Steve Jobs: new insights from the latest biography

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple’s leading executives bite back in bid to paint gentler picture of Steve Jobs’s life.

Becoming Steve Jobs, by journalists Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, was hailed by Apple as the most accurate and fair representation yet of its famed founder. Now that the book is out, early impressions and lists of interesting tidbits from the book are hitting the internet, and while many mine the tome for evidence of Jobs’ softer side or insights into the way he ran his company, others shine light on a new set of anecdotes that describe the Apple founder’s infamous short temper. It’s a question that’s crucial to understanding Apple’s rise back to prominence from the late 1990s onward — but one that was ignored by previous Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, whose 2011 book Steve Jobs sold a gajillion copies, but is now (perhaps unfairly) being recast as an unqualified failure.

We all know Neil Young is a purist when it comes to high-quality audio – with the singer-songwriter recently entering the market with his own high-sample-rate music store and device called Pono – and this naturally put him at odds with Apple when it launched the iTunes music service. In Isaacson’s book, these crucial years away from Apple take up just five chapters out of 42 — and that section also includes Jobs’ marriage to Laurene Powell and the birth of his children.

Young later tried to smooth things over by offering the gift of a collection of his records on vinyl, a gesture which Jobs apparently did not appreciate. I am the author of The Apple Revolution, a semi-Steve Jobs biography that examines the links between Apple and the counterculture, epitomized by the famous Whole Earth Catalog, which Jobs referenced in his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

While many armchair psychologists have speculated that Steve Jobs’ infamous grumpiness and obsessive nature stemmed from resentment over his being adopted, Schlender and Tetzeli tend to disagree. It shows the lengths that Apple is going in its effort to reshape the posthumous image of Jobs as a kinder spirit, rather than a one-dimensional mercurial and brash chief. The authors describe a privileged upbringing in which Jobs’ parents indulged his every whim to the extent that they could afford, even going so far as to move house after he begged to go to a better school: “[He] was really nothing more than a spoiled brat. In another sign of the company’s implicit approval of the biography, the writers will discuss the book and field questions about it today at the Apple store in Soho in New York. With the exception of just a few other journalists, few writers enjoyed a closer relationship with Jobs, over such a sustained period of time, as Schlender.

Brilliant, precocious, and meticulous, he had always gotten his way with his parents, and had brayed like an injured donkey when things didn’t turn out as he planned.” When Jobs returned to the helm at Apple after a long absence he took over from Gil Amelio, a man widely ridiculed for Apple’s failures during his tenure as CEO. Schlender first interviewed Jobs in April 1986 and questioned him dozens of times since then for publications such as Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. In 1998, Amelio attempted to buy the Newton assets back off Apple, a move Jobs rejected and called “a sick joke”. “I can be mean, but I could never be that mean,” Jobs is quoted as saying in the book. “No way I would let him further humiliate himself – or Apple.” In 2006 Apple and Disney announced the $US7.4 billion sale of Pixar to Disney, but half an hour before the announcement Jobs confided in Disney CEO Robert Iger about his deteriorating health.

By orchestrating grand marketing campaigns, huge engineering feats and massive, cost saving scale-ups Apple is able to offer consumers “simple solutions to complex problems”. While the authors fact-checked portions of the book with Apple and other sources, and showed the finished volume to the company, Apple wasn’t allowed to have “any editorial input whatsoever”, Tetzeli said. “After a long period of reflection following Steve’s death, we felt a sense of responsibility to say more about the Steve we knew,” Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, said. “We decided to participate in Brent and Rick’s book because of Brent’s long relationship with Steve, which gave him a unique perspective on Steve’s life.

One of the most extensively reported details of the new book has been that current CEO Tim Cook offered Steve Jobs part of his liver in 2009, but Jobs declined. “”He cut me off at the legs, almost before the words were out of my mouth,” Cook said. ” ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ll never let you do that. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jobs was hurting, vulnerable, flailing, boastful and perfectionist — while learning all the lessons that would eventually make him great. Meanwhile Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox theorises that Jobs’ action had less to do with selflessness and more to do with the fact he knew Cook would be instrumental to carrying his beloved company forward in the years to come. In an interview, Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute and a former managing editor of Time, said he had tried to take a balanced view of Jobs that did not sugarcoat the Apple co-founder’s flaws.

We get a glimpse at Jobs before the release of Toy Story, as he conducts market research with Schlender’s kids about an unfinished cut of the movie. In the introduction to Steve Jobs, Isaacson wrote that Jobs, who had handpicked him as biographer, didn’t try to exert any control over the book, except for weighing in on the cover. At the end, we hear the painful story about Jobs’ final interaction with Schlender, in which the journalist turns down a chance to have one final meeting with Jobs, when the ailing exec was far sicker than most people knew.

Isaacson said he was pleased to see more biographies and movies – a documentary on Jobs recently debuted at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and a biopic featuring Irish actor Michael Fassbender as Jobs is also in the works – that would help the public’s understanding of Apple’s former leader. “It’s really cool that there are other books coming out by people who knew Steve and where those who really loved him can put forth their views, because that’s how history is made,” he said. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter working on the Jobs movie scheduled for later this year, has noted that there was enough material in the Apple CEO’s life to make 10 movies instead of just one —- and the same challenge is true for any Jobs biographer.

Over the past six months, Apple executives have been on an extensive media campaign to promote new retail stores, the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, a new mobile payment service. There are many facets of Jobs life: He was the product of a strange hippie-techno counterculture, a businessman, a creative visionary and a family man, just to name a few.

Foxconn, Intel, DuPont and plenty of other companies bent over backwards putting their best people on Apple’s business, which starved competitors of talent. The book focuses on the way Jobs learned from the mistakes he made early in his career, and how he went on to assemble and learn from a group of talented individuals who stuck by him as he helped drive Apple back to the top of the heap. I’ll never do that!’” Later in the excerpt, Cue of Apple noted that in Jobs’s final years, the Apple chief did everything he could to have people treat him as if he were not sick. Cue has become a vocal defender of Jobs’s legacy, too, and he took to Twitter recently to criticise the filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the former Apple chief as “an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend.

Demand uncertainty, which was killing the business in the 1990’s is largely eliminated by controlling all levels of the value chain and using the mega-launch (Jobs owns this one) to force a supply-demand match in time and place. That’s generally a positive, although to presume that readers already know some stories speaks to the challenge of guessing exactly who this book’s readership is.

Apple’s inventory turns blow everyone else off the map and its sales per square foot of retail space are unmatched, mainly because they know how to use the digital supply chain. This was when Jobs’ lessons from NeXT and Pixar took hold, and where the authors have the opportunity to fashion a parable about how Jobs turned Apple around.

There are some fascinating anecdotes involving Bas Ording, the former UI designer behind the iPhone and iPad, but where are the other rank-and-file employees reflecting on life with Jobs?

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