Steve Jobs and The Ability To See The Future

Steve Jobs made multiple appearances at the 'All Things D' conference (you can watch the videos here). As we get further from those talks (and his death), it's interesting to go back and see some of his thoughts on the future. I recently re-watched all of them and I wanted to discuss some of the high points. I am specifically focusing on the 2003-2005 videos. This shouldn't be considered his responses word for word, but a general overview.

2003

Q: Will the PC always be hub?

A: A PC has big hard drive and fat pipe to Internet. The iPod isn't suitable for a store (unless we get foldable displays).

Steve knew 'the cloud' was coming back in 1997, but he built products for the 'now'. He didn't try to rush technology into a product before it was ready. Could the iPod in 2004 had 802.11? Sure, but it wasn't mature enough yet and would have made it a worse product

Q: What are Apple's tablet plans?

A: No plans to make tablet. It's about handwriting input vs keyboard. It's slow to write and people want keyboards.

What he is actually saying: touch technology isn't mature enough (yet).

Q: What about the market for 'a reader'

A: If you've got enough rich guys for a third device, then sure.

Q: What about a PDA?

A: we believe 90% of PDA users are getting stuff out. We believe cell phones will do that in the future. We didn't think we could do a phone because of the carriers. We build software to sync data to phones. We chose iPod over PDA .

The intersection of price, customer experience, and technology hasn't gotten to a place where Apple believes it can make amazing products for those form factors.

2004

Q. Will you make devices that are not full blown computers?

A. Software is becoming the core technology for more and more consumer devices. The ultimate competitive barrier for Apple is software. Devices are becoming software in a box.

Steve knows that software is the future (with integrated hardware) and he likes cards that Apple is holding.

2005

Q. Can the iPod market share last through the year?

A. We're focused on making the best iPods we can and we've got some pretty great things in the lab.

Fast Forward to 2013 and D11:

Tim Cook:

For us, winning has never been about making the most. Arguably we make the best PC, we don't make the most. We make the best music player, we wound up making the most. We make the best tablet, we make the most. We make the best phone, we don't make the most phones.

Apple's DNA is to make the best products it can. Market share is great, but being the best is the goal. This is what Steve was talking about when he wanted to build Apple's DNA into future employees. Long after the employees that Steve worked with are gone, Apple should still be focused on making the best products it can.

Q. Regarding the digital hub strategy, why doesn't the internet become the hub and why can't the iPod have wireless networking?

A. Discovering and buying music (in our opinion) is better on a large screen. 802.11 is great, but it also requires extra battery power.

What he is really saying: The technology isn't where we want it to be. We won't force technology into products before it's mature enough.

Q. What about an iPod phone?

A. We aren't good at going through orifices to get our customers and the phone manufacturers are being told what to build from the carriers. We don't work well that way.

What he is really saying: We will build a phone when we figure out a way to make the phone we want to make.

Q. What about the sub-notebook market?

A. Sub-notebooks are notebooks without optical drives and typically are used by executives to do email while on trips. They represent about 15% of the notebook market. We've had our hands full with products for the other 85% of the notebook market, but we're doing pretty well now and maybe we should take another look at that.

I guess they took another look.

Q. What do see as pros and cons of porting OS X to other platforms?

A. Do you mean other platforms like Xbox? We think that people to choose to buy OS X..(Steve pauses). Do you mean like on PCs? (audience member says yes). We think we make the best hardware in the world. It's been suggested us to sell OS X as software, but we are really sticking with our program of selling the complete solution to the customer.

Steve is thinking about devices like the iPhone and iPad running a version of OS X, but then he realizes the question is probably about licensing OS X to other PC manufacturers. Apple is thinking about 2007 and 2010 (and the post PC world). Everyone else is thinking about a traditional PC based OS.