Cool Things: Playboy Interview with Steve Jobs in 1987

Jobsin87

There are tons of words that have been used to describe Steve Jobs – some complimentary, some disparaging – but one that seems amongst the most appropriate to me is ‘visionary’.

Gizmodo today posted an old Playboy interview with Jobs from back in 1987, right at the dawn of the home computer revolution. I think this interview highlights what a visionary Jobs is, and also shows how consistent he has been for decades in his approach to creating great products. The Playboy interviewer asks some tough questions, is very skeptical about Jobs and the Mac, and is even a bit antagonistic at certain points, but Jobs fields it all expertly.

Here are just a few segments that caught my eye in the interview:

On why Macs were better than IBM PCs:

Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won’t work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are the “slash q-zs” and things like that. The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel––one that reads like a mystery to most people. They’re not going to learn slash q-z any more than they’re going to learn Morse code. That is what Macintosh is all about. It’s the first “telephone” of our industry. And, besides that, the neatest thing about it, to me, is that the Macintosh lets you sing the way the telephone did. you don’t simply communicate words, you have special print styles and the ability to draw and add pictures to express yourself.

An excellent answer for why a mouse (which was then a brand new concept) is useful with a computer:

PB: Most computers use key strokes to enter instructions, but Macintosh replaces many of them with something called a mouse––a little box that is rolled around on your desk and guides a pointer on your computer screen. It’s a big change for people used to keyboards. Why the mouse?

SJ: If I want to tell you there’s a spot on your shirt, I’m not going to do it linguistically: “There’s a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.” If you have a spot––”There!” [He points]––I’ll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know. We’ve done a lot of studies and tests on that, and it’s much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it’s not only easier to use but more efficient.

I love, love, love the last line of his answer to this question. Ad campaigns and marketing help, but the products themselves are still the most important thing:

PB: We were warned about you: Before this Interview beacon, someone said we were “about to be snowed by the best.”

SJ: [Smiling] We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.

PB: But considering that enthusiasm, the multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and your own ability to get press coverage, how does the consumer know what’s behind the hype?

SJ: Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM’s ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.

And my favorite of all – this bit shows his now legendary approach on not building products based on what potential buyers (think they) want – emphasis added is mine:

PB: What’s the difference between the people who have insanely great ideas and the people who pull of those insanely great ideas?

SJ: Let me compare it with IBM. How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

Great interview. There’s lots more good stuff in it – check out the whole thing here: http://gizmodo.com/5821429/that-time-in-1987-when-playboy-interviewed-steve-jobs



  • hj

    The interview looks like it took place in 1985. Gizmodo can’t even get facts straight.