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Monday, December 18, 2006

Steve Wozniak on how he shaped Apple

How the Woz shaped Apple
It wasn't all about Jobs

By Seb Janacek
Though Apple's success has made Steve Jobs' name well-known in many a household, few know much about co-founder Steve Wozniak. But, says Seb Janacek, 'the Woz' played at least as crucial a role in shaping the PC industry as Jobs. Steve Wozniak's name is established in Apple folklore as the person who single-handedly designed the company's first computer, the Apple I.
While the Apple I set the Cupertino start-up on its way towards commercial success, the Apple II, again a computer solely designed by Wozniak, turned the company and the computing world on its head.
Probably more so than his namesake Steve Jobs, without him there would be no Apple, let alone the Macintosh, iMac or iPod. However, it has always been Jobs who for one reason or another has the strongest association with the phenomenal success of the one-time Silicon Valley start-up. This has as much to do with their characters, the extroverted Jobs versus the introverted Wozniak. However, the recent publication of Wozniak's autobiography, iWoz, tells the story of Apple from his perspective for the first time. Wozniak sees engineers as artists. The transistors and circuits only serve to deliver the end result. He was a child prodigy at school at mathematics, electronics and engineering and had his IQ measured at more than 200. His father, also an engineer, instilled in Wozniak an interest and love of electronics and engineering. He spent his formative engineering years poring over the schematics of early computers and redesigning them with as few chips and transistors as possible. Engineering quickly became his passion.
It's Wozniak's character which comes across most in the book, and in particular how his personality and values were instilled in the products he designed for Apple, and interestingly those that the company continued to develop after he left to pursue other interests.
While Jobs is known as the mercurial and charismatic leader and visionary product marketer, with the Midas touch when it comes to predicting the next big thing in technology, it is clearly Wozniak who was the prime architect of early success of the company. It could be argued, and indeed the book makes this case, that it was Wozniak who single-handedly defined the company's core vision for personal computing as well as designed the hardware and the software that made it real.
The Apple principles of improving the world through computers and putting a 'dent in the universe' were part of the engineer's design ethic from a very early stage.
Indeed, it was Wozniak's vision that personal computers should be accessible, usable and above all elegant that influenced Apple product philosophy. His highly focused view on the role of the inventor as artist, combined with his philanthropic drive to improve the world by bettering the quality of life through cool technology, are key to the Apple devotees' view of the company occupying a special place in the technology landscape. Perhaps what's most interesting are his views on the creative engineering process and how he viewed the role of the engineer within the corporate ladder, as well as how he saw his own involvement and responsibility as co-founder.
Despite being one of the co-founders, he was adamant from an early stage that he had no interest in becoming a management player in the nascent Silicon Valley scene. In fact, the prospect of having to become an executive who hired and fired, developed business strategies and marketing plans for the company was so alien to his character that he almost never left his beloved HP.
It was only when a friend urged him to join Jobs in founding Apple and pointed out that he could be "just an engineer" that he made the decision to quit his full-time job.
Wozniak reckoned that having responsibility to investors and shareholders inevitably mutates the mindset and personality of a company and its employees. Just look at Google for a much-publicised, modern example of this.
The Apple I was developed out of a joint effort to impress computer hobbyists and to realise his ambition of owning his own computer. It was never designed with the aim of selling millions of units. His reasons for co-founding Apple were to continue to design cool and elegant computers and gain peer recognition for doing so. The designs of the original Apple computers are still lauded as masterpieces of electrical engineering.Wozniak sees engineers as artists. The transistors and circuits only serve to deliver the end result. As Jobs perhaps put it best: the journey is the reward. Again this is a philosophy that has long been part of Apple's ethos - and one born in the development of the original Macintosh.
Also central to Wozniak's product philosophy is his firm view that the creation of products is a matter of individual inspiration and the subsequent dedication to making that vision a reality.
His belief was that product development driven by marketing was inferior way of producing stuff, insisting that the spark of genius lies within the individual inventor or engineer.
Wozniak further advocates the adoption of an insular approach to developing technology products that would sell millions of units. In comparison, the approach of designing "by committee", as he puts it, is deeply flawed, as evidenced by the disastrous Apple III computer. The requirements for the Apple III, Wozniak claims, were defined by marketing and management executives rather than being conceived by an individual.The approach is undeniably anachronistic and perhaps representative of his position of a pioneer in the early stages of an industry rather than applying to the modern market. This is an anathema to most modern product management and marketing practices, which position user advocacy at the centre of all product development.
There's little doubt that Wozniak's vision of product development - of doing it on your own - simply couldn't exist in the corporate make-up of a modern product division. It's very much a start-up mentality rather than one belonging to an established company. This is further evidenced by his decision to leave Apple and start his own projects and companies based on personal technological visions.
What iWoz highlights is the critical and formative role in Apple's history which Wozniak played - without him modern personal computing simply wouldn't exist as it does now. Surely, at some point someone, somewhere would think of hooking up a computer with a keyboard and a video monitor but posterity will record that Wozniak got there first.

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