Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interview with Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

During the almost thirty minute interview with Steve Wozniak, students at the Techlife conference in Singapore were given the opportunity to ask questions to the co-founder of Apple. He explains how Steve Jobs and him started the company and where they got their inspiration for their early products. He  tells them that they set out to create a social revolution in communication by making it possible for anyone to be creators. Wozniak explains what makes a good software engineer and his favourite Apple products. He predicts the important technologies of the future and where he sees Apple in this future. In closing, he gives advice to students on how they can be successful.

The Skype call with Wozniak started with a few technical glitches and Wozniak getting laughter from the eager audience by pointing out that even he sometimes has problems with technology and how computers can fail.

How Apple got started:

He went on the answer the first question on how Apple got started. Wozniak tells the audience that he had always wanted a computer and was determined to make one himself once he could afford to do so. Computers at the time were largely being made by hobbyists and really could not do anything that was practical or solve problems.

The computer that he created was different in that it was an affordable device which could actually perform functions and drew a lot of attention from local computer enthusiasts. When Steve Jobs came to visit him, he noticed this and suggested that the two of them start a company together. Wozniak was working for Hewlett Packard (HP) at the time and tried to pitch his idea to them first. After being turned down five times, he decided to give it a try without the expectation that they would actually make much money from what they were doing. They got to work on the Apple 1 in their garage, where they packed things together on a bench, tested them and then boxed them up to sell.

Wozniak points out that is was not until they started working on the Apple 2 that Apple really became a company with it being the computer that could help Apple become a big, rich successful company because there was nothing else like it. It was a full functioning computer built from the ground up. With the help of an angel investor, they were able to get the company up and running.

"You need a technology revolution to make the social revolution happen". 
Inspiration for the Apple 1 and Apple 2:

The second question asked how Wozniak got the inspiration for the Apple 1 and Apple 2 computers and and the thought processes he went through considering how advanced this technology was at the time.

Wozniak explains how these computers were created at a time when people could study the inside of computers and how registers (little bits of 1's and 0's) were used to make operation codes to tell the computer what to do. Out of this, he explains, came microprocessors and the ability to create programs. The real inspiration was the power of these computers to to provide a technology revolution to create a social revolution in areas such as communication, education and the workplace.

The Business Plan:

Wozniak explains that they really did not start with a great business plan. They began with the goal to create PC boards to make some money where they could build one for $20 and sell it for $40.
They got a $50,000 order without any money so they bought the parts they needed on a 30 day credit. After ten days of work, they were able to bring the computers to the store to get cash. With the Apple 2, there were able to secure an investment of a few hundred thousand dollars from an angel investor.

Social Revolution in Communication: 

Wozniak went on to tell the students that Steve Jobs and him believed that computers could bring about a communication revolution by giving individuals access to the technologies only afforded to large companies in the past.

The characteristics of a good software engineer: 

When asked about what makes a good software engineer, Wozniak gave a passionate answer, describing such individuals as artists who are on a personal rather than financial endeavour to put the user experience first. They simplify the code and the interface to make this happen. A good engineer, he explains, cares about the size of the program and the user always comes first.

The best Apple product

When asked what he thought the best Apple product was, Apple pointed to the iPhone 4 and the iPhone in general for its ability to put the power of a computer in a mobile device. He went on to say that his favorite device is the Macbook Pro because he likes to multitask when using a computer.

The next big technology

When asked about the next big technology to benefit people, Wozniak pointed out that often the most disruptive technologies are those we can't see coming. He suggested that big breakthroughs may come with flexible displays, wearable technologies and improvements with voice recognition technologies.
When discussing voice recognition, Wozniak hints at the superiority of Google's technology for its ability to better contextualize results through its awareness of the world around you. He believes that the true ability for voice recognition to pick up the subtleties of human speech is still far from perfect and may not be so for another forty years or so.

Will Apple still be a powerhouse in ten years?

The simple answer to this question is yes. He believes that Apple's financial reserves secures it a successful future and that the ups and downs of its stock price are not a good indicator of the company's real value.

The App Store Revolution

Wozniak believes that the great revolution that Apple has brought is the App Store. It made it possible for anyone with technical ability to start a business and be successful. It makes it possible for youth to create something for the world and points to the fact that the big tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook) were started by young people with a passion.

Advice to students

In offering advice to students, Wozniak reminds them that every step is important to the process of becoming successful and that repetition is important for innovation. In his closing words, he tells them to not merely rely on manuals and textbooks but to "think of how it should be written, and write the book yourself from scratch".