LESS IS MORE
How did he do it? Design fans, Apple employees and Jobs
acquaintances credit a natural design-sense drive to simplify.
Jobs' return to Apple was a study in reduction.
Ed Niehaus, who was wooed and hired by Jobs to do public
relations for resurgent Apple, remembers an elevator ride that
everyone in Silicon Valley has heard of, but seemed more myth
than reality. It was soon after Jobs' triumphant return and he
was axing product plans -- and people.
Niehaus recalled: "I once rode down an elevator, not that
many floors. We got in the elevator and the next floor a young
woman got in, and I could see her go, 'oops, wrong elevator.'
And Steve said, 'Hi, who are you?' and introduces himself to
her - 'I'm Steve Jobs' and turned on the charm and said, 'What
do you do?' and all this sort of thing. And the door of the
elevator opens at the bottom, and he says, 'We are not going to
need you.' And we walk away."
Apple was bloated, Niehaus added, and Jobs was bringing
back simplicity and focus.
"He always believed the most important decisions you make
are not the things you do - but the things that you decide not
to do. He's a minimalist," former CEO Sculley - who was
recruited by Jobs, watched him build the Mac, and then helped
throw out the Apple founder in a boardroom battle - told the
CultofMac news website in 2010.
A few steps in the Apple design process have leaked out
over the years, despite the obsessive secrecy that is part of
the company culture. An Apple engineer outlined a long
development process at a conference blogged by Businessweek in
A new product or feature begins with 10 ideas -- good
ideas, no also-rans, which are presented as "pixel-perfect"
mockups. Apple culls the 10 to three, which are tried out for
months more, before a final star is chosen.
Meanwhile, the design team meets for two types of weekly
meetings -- one to brainstorm with no limits, and one to focus
on getting the product out the door, BusinessWeek described.
When Steve Jobs weighed in, it was with a simple set of
verdicts: "insanely great," "really, really really great," and
"shit,", Niehaus recalled.
"Basically Steve tells you exactly what he wants and you
just go build it," said one former iPhone engineer, who
declined to give his name.
He remembers working on one project for two months. "Steve
said 'What is this shit? Why are you wasting my time?"' he
Being chewed up and spat out by Jobs is an experience most
Apple employees who have come in contact with Jobs can relate
to. And Jobs was known to like people who stood up to him.
"I never asked you to start, so why should I ask you to
stop?" Jobs told another former Apple employee, who wanted to
know whether he should continue to work on a project that was
being questioned by the forceful CEO.
Jobs liked to push. From the very start, people told tales
of him putting his - often dirty - feet on the table in
meetings. Others tell of Jobs putting down their company,
making them defend themselves in interviews.
"He was clearly looking for someone who could stand up to
him," said another former member of the top team. He remembers
Jobs and Tim Cook, who is taking over as CEO, as the
"metronome" of the company, with vastly different personal
styles and exactly the same "insane" attention to detail.
Jobs, in fact, reveled in details, many a time irking
everyone around him with his obsessiveness.
Apple's first CEO Michael Scott has said that Jobs spent
weeks contemplating how rounded the edges of the Apple II case
"He put white earbuds in the ears of everyone on the
planet, and shut us all in to our own little pods of
experience," said Niehaus, who is in awe of Jobs' taste and
Jobs, given a Gulfstream jet by his appreciative board,
probably didn't fly commercial in years, and anyone who sits
down with an iPod next to someone they don't want to
acknowledge gets a little bit of that experience.
He understood envy "as well as anybody on the planet" and
carried it around with him, triple parking his car because he
could, said Niehaus, adding that part of what he sold was
THE REAL STEVE JOBS
Even Jobs' appearance simplified over the years. When he
returned to Apple after his decade away, he wore fancy white
shirts and vests and even a pin stripe suit to introduce new
The black mock turtleneck and jeans that became the
defining Jobs outfit showed up at more comfortable settings,
when Jobs wooed developers, in the late 1990s. But he pulled
the iPod out of a jeans pocket to introduce the music player in
2001. From then on, he barely seemed to take off the outfit.
The jeans and running shoes flashed under his academic gown
when he gave the Stanford commencement speech in 2005, and he
wore a black mock turtleneck sitting next to President Obama at
a 2011 dinner with Silicon Valley titans. On Obama's other side
was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who wore a jacket to the
Jobs himself described his world as very simple.
"For the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every
morning and asked myself, 'if today were the last day of my
life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And
whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I
know I need to change something," he told Stanford University
students in the soul-baring commencement address.
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I
know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your
heart," he said.
That kind of earnest, almost naive hope, combined with
ruthless dismissal of whatever missed his lofty standards, were
a potent mix for those around him.
His approval was "an addictive drug," said Niehaus. "I
think that most people would knock themselves out to have that
experience again, once they've had it. It's that defining. It
is a really tremendous experience."
Jobs had been on leave three times since 2004, and he
clearly thought about an Apple without him. Jobs had a liver
transplant and a rare form of pancreatic cancer.
His own mortality was a major driver in his life and work.
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important
tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in
life," Jobs said in the commencement speech. "Because almost
everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of
embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the
face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
Jobs and the Apple board had a succession plan -- put Cook
in charge -- and he has left a well-respected team. Jobs put
extraordinary effort into finding people who he said are 10,
20, 50 times better than average, he told Time magazine, adding
that there were no prima donnas when great people got
"Having a close circle of people was really important to
him," Elliot said.
Many Apple watchers and investors say that the company has
a deep bench, led by Cook. But for others, that just doesn't
The former engineer whose months of works was dismissed by
Jobs with a single curse doesn't see much strength in the
ranks, saying that it was always a case of "Steve is the
visionary," and if something happened it was always a case of
"Let's ask Steve".
Apple itself marked the death of Jobs by placing a simple
black-and-white picture of the founder on the front page of its
Web site, with his name and the dates 1955-2011.
(Editing by Tiffany Wu, Ted Kerr and Martin Howell)
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.