Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson expects Apple to settle its iOS/Android copyright lawsuit with Google, revolutionise the digital photography and television markets within two years, and believes that the Apple co-founder will be seen by history as at least as great as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
Talking at London’s historic Royal Institution on Wednesday evening Isaacson discussed both the “petulance” and “exuberance” of Steve Jobs, of whom he wrote last year’s best-selling biography. Also in attendance was Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Einstein biographer Roger Highfield, now the Director of External Affairs at the National Museum of Science and Industry.
As in his biography Isaacson talked about Jobs’ passion for perfection and products rather than profits.
He discussed the similarities between the former Apple CEO and other historic lovers of simplicity and beauty, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci. But he pointed out that it was too early to hold Jobs up as a genius at their levels.
He does believe, however, that in a hundred years Jobs will be regarded as at least as great as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
“Steve Jobs is a greater genius than Microsoft’s Bill Gates because he has transformed multiple industries,” said Isaacson.
“Computers, music, desktop and digital publishing, retail stores, telephones and digital animation,” said Isaacson, “were all changed forever by Steve Jobs.”
The biographer, now busy writing a history of the digital revolution, expects Apple to revolutionise the industries of digital photography and television “within the next two years”.
He expressed his quandary over whether he should reveal these next two Apple targets in his biography of Jobs, and hinted that he knew more about the company plans in these areas.
“Apple has revolutionised industries so that we get what we want, when we want it, personalised for us. Television does the opposite,” he explained.
Isaacson doubts that Apple will stop coming up with great products, as it still employs “the world’s greatest industrial designer, Sir Jony Ive”.
He described Jobs as “the most intense, emotionally charged person you could ever meet” and dismissed the charge that the no-nonsense Apple man had any form of Asberger’s Syndrome where sufferers have difficulties in social interaction.
“Steve wasn’t kind. He was brutally honest. But he was intensely emotional and cried many times when we talked.
“He was at the opposite end of the scale to Asberger’s. His products prove that he could emotionally connect to people unseen.”
Isaacson had written a biography of Benjamin Franklin in which he described how after the scientist and Founding Father had written a list of 12 virtues to live by it was pointed out to him that his own pride was a problem. He quickly added humility to his list.
“Franklin said he was very good at faking humility. Steve Jobs didn’t have any sense of that virtue.”
In response to a question asking about the future of Apple post Steve Jobs Isaacson batted back the point that his successor Tim Cook scored higher than Jobs in terms of Apple employee satisfaction.
“Popularity contests were not Steve’s forte,” he responded.
But he did concede that Cook was a very different man and CEO.
He used the example of Apple’s ongoing legal battle with Google over Android’s alleged copyright violations over Apple’s iOS.
“Steve was furious when he saw Microsoft stealing the Mac OS interface and licensing it to every PC maker who paid for it. So when Google licensed its Android mobile operating system so promiscuously to junkie handset makers he was determined to act.
“Steve said to Google ’You can’t pay me off. I’m here to destroy you’. But Tim Cook will settle that lawsuit. He’s a lot less emotional about business than Steve.”
Isaacson explained that the only place Jobs wouldn’t let him go in their discussions was philanthropy. Gates has given billions to charity, but Jobs wasn’t interested in the same way. Isaacson revealed that Jobs was against seeing Gates on his deathbed in case he asked him to join his Giving Pledge.
But Steve did believe in giving, just not his money.
“Steve said that life was a spiritual journey and that you have to put something back that’s just as simple and beautiful as what has been left for you in your time,” he quoted Jobs.
To counter claims that his lack of charitable donations makes Jobs heartless he pointed out that his widow Laurene is a major philanthropist and non-profit activist. She is co-founder and president of the Board of College Track, a non-profit organisation with a mission to improve education for low-income families.
Asked what he thought would have become of Jobs if he hadn’t been adopted Isaacson talked about how his adoption had made Jobs determined to succeed as a “special misfit” but pointed out that after giving him up for adoption his birth parents Syrian Abdulfattah Jandali and American Joanne Carole Schieble moved to Homs in Syria where they had another child.
“So imagine what Steve could have been doing today if he hadn’t been adopted,” smiled Isaacson. “If that were the case and if I were Assad I’d flee immediately!”
Isaacson revealed that Jobs nearly sacked him as biographer when he saw the publisher’s original dust jacket design for the book.
“I was on my way to see Jobs launch the original iPad in 2010, and had just got off the plane at San Francisco airport,” recalled Isaacson.
“I saw that I has seven missed calls from Steve Jobs, and I knew that couldn’t be good news.
“I called him back and Steve immediately started shouting ‘That cover sucks. You’ve got no taste. I want nothing more to do with you because you’ve got no taste.
“When he calmed down a little Steve said he would continue with the book only if I allowed him to help out on the cover. It took me about half a second to agree to the greatest graphic designer of our generation designing the cover of my book!”