody's computer anywhere. But you just can't do them all on your phone.

Peter Moon: In your autobiography, you describe yourself as an engineer and an inventor. Which are your most recent inventions?

Wozniak: My most recent invention is a Segway key programmer. It's for the Segway, which is a two-wheel, self-balancing transportation device. It is a small project, but I did it to the standards that I always employed in the old days.

I had a startup company a few years ago that developed a GPS tracking system. I had developed a remote control way back in the late 80s that was the first universal remote control.


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