Steve Wozniak covered a wide range of topics including his childhood and early career motivations, initial successes at Apple, his relationship with Steve Jobs, thoughts on Apple’s business today, predictions for consumer technology, and more in his highly anticipated featured appearance at our 2014 annual conference.. LSA President Neg Norton moderated the session.
The Silicon Valley icon and Apple co-founder described his childhood as one consumed by a drive for exploring innovation and discovery in electronics, math and science. He credited his father, an electrical engineer, for providing him with an education – “the equivalent of graduate classes” – that drove his interest and knowledge. He talked about building science fair projects, machines and even computers in his early years that set the framework for his later success.
In college, Wozniak said he first realized the opportunity to use the television as an output device that would allow people to see what they were doing on a computer. Wozniak’s innovations often involved taking larger computer units and reducing the cost and number of chips needed for it to function resulting in an affordable unit suitable for personal use. It was also during that time period that Wozniak first met Steve Jobs, who quickly became an advocate and partner for selling Wozniak’s inventions. “Every time I’d create something – Steve [Jobs] would say, let’s sell it,” he said.
Wozniak quit college and began working at HP, where he pitched his personal computer ideas five times, without success. It was by starting Apple with Jobs and launching Apple II – the first low-cost, color screen personal computer ever – that Wozniak first saw the potential for his ideas to fuel the creation of a “real company – possibly a big company,” as well as make a global impact.
Wozniak also discussed Jobs’ ambition from the offset for playing a leadership role at Apple. He also spoke openly about the failures of later Apple products such as the Apple III and Apple Lisa, and what could have been done differently that would have helped them to do better.
In discussing Apple today, Wozniak said that he did not think a lot had changed since Jobs’ passing. However, he mentioned being encouraged by recent signs at Apple that it is opening up its ecosystem, referencing plans to introduce iTunes on Android.
Wozniak said that wearable technology such as Google Glass and smart watches represent key trends in the electronics industry. He felt there was a risk that smart watches might go the way of Bluetooth headsets because they simply duplicate a smaller set of functions that are on the phone. On the other hand, he shared an idea on how flexible display may be incorporated into wearable devices that solve the small screen problem of smart watches. He also spoke about opportunities in voice, such as Siri. He talked passionately about the possibilities of building software that provides a more human experience and better anticipates human’s real intentions. “Your smartphone is becoming like a friend – your most trusted advisor in the world,” he said.
Wozniak also said that the best innovations come from people who build the technologies for themselves. “I designed Apple II because it was what I wanted for myself,” he said. “The Telsa, Elon Musk designed the car for himself.” In looking at young talent, he told attendees to search for “the person who is a builder – who has built successful solutions in the past.”
Wozniak also spoke about his strong interest in childhood education and encouraging and supporting young people in finding their place in society. He said that to date, the computer has not achieved its promise of revolutionizing education. He said he dreamed of the time when computers can serve as a “student’s best friend … to have feelings for students, to know everything about them. So kids can choose their direction in life much earlier. “
Overall, Wozniak demonstrated a love for technology, a passion for helping others, and a genuine and humble personality that was so enjoyable and refreshing to witness from someone of his stature.