Pando

The Book(s) of Jobs: Apple co-founders words weren't gospel

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 17, 2015

From The News Desk

Apple is working on a television service that is expected to debut some time this fall. And according to the Wall Street Journal’s report on the product, it will boast access to most TV networks.

The report should put to rest one of the most frustrating things about modern tech writing: trying to anticipate what Apple will or will not do based on things Steve Jobs said before his death.

Jobs is often invoked whenever someone wishes to make a point about Apple or one of its products. Apple’s co-founder was known for offering up eminently-quotable statements about the company; the rash of biographies, documentaries, and reports published after his death have allowed his quotes to pervade tech writing, and thus our collective postmortem consciousness.

There’s only one problem with using these materials to suss out Apple’s plans: Jobs made his statements years ago, and they’ve been proven wrong more often than not since his death in 2011.

Consider the claim that no one will purchase a phone with a display larger than 3.5-inches. (“You can’t get your hand around it,” Jobs said about larger phones at a press conference. “No one’s going to buy that.”) Yet here we are now with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which are larger than older iPhones, and both of which are record sellers.

Or think instead about his claim that no one would purchase a 7-inch tablet. Why, then, did Apple make the iPad mini? And even if he was proven right — many have said they don’t use the iPad mini anymore — it was only because he was wrong about the iPhone’s size.

But the most egregious example of pundits viewing Jobs’ statements the same way a psychic reads tea leaves revolves around Apple’s TV plans. Offering seemingly different statements for two different biographies hasn’t helped matters, either.

Here’s what Jobs told Walter Isaacson, per Isaacson’s biography of the Apple co-founder, which was published October 2011:

I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.
Yet here’s what Apple’s design head, Jony Ive, told Brent Schendler and Rick Tetzeli for the upcoming “Becoming Steve Jobs” biography:
Steve killed both of Jony’s pet projects. The eMate disappeared along with all other traces of the Newton (save a few key patents), and the 20th Anniversary bit the dust after selling just 12,000 units. The products didn’t fit into his quadrants. Besides, he told me one day, ‘I just don’t like television. Apple will never make a TV again.’ This was Jony’s introduction to Steve’s coldhearted decision-making.
Those statements were made more than a decade apart. If anything this shows that Jobs was capable of changing his mind, as if he were a human instead of a mindless automaton that dictated ideas to Apple’s employees like God handed down the 10 Commandments to Moses.

As the Washington Post explained after “Becoming Steve Jobs” was excerpted in the most recent issue of Fast Company’s magazine:

So while Jobs's fingerprints are still clearly all over Apple, he wasn't able to see the future entirely. And just because he said something about a product once, it doesn't mean that the company he left behind won't consider it in the future. Is an Apple television coming in the immediate future? Maybe not. But it won't be simply because of something Steve Jobs said once upon a time.
These biographies offer meaningful looks into the lives of a man whose company had a profound impact on our daily lives. Apple ushered in the modern era that’s allowed for dozens of mobile startups to get billion-dollar valuations. Learning more about the man -- not the wizard -- behind the curtain is welcome.

But let’s stop pretending Jobs’ statements offer some clear map of what Apple might do next. Apple has moved on. It’s about time pundits and analysts stopped treating his word as gospel and focused on what Apple is today, not what it was years ago. Now that Apple Car, on the other hand...