Steve Wozniak, the “Woz,” talked at length over the phone with Patch about Bob Dylan, Apple’s early days, and how he and Steve Jobs were not in the same high school graduating class but became friends through a mutual friend and mutual interests.
The 61-year-old Los Gatos resident and San Jose native is said to have an estimated net worth of $100 million despite his stated apathy toward monetary gain. He’s a giver of money and knowledge, he says, and shares that side of his life in a separate Patch article, Meet the Wizard of Woz: Apple Genius, Philanthropist, Dancer.
Patch: Tell me about your time at Homestead High School—there seems to be a lot of misinformation about your time there. Did you and Steve Jobs go there together? How did you two meet?
Wozniak: There's a lot of misinformation, too, about even the starting of Apple and whom did what—where the products and the ideas really come from, and that's covered very well in my book iWoz...We didn't go to school together. Steve was actually four years behind me.
What happened was I was very excellent, kind of like a genius at designing digital logic circuits, including things like computers.
I had no money. Steve and I both had no money and I could never get the parts to build one. Well, I had a summer job earning money for my third year of college and it turned into a year-long job to earn a lot of money.
And while there, it eventually got me the parts to build a computer of my own design. And while building it, down the street in Sunnyvale, [there was] this friend. We were in his garage working on it, he said there’s this guy you should meet, Steve Jobs, because he knows the digital electronics, too.
Steve knew how to, you know, put circuits together and look at diagrams and connect wires and construct devices that would have flashing numbers for things like frequency detections that would correspond to the tone of a guitar or something like that.
So Steve came over, and Steve, apparently, had also done some "prankish" things at the school, so we kind of compared what we'd done in our lives and where we were, and we became very close friends.
During those years, he was still in school for the first year or two that I knew him, and we'd try to do some senior pranks at the high school that were really great—so great we'd gotta work on them for days sometimes. Neither of them came off but they were great attempts.
We also talked a lot about seriousness. He was always into seriousness of life—that there might be answers, [but] then there were things much higher.
Most people just dealt with dribble and the common, you know, celebrity-tabloid-type stuff that doesn’t really matter in the world. And he was more interested in things that mattered in the world and so was I.
I was kind of influenced by, for example, the meaning of words in songs—that's kind of my poetry that gives me a lot of insight in my own head and direction life.
And we both agreed that Bob Dylan was more important than the Beatles because his words had deep meaning, and we started following Bob Dylan.
I was much more into it and started collecting bootlegged albums and going to concerts and reading interviews with Dylan and trying to make sense of his very extreme vagueness. So that was a very important part of our life.
And in those days we were never talking about work…Steve knew that I had the ability to design computers and all these things.
As a matter of fact...we came across this concept of a blue box that supposedly some phone freaks could build a technology device to make free calls and it was so astounding and amazing.
[I thought,] “I want to be a part of this adventure.” So Steve and I went down and did some research and found out this article was true— so we actually built [it].
I designed the blue box. It was very good design, very simple, easy to build, small parts. Steve was active in it, and eventually made a pc board that we could make them out of, and so we found ways to sell them, such as in the dorms of Berkeley.
That was sort of our first company together and…that was when Steve was finishing high school and I was in my third year of college.
So I was the designer, who could kind of design anything you could conceptualize and then Steve liked to always find ways to turn it into a business. And he talked about the importance of having companies to make products, and that there were very few people who drove the world—and he wanted to be one of those people that was driving the world, and not just one of the millions and millions of people who kinda don’t matter.
I remember when he went up to college—I drove him up to college the first week he was there, it was up in Oregon—he didn't like the fact that they told 'em what classes to take. He thought college was a place where you sign up for any of the classes that you thought were the most interesting or important things in the world. And he got there and [thought], “Oh my god it’s like high school, they tell you what to take”, and he was all disheveled and wouldn't go to those classes.
Patch: What do you see as the legacy of Steve Jobs and Apple?
Wozniak: I think Steve Jobs will be recognized as the great technology hero, visionary…in my own opinion, it was that he was able to take a company that had the benefits of Apple, which is a large number of people that used a lot of their products, except to take that and basically run a business in a way that would not lose money, that would have great exciting products, that would inspire the world and make people feel differently about technology.
But you have the emotional impact as well as the functional. [Not only] how I can use my device, how it really makes me feel more about myself as a person, and lets me do the things that humans want to do.
And the products were one after another after another just kind of beautiful examples of a perfect company.
Basically, from the time Steve left Apple to the time Steve came back, he really became an outstanding business manager, able to...trust people who thought well. And not just those who could maybe design products, but those who could design products and have a feel about what to make them a little more special, to have a little more meaning to the users.
Patch: How do you think will Jobs’ resignation will affect the company?
Wozniak: Too early to tell. I don’t think it'll be an immediate effect.
Products that come out in the next couple of years are already in the pipeline. They've already been steered in a good direction. The company has also been steered in a good direction by Steve.
So I don’t think he's worried that all of a sudden it'll take a very different approach with a lot of big important decisions that he wouldn't have made.
And Tim Cook is really an excellent—very much gives the appearance of speaking and thinking the way Steve Jobs does. So in the short term, I don’t expect any real changes in Apple.
And in the long term, who knows what could happen?
Patch: I know you said you’re not a businessman, but if someone came to you for advice on how to run Apple, what would you say?
Wozniak: I’d be a little more friendly and open to the other communities. Make the excellent products, but don’t stop young technical people from being able to quickly pick it up and write a program on it like a real computer.
So in other words, I grew up as a real technical person and loved to be able to use computers and write programs and do things with devices even—whether they were intended to or not—taken beyond their original intent.
So Apple's a little closed that way. I would put it in not in a way that it bothers anybody, or is a threat to security or a threat to the device working, or that they'd ever even see it. But [so] somebody could just pick it up and write a program in a simple language.
Apple controls that very tightly, you know partly to ensure that Apple then doesn't have…to become like trapped supporting that language forever. Apple doesn't want to be in that position. It lets Apple move more freely and easily, but it leaves us little innovators, young innovators, out of the picture.
I think I'd try to be more open to things like letting you have your iTunes library and easily share it with other music programs..that's the monopoly approach. And you know, I just don't like it.
Some countries have this view that this new digital age world and internet should come to every citizen, but we'll never have that in the United States. We're just too far from it. I don't ever expect it.
Patch: So who do you see as Apple's biggest competitors right now?
Wozniak: I see Google, actually. I think Apple's major products are the iOS products—the iPhone and the iPad.
And the Google Android system is the biggest competitor in those areas, and the Android phone is kind of taking over a market share.
Some of the app developers are developing first on the Android system from Google, and Google's been very open and made it easier for people to do more things. Whereas Apple's kept a more controlled environment. There's advantages to both.
Patch: Would you consider going back to Apple?
Wozniak: The only way I would consider it is if I thought if I could help Apple, and if Apple thought I could help them in some way.
I could always [start], although my company Fusion IO is a high priority for me, too, and I want to do anything I can to help them, and hopefully start a real laboratory to investigate things and develop new products and sciences.
I have some ideas, so it's possible, yeah, I could become active again. Right now I’m just sort of going around, watching technologies...giving speeches that tire people, that sort of thing.
I don't have time. I don’t have enough time. When I was developing products, I was just working full time, and if I had the time I’d love to do it, but I don’t right now.
Patch: There are reports about Steve Jobs’ “ruthlessness”—did you experience any of it during Apple’s beginnings?
Wozniak: When we started Apple, we were both in our young 20s. We had no money, we had no business experience.
We had funders—Steve was very anxious to go out and find ways to, you know, find his ways towards money. And he found a funder, and this funder had a lot of experience, he joined the company, ended up on marketing, explained that marketing was going to drive the whole company.
He told us what kinds of people we had to hire. What their roles would be. What they would do. So Steve’s role was to be a student and learn it all...so Steve was very different then. And the examples of ruthlessness and being upset with people didn't come about until later on when we'd some greater level of success.
I think he started feeling proud of himself that he would understand things. He was always kind of like the fastest...the brightest person thinking ahead.
Realizing what something really means. Like a faster computer doesn't mean it’s a faster computer, it means a person takes less time to get something done, or gets closer to their answers.
I paid a lot of attention to the way Steve thought. He was always steps ahead of everybody with real life answers to where we should go next, or what project we should do next, how we should build it. Those sort of things.
I saw his genius—the ruthlessness stuff, he would sometimes, when it came to budgets, he knew how to push hard. And he knew how to push hard to get the things that would need to get done, and he pushed too hard on occasion...and I was never around, I never witnessed any [of it]...Steve was always nice to me, always very polite and respectful to me.
I never had to work in a place where there might be a difference of opinion, really.
Patch: Are you still friends?
Wozniak: Yeah, we've always been friends. Can you find anyone who's ever seen us argue? We're not close friends, but never had any falling-out.
Patch: Do you stay in touch occasionally?
Wozniak: Occasionally, yes.