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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Steve Jobs' anecdote at iPhone launch that no one talked about

Macworld Keynote
It's been about two months since Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. There's been a lot of news coverage and gossip and rumours about it. Yet, I haven't come across anything that mentions something that I think should be especially significant too.

During the presentation, Jobs' clicker for the slideshow stopped working suddenly. While waiting for it to be fixed, he regaled the audience with a tale from his high school days.

Back then, Steve Wozniak, who later co-founded Apple with Jobs, made a device called a "TV jammer". It worked like a remote control, but scrambled TV signals instead. When the picture got fuzzy as a result, someone would tweak the antenna to get the picture back. (Remember, this was back in the day when television sets had antennas sticking out the back!)

In the end, Woz would play with his jammer until the student, who thought he was "fixing" the antenna, got into an awkward position. And it was hilarious to observe (for Jobs, Woz and anyone else who was in on the joke)!
Sounds familiar? It should. It's a story that's entered Apple lore, joining other tales like "phone phreaking" and the Apple I computer. I've personally read variations of the story so many times that I've lost count, yet I never grow tired of reading or hearing about it again.

But to have Steve Jobs tell it was breathtaking. It has nothing to do with how familiar the story was with his audience. Rather, it's about Jobs' relationship with Woz. Somewhere along the way, the two close friends drifted apart to the point where they simply acknowledged each other. But as these stories go, the two patched up a few years ago (though I don't think they're as close as before).

And then Jobs goes ahead and tells this story about his former best friend. When I heard it, I thought, "Wow!" It sounded like Jobs was, in his own showman way, proclaiming publicly how proud he was to have Woz as his buddy. As if he was saying, "Woz was my best friend and let me tell you how awesome -- no, insanely great -- he was!"

On another level, Jobs, who rarely reveals anything about his personal life, was willing to relate this story in such an intimate manner. I think it made him come across as more "human". It felt like he was removing a barrier between him and his audience, giving them permission to enter his personal space (albeit very slightly).

And those are the two reasons why I think his little anecdote was so significant. It's not necessarily news worthy, but to the Mac faithful, I think this move was more ground-breaking than the iPhone announcement.

Pity that no one else seemed to pick up on this. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental fool.



Anonymous said...

he could've talked about dog poo and you'd be like 'oh how great Jobs is. oh I love him.'

Sivasothi said...

I see your point, nice catch! BTW, Wozniak writes about this in iWoz.

Yuhui said...

Anonymous: Obviously, you missed the point of this post.

Yuhui said...

Siva: Yep, I read about it in "iWoz" and "Revolution in the Valley" and a couple of other Apple-related books. And, of course, the film "Pirates of Silicon Valley".

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