Ford gathered journalists in its hometown of Dearborn, Michigan earlier this week for its Further with Ford conference, holding a variety of panels to discuss the past, present, and future of technology across a variety of industries (Warby Parker and Coca-Cola were both in attendance, for instance). One of those panelists happened to be the gregarious and always entertaining Steve Wozniak — better known to most of us as "Woz" — and I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him after his final panel appearance on Tuesday. The Apple co-founder, entrepreneur, and technologist was eager to chat.
First of all, I have to say that I saw your Nixie tube watch while you were on stage, and I was extremely jealous of it.
Did you build it?
I wish. I wish I'd thought of it. You can't build it unless you think of it. There's an astronomer in Tucson, Arizona that builds them, so I bought it online. It's $400, and I think he's out of parts now.
Yeah, I can imagine. Not easy to come by [Nixie tubes]. Is it accelerometer driven? I saw it come on…
When you turn your wrist. And I love to tell people that the Nixie tubes are run on 140 volts, and it's waterproof, so you can take it in the bathtub… once.
So correct me if I'm wrong: you're a Model S owner, is that right?
I'm an S-Class owner.
You don't have a Model S?
"I'm no longer just buying anything I feel like at any time."
I ordered a Model S, and decided at the last minute because of my wife. See, I'm one person, I'm a Model S person. But she was an S-Class person — Mercedes. It's a lot less money, a lot more technology for driving, and a lot less batteries to worry about. That was right for her. Now, she might surprise me and get me a Model S for my birthday in August, we'll see. She knows… Every day, I sent her articles about the Model S consistently. I have for a couple of years. That's why one day she said, "Hey, we should go down and look at one," and decided, okay, we'll buy it, but we backed out. Elon Musk wrote me, he sent me some emails, he was pissed that I was getting a gas guzzler and that I wasn't a Silicon Valley boy. But you know, there are some times that you have to make tradeoffs. Because my wife's from Kansas, I'm no longer just buying anything I feel like at any time. And so, you know, how many luxury cars can you buy per year? We've got another one in the garage that we never drive, so…
So give me thoughts on the Model S. I drove one from LA to San Francisco on a review…
It's easy to give you my views.
Specifically, I'm wondering about your thoughts on the center console.
Yes. To me, you know, it's not horrible. If you take it into account, you can use it. I'm good for it. But for most people, I have so much trouble in a car, driving with touchscreens, that I worry about people trying to access the screen while they're driving. I worry about that a lot, and I don't think it's that attractive. It's not unattractive — not totally ugly at least — but the controls in the Mercedes are so ergonomic, they fit your hand, you never have to look at them, you can feel where your hand is. So I do have a reservation about that, but not enough to turn me off. I think it's a great car, I think it's the first electric car that was worth anything. I look at it as, all the electric cars so far have been very tiny so they get better mileage on smaller batteries, you know, they can go 30 miles… or they were sports cars. Well, this is the first one, it's a luxury car, a big sedan that fits five people comfortably. Well, my gosh, those are the people that are going out and buying $100,000 Mercedes already, so a $100,000 car… money doesn't matter. The fact that $40,000 is batteries, they don't see it as much.
"The controls in the Mercedes are so ergonomic, they fit your hand, you never have to look at them, you can feel where your hand is."
So I think they found the right market niche that might be permanent, might be enough to keep a company sustained. And the next step is to bring it to a lower-priced market. And the idea of the replaceable batteries means you buy your battery per mile. You lease the battery, you don't own it. You only buy the car. That's a step that'll appease the other crowd. Luxury guys, I think, really want to own their own battery and don't even want to swap it with somebody else's — they want to know what they got.
But it is a problem because you do have to pay now for the battery, and you have to pay for the electricity. As opposed to, you know, just gasoline. So it's going to probably be more expensive per mile that way, and the economic factor might come into play. But that makes me think, you know, just driving into this building, we passed Ford's fuel cell research division and I thought, oh my gosh! The words we heard last night from [Ford CEO Alan Mulally] … he mentioned fuel cells, he mentioned electric vehicles. Well, those two go together perfectly. You have to lose energy if you know physics, but it transfers so efficiently to the wheels, that's why it can still make sense economically. And then you don't have to carry this huge weight of batteries and the huge cost of the batteries. There are different problems with that one, though.
You know, we keep trying to find the way to clean energy … I'm not smarter than all the people who work on it and research it and the scientists and the people and the laboratories, so it's not like one person can have this beautiful vision nobody else has. It's been a struggle my entire life to make better batteries, and all we ever really came up with was lithium ion. That was about it.
The technology for batteries does seem to move really slowly, right?
So to completely switch gears, if I'm not mistaken, you're an advisor on the Sorkin film, right?
Correct. Yes, I'm going to see him again very soon, and I look forward to that. I like to answer questions, and I like to answer them honestly. And I really admire the way he's going to make that film. I think it's going to bring out Jobs' personality and characteristics and thinking and vision very well at three key, important times. Introducing the Macintosh, Steve was still young, trying to move too fast, and not regulated enough to really create a good product, a successful product. He had basically, in Apple times, when he ran things... he had three failures. We had 10 years of revenues from the Apple II running the company, and that was just from one person. When Steve Jobs was at NeXT, he was really getting his head together and taking control and becoming the person that, when he came back to Apple, you know, he was ready to really run the company and keep control of things and watch what was being done and develop new products secretly that were really incredibly great. He was finally ready to wait them out until their time, which he didn't do with the Lisa and the Macintosh.
"Introducing the Macintosh, Steve was still young, trying to move too fast, and not regulated enough to really create a good product, a successful product."
The Macintosh should've been a whole different product, not a mouse-driven GUI machine like it was, and the Lisa he should've just waited five years, and then it would've been ready. When he introduced the iPod, that was the next Apple II. That was what shot Apple… that's what makes people really love Steve Jobs to this day, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and how much they meant to our lives.
Why do you think the Macintosh shouldn't have been a UI-driven product?
It was a different project. I was on the team, Jef Raskin was on the team; he brought ease of computing and intuitive computing into Apple, and he had very strange, different, kind of disruptive ideas. Steve really took over the project when I had a plane crash and wasn't there. He took over the project, and it was really my own opinion — only my opinion — that he wanted to compete with the Lisa group that had kicked him out. He liked to call them idiots for making it too expensive. Well, one megabyte of RAM back then cost 10,000 of today's dollars. He made a cheap one — but what he did was he made a really weak, lousy computer, to tell you truth, in the Macintosh, and still at a fairly high price. He made it by cutting the RAM down, by forcing you to swap disks here and there. It was a lousy product. Every time we improved the Macintosh, year by year by year, it got closer to what the Lisa had been.
"Who built the Macintosh into a success later on? It wasn't Steve, he was gone."
We didn't get the Lisa back until we got OS X from NeXT. Once we had OS X, that was the Lisa! But we had it so early … If we had just worked on it and developed it until it was at a personal computer price, we would've had the most incredible technology ever for GUI computers and we would've really owned it and had the rights to it. So Macintosh… the Macintosh failed, really hard, and who built the Macintosh into a success later on? It wasn't Steve, he was gone. It was other people like John Sculley who worked and worked to build a Macintosh market when the Apple II went away.
I'm a huge Newton fan to this day.
You know, I loved the Newton. That thing changed my life. John Sculley got demeaned by Steve a lot, but he did the Knowledge Navigator, the Newton, HyperCard — unbelievable things. The first day I had the Newton, I hand-wrote a message… I got a phone call in the San Francisco airport on the way to Disneyworld with my kids. And I hand-wrote a message to myself on a notepad paper: Sarah — that's my daughter — dentist, Tuesday, 2PM. And I saw a button called "Assist," and I thought, this must be a menu. And I tapped the Assist button — it opened up the calendar, Tuesday at 2PM, it put in the word "dentist" and it grabbed Sarah out of my contact list. And that was the first time in my life I had seen a computer understand… I had written something for a human, and the computer understood it. I didn't have to learn its language and it changed my life forever. From then on, I wanted computers to understand me. Just talking, as I'm talking to you. From then on, I used my Newton, if I wanted to call my friend Jim, I'd handwrite C-A-L-L J-I-M, and I'd click "Assist" and it'd dial him so I didn't have to dial the phone and I felt so free!
"Who hired Ive? Gil Amelio."
That was one of Ive's first designs, right?
Yes. And then he did those glass speakers, and remember — who hired Ive? Gil Amelio. You'd be really surprised to get a lot more and different opinions about things and people.
But you think that Sorkin will do a good job conveying that?
Oh, I think what he's going to do is just have three real-time half-hour scenes. He's going to have Steve Jobs interacting with all these key people — very quick dialog that brings out Steve's thinking, and his wisdom and his guidance and his vision, and other people that were in the way and what some of the conflicts were and how Steve… I'm sure he's going to treat some people nasty, you know? And how he might just really grab onto others and love them and take their ideas. So I think it's going to be a great, great movie.
Do you have a sense of the timeline for [the movie]?
Actually, I don't. They're on their own. It's when he gets time, when Sorkin gets time more than anything else. It's gotta be on his schedule.