In twenty years—in a hundred—will Jobs be remembered? And for what?
I believe he will be remembered. If you think about smart phones, he created that market; if you think about the tablet, if you think about animated movies, if you think about music, he transformed those industries. Music companies wanted to sell people an entire CD. He found another model that worked, and also brought prices down. And this is part of the digital revolution that he helped lead. When history looks back at the digital revolution, he was the foremost herald, and will be remembered as such.
What single products will he most be remembered for? The iPhone? “Toy Story”?
The personal computer and the mouse. But I think in a way that all of his products fit under a single rubric. With most products you spend a day figuring out how to read the manual and use the product. With Apple products you didn’t get a manual. If you hand a nine-year-old an iPad, in ten minutes he knows how to use it.
In which guise was Jobs most important: as an inventor, as a businessman, or as a cultural figure? Or are those not useful categories?
Not useful categories. What he was was a bridge—between businessmen and technology, between designers and technology, between animators and engineers and the public. Here’s an example. When I was writing my book on Google, I would sit in at meetings there and understand half the words—they might as well have been speaking Swahili to me. Jobs never spoke that way. You understood him. Engineers are brilliant—they have all sorts of ideas. But without someone like Jobs to translate their work, they could never cross that divide.
What about Jobs as a political figure?
One of the things that drives the public mad is the sense that politicians are programmed—that they look to polls to tell them what to believe, what to say. One of the reasons Chris Christie seemed to be popular for a moment was that he seemed “genuine.” Well, that’s what Steve Jobs was. He never did any market research—he said people can’t know whether they’ll like an iPhone or an iPad until we’ve actually produced one. I have to go with my gut, and I believe these are products people will love. And they did.
He was a liberal Democrat, but he was basically not engaged in politics. He clearly had some relationship with Obama. He gave him, as Obama acknowledged yesterday, an iPad before the general public. One of the things Obama said in his remarks was that we learned about the death of Steve Jobs on one of his devices. He loved Al Gore; Al Gore was a member of his board, and had some geek in him, and they could relate.
But I think in general he probably disdained politicians. And he disdained them because they were usually so unlike him.
Is this the end of the Apple we’ve known?
I wouldn’t venture a guess on that. Among the many talents Steve Jobs had was a talent for finding and hiring executives. And so he gathered a very effective team. One of the questions is will they stay. Another question is whether the culture he imbued can continue without him. And the third question is that exacting quality he had—that persnickety demanding, sometimes cruel way he drove people—how important was that in terms of succeeding in driving them to a greater level of perfection? And with him gone, will that insistent drumbeat for the user experience continue at Apple? Those are questions no one can answer right now. And we probably won’t know the answer for many years. But that spirit of Steve Jobs will linger in the company for a while. In fact, many of the products still in the pipeline now are products that he helped sculpt.
After a few months as head of Apple, do we have a sense of how Tim Cook is doing?
Steve Jobs recruited him over a decade ago. One thing that was miraculous about Apple is that Steve Jobs would announce that they were producing the iPad or the iPhone, and those things would be shipped. That ability to manage the development of the product and the manufacturing of the product was something Cook was the driver behind. Clearly great capability, clearly he had great exposure to Steve Jobs and his values. A question is: Is he the creative guy? And, if he’s not, can he keep creative people like Jonathan Ives, the great designer at Apple?
What would it mean for a young person to take Steve Jobs as a role model—for better or for worse?
You know, one of the things that’s interesting about Jobs is that in many ways he was not a nice man. And yet he was a brilliant man. He was not particularly kind to people. Ultimately, we won’t remember the personal cruelty; we’ll remember the great products. Ideally what you want to have is a greater balance between being nice and being effective than he achieved. But one of the questions is whether he could have achieved what he achieved if he were nice.