Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review of Steve Jobs Biography and the iPhone 4s

I just finished the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson. This has been reviewed to death already so I'll make just a few new observations.

First, Jobs was worth less than $10 billion (which is #39 in the U.S.) despite having created the most valuable company in the world by market cap, and also having cleared several billion in the sale of Pixar to Disney in 2006. Jobs was oddly unmotivated by money - perhaps because he became rich at such a young age. He could have been much richer, for example when Larry Ellison offered to back him in taking Apple private.

Something else odd about Jobs was that he lacked appreciation for science. This is obvious in his fad diets and reluctance to properly treat his illness, but also reflected in his form above function mentality. For example, he liked to design a case for a product before thinking about components that would go inside. The puzzle is how that could have resulted in phenomenal products like the iPhone.

But I can remember when the Macintosh and Apple software were really frustrating to use. Their office suite was a joke for years and the Mac OS X user interface is laughable. The Jobs fanaticism - leaving fans out of computers - resulted in his fair share of clunkers.

I wonder to what extent the recent string of successes resulted from the Jobs design genius finally being paired with competent "function" people, or technologies that allowed his ideas to be implemented in workable fashion? I give the book a 4/5.

The new iPhone 4s is fantastic. It is much much faster than a 3G thanks to the new dual-core processor and quadrupled RAM. The Siri voice recognition is surprisingly good although I don't find that feature especially useful in practice. The camera quality (and speed) is much better and the display is fantastic. This is a 5/5.


Eric said...

The puzzle is how that could have resulted in phenomenal products like the iPhone.

AAPL has very good engineers to fill the space inside the package; that fact should go a long way toward solving the 'puzzle'.

This product quality has produced a legion of very loyal customers.

AAPL's skillful marketing has taken advantage of all that, projecting and protecting the cache of the AAPL brand, which helps to command premium prices.

By all appearances AAPL has top notch supply chain and vendor management -- meaning it preserves high margins.

It's just a very well run company.

CP said...

I should've talked more in this review about what an unstable jerk Jobs was.

The story of how he responded (irrationally) to his disease and the story of his first daughter are instructive:

CP said...

"Bill Burr Doesn't Believe The Steve Jobs Hype - CONAN on TBS"

CP said...

Looking back, there are some more themes I should've mentioned in this review:

* Many, many anecdotes by people who knew SJ that demonstrate sociopathic behavior. For example, a friend from the late 70s said "He could be very engaged with you in one moment, but then very disengaged. There was a side to him that was frighteningly cold."

* He was influenced by a man named Robert Friedland who ran an Apple commune. Some of the witnesses in the book say that SJ modeled more effective sociopathic behavior from RF. Interestingly, RF became a billionaire mining investor:

* Later in life, SJ warns author Isaacson away from talking to Robert Friedland, basically telling him that RF is sociopathic. This is a data point for a phenomenon I've noticed, where if a non-sociopath gets two sociopathic acquaintances in the room they won't be able to stand each other. Each sociopaths can probably "read" the other in a way that the non-sociopaths can't. (See also The Sociopath Next Door:

* SJ seems like an archetype of what I'm starting to call "Extrovert Who Doesn't Read". Another example would be Donald Trump. These people only know what they hear from their social circle, and they decide who is correct if the opinions differ largely based on the social status of the different advocates. They don't assemble their own body of knowledge by reading primary sources and weighing the arguments the way introverts do. One situation where these people get in a lot of trouble is if they have a serious disease.

* SJ's fad diets are an indication that he didn't know anything about chemistry or biology. On re-reading the bio, the conversations with engineers when he's in the room are about aesthetics. SJ did not seem to be a big part of the technical conversations, at least in Isaacson's telling. It would be interesting to know more about this. Was he sidelined by the Apple professional management during the Lisa era because of a lack of technical chops, or for being difficult to work with, or both?

* The life story of SJ shows the path-dependence and huge role of chance in life. I suspect that if he had not known Woz, he would have amounted to basically nothing. It was Woz' highly innovative Apple I that gave them the momentum and track record to get the ball rolling.

CP said...

* Quote from an early Apple engineer: "Steve wasn't much of an engineer himself, but he was very good at assessing people's answers. He could tell whether the engineers were defensive or unsure of themselves."