Deconstructing pictures of JOBS

JOBS

Now that I’ve covered most of my thoughts on the independent Steve Jobs biopic JOBS, whose premiere is today at Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to cover form i.e. production values.

Let’s review the official pictures that we’ve seen emerge from the film’s promotional campaign.

The first picture was that of Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs sitting on his desk:

Kutcher as Jobs

 

Which was trying to reproduce the below picture from 1981:

Jobs in 1981

 

Most people here would first see a striking resemblance between the two men. And I have to say, it’s really well done indeed. At a quick glance, they do look a lot alike, and it becomes obvious why Kutcher was picked to play the part of young Steve. But of course, being the obsessive-compulsive type with those pictures of Steve Jobs, I couldn’t help but notice a few things:

1. Physical build. The two men certainly have some things in common. But Kutcher’s build is very different from Jobs’s. Jobs was very wiry when he was young (in his hippie, fasting days especially), and in the mid-1980s, but he put on some weight at various points in his life. Not that he ate too much fat, of course; but probably more because he, like your fellow webmaster, was more into work than into sports. You can tell that in the picture above; and you can tell that Kutcher used to be a model, too. Basically, I wonder if Kutcher’s very athletic build will be credible as the impersonation of SJ on the big screen. Noah Wyle was better suited in that regard.

2. The watch. Look closely. In those days, Steve was a young millionaire, and showed off a little with his BMW motorcycle and his, yes, gold watch (after all, it was the 1980s). The watch that Kutcher wears is actually not bad, because SJ owned one very similar —only a few years later. So we’re dealing with a little anachronism here. Here is an example from 1984 that proves it:

1984 watch

 

3. The THINK poster. I would have been surprised if they had gotten that one right. But it’s the first thing that jumped to my eyes when I saw the picture of Kutcher. You see, that poster was not random. Its history was actually very well documented by Jef Raskin’s nephew —it is a variant of the Apple Syntax poster from 1980 (link from the Wayback machine). The original one featured Pascal syntax tips, and Steve Jobs was directly involved in its design. The version on his desk was using the same type as the Pascal header of the poster (3D letters with the Apple rainbow colors), applied to the IBM motto, THINK.

The Pascal poster

Unfortunately, the production crew of JOBS seemed to have bad eyes and to lack this information, as the type on their THINK poster seems to be dead flat.

My verdict:
Historical accuracy rating: 8/10

 

The second picture released by the JOBS team was one of the co-founders at the West Coast Computer Faire of April 1977:

Kutcher as Jobs in 1977

 

And, for context, two photos from the 1977 faire:

 

1977

 

Steve Jobs was actually wearing his first suit that day, after the advice of Regis McKenna and Mike Markkula. I have very little to say here, the resemblance is striking and the costumes almost identical. (The same can’t be said of Woz though). Of course, I did find a couple things to complain about :)

1. The badge. A blowup of both pictures will get my point across:

Badges 2

You might think I am too harsh with the movie, but this is actually non trivial. The West Coast Computer Faire was actually Apple’s grand entry into the personal computing market, the first time they were ever considered seriously. And McKenna was instrumental in getting the young scruffy Steves to look like businessmen on that day. So having handwritten, diagonal names on their badges is actually far from the truth of what that show was. In addition, Jobs’s first name on the badge was “Steven”, not “Steve” (I’ll admit I’m picky with that one).

2. The booth. This is not about Steve, but the Apple booth, but again a small misconception on the importance of the West Coast Computer Faire for Apple. The movie makers couldn’t have guessed it from the black and white pictures (since they didn’t ask your fellow webmaster for advice) but that booth was actually lit by neon lights to look serious and attract visitors. Markkula put up heavy money for this, for a startup. Check this out:

Neon lights

 

3. The hair. Steve’s was a lot dirtier ;)

Historical accuracy rating: 9/10


I won’t comment on the third picture, since it takes place in the garage, and we don’t have any pictures from that time. But I will talk about the latest news from JOBS, the movie clip that got out on Thursday, two days before the premiere (and on the eve of the 29th anniversary of the Macintosh introduction).

I’d be interested to know what you guys think of this. I must say I was a little disappointed. With the great production values and all this talk of a ‘wow’ performance from Kutcher, I was actually expecting something close to the reality of Steve’s youth. That’s not what I saw in this clip.

Where do I start?

  • the weird, forced intonations. “That changes e-ve-ry-th-in'”. Steve spoke fast, especially in those days. And he certainly didn’t speak to Woz the way he did keynotes in the 2000s;
  • the depiction of Wozniak as basically a corporate stooge, in a suit, saying “Hi Charlene” to a colleague. He did like the comfort of a salary from working at HP, but I don’t think anyone could say Woz was the corporate type;
  • the exchange on “the operating system” as if the term was new and coined by Wozniak. Yes, seeing what you typed on a keyboard on a TV screen was extraordinary. But this had nothing to do with the expression “operating system” which had been around for a good ten years then. As an example, Gary Kildall’s popular CP/M had been developed in 1973, three years before the Apple I…
  • “nobody wants to buy a computer”… coming from Woz? It’s true that the idea of selling was stranger to him. But certainly not the idea of personal computing, since he was so familiar with it after attending the Homebrew meetings, where it was pioneered.

Woz actually confirmed what I felt in writing to several blogs, starting with Gizmodo, I quote:

Totally wrong. Personalities and where the ideas of computers affecting society did not come from Jobs. They inspired me and were widely spoken at the Homebrew Computer Club. Steve came back from Oregon and came to a club meeting and didn’t start talking about this great social impact. His idea was to make a $20 PC board and sell it for $40 to help people at the club build the computer I’d given away. Steve came from selling surplus parts at HalTed he always saw a way to make a quick buck off my designs (this was the 5th time).

The lofty talk came much further down the line.

I never looked like a professional. We were both kids. Our relationship was so different than what was portrayed. I’m embarrassed but if the movie is fun and entertaining, all the better.

As he says:

It’s only one clip. The movie should be very popular and I hope it’s entertaining. It may be very correct, as well. This is only one clip. But you’ll see the direction they are slanting the movie in, just by the dialog style of this script.

I hope he’s right.

Historical accuracy rating: 4/10

Kutcher has a date and Sorkin has a pitch

As promised, here is my take on the news about the two upcoming Steve Jobs movies. For those suffering from chronic memory loss, these movies are:

  • JOBS (ex-jOBS, a.k.a. “the Kutcher picture”), an independent movie directed by Joshua Stern starring Ashton Kutcher
  • and “the Sorkin movie”, my codename for a Sony Pictures Entertainment project using the rights for Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (bought for $1 million), whose script will be written by Aaron Sorkin (scriptwriter of The Social Network)
These past two months, there has been news about both movies in the tech press.
 
The Sony project opened the news cycle with a little off-the-cuff comment from its rockstar scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin, who unveiled in an interview that he had laid the ground for the basic narrative structure of his biopic. “This entire movie is going to be three scenes, and three scenes only, that all take place in real time,” he said, actually three half-hour-long scenes preceding Steve’s taking the stage at three product unveilings: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988 (four years later) and the iPod in 2001 (thirteen years later, and ten years before his death… OK).
 
Two weeks later, the JOBS marketing crew unveiled a photograph of Kutcher trying to mimic an actual picture of Steve from 1981. (It was followed by two pictures released last week, more on them later). That picture was actually accompanying the news that the movie will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, on January 25… wait, that’s tomorrow! Then, three weeks ago, on January 3, the release date for JOBS was announced: it should be in theatres in April of this year.
 
I thought I would take the opportunity offered by these three pieces of news to write on both projects, as I have been increasingly thinking about them recently.
 

Narrative

The most obvious and perhaps most interesting difference between these two movies is their timeframe. Indeed, JOBS will focus mainly on Steve Jobs’s youth, from 1971 (age 16, in high school, when he was friends with Woz) to the comeback at Apple (or even later… 2000? when he became Apple’s CEO?)

 

Kutcher as Jobs

Kutcher as Jobs

 

For those of you have seen the only fiction movie about Steve Jobs yet, Pirates of Silicon Valley starring Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs, the choice of period is very similar. Pirates starts in the Berkeley riots of the late 1960s, to show the friendship between Steve and Woz, and ends at the Macworld Boston keynote in July 1997 (the famous “Gates as Big Brother” keynote). But the bulk of the action happens in the early 1980s, during the development of Macintosh, and there is no mention of NeXT or Pixar (the years 1985 to 1996 are actually not showed at all). Pirates is different though, as Bill Gates is as important a character as Steve Jobs in that TV movie.

As a result, the narrative in Pirates is alternating between telling the stories of both characters, and Steve only gets half the spotlight, with short but symbolic scenes such as the West Coast Computer Faire, Apple’s IPO, his relationship with Chris-Ann and Lisa, celebrations and arguments with the Mac team, or his 30th birthday. The TV movie was actually successful portraying a dramatized but fairly accurate picture of the two fathers of modern personal computing, and SJ himself acknowledged it by inviting Noah Wyle disguised as his modern self to introduce the Macworld NY 1999 keynote.

 

Pirates of Silicon Valley

Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs in Pirates of Silicon Valley

 

It’s an open question whether JOBS can pull off such an accomplishment. Since we know the movie is at least showing Jobs in India (age 19) and in 1997 (age 42), the question is, what in these 25+ years will be showed, and what will be forgotten? I hope it won’t be as bad as the Isaacson bio, which managed to dedicate one whole chapter on the week of the departure from Apple, and one other chapter for the whole decade at NeXT… But I have my doubts on the portrayal of the NeXT and Pixar ventures. NeXT is crucial in Steve’s history, as it was, after all, the first time he was truly the man in charge, and its failure was the basis for the resurrection of Apple. As for Pixar, of course, there wouldn’t have been a return to Apple without the media attention and riches that the animation studio brought to Steve.

I am not implying that giving a compelling yet accurate picture of a life so eventful is easy. I have myself agonized (and still am) over the writing of Steve’s biography, which simultaneously follows different threads: the Lisa drama at the time of the IPO, the struggles with NeXT and with Pixar concurrent to the discovery of Mona and the wedding with Laurene, etc. To do all this in a 120-minute format is next to impossible, and something’s gotta give. I hope that JOBS doesn’t let go of the main drive of Steve’s life, his passion for technology. I wonder, for example, how the trip to Xerox PARC will be depicted (if at all). Same with the NeXT Cube introduction. This is one area where Pirates of Silicon Valley was actually not bad.

 

For the Sony movie, the answer to the question “what will be ignored” is actually quite simple: “almost everything”.

Indeed, as I said in the intro, Sorkin’s intention is to have the movie play out in real time (meaning every minute on the screen is a minute in the movie), with no flashbacks or cuts of any sort. Three times thirty minutes, the thirty minutes that precede Jobs’s entry on stage for three key product introductions in his career: that of the Macintosh, the NeXT Cube, and the iPod.

 

1984, 1988, 2001

1984, 1988 and 2001 – the three pillars of Aaron Sorkin’s scripts

 

First of all, what was the point of buying the rights of Isaacson’s bio to write such a script? All the facts there are to know are in the recordings of those events (including that of the NeXT Cube intro, which I have been longing for for the past five years now). The rest can only be in allusions or short appearances of characters, and will not be from the bio for sure. Actually it is obvious already what will not be in such a movie: anything having to do with Jobs’s family (Lisa, Mona, Laurene, Reed, Erin or Eve); or even, anything Pixar? I don’t see how they could fit in the narrative as Sorkin describes it. And how could the complexities of the character be reflected in such small segments? I just watched Scorsese’s The Aviator again to get some perspective —imagine if the whole movie had been reduced down to just the premiere of Hell’s Angels, the plane crash, and the Congressional trial, for instance; how would that give a rich description of Howard Hugues? Needless to say, I am skeptical.

Yes, it is hard to do a full-blown biopic, and if Sorkin listened to me, he would have to do a Lord-of-the-Rings-type trilogy, even a tetralogy (1955-85; 1985-1996; 1997-2007; 2007-2011 would probably be a nice breakdown). I am (and you are, if you’ve read this far) probably one of the few people on this planet who would bear to sit for 14 hours to re-live the life of Steve Jobs on the big screen. But I understand that Hollywood is an industry and that such an endeavour would not make much business sense. The problem is that I’m not sure Sorkin’s approach makes much sense, either.

Let’s give the man credit and suppose that he pulls this off. After all, he does have a good track record. So suppose his three-scenes-before-keynotes approach works well —still, I can’t get around his choices for those three keynotes. The idea, I assume, is to give snapshots of Steve’s personalities at very different moments of his life. The plot could be organized around such lines: first, the arrogant young millionaire at the peak of his early success; then, a fallen-angel type of deal with NeXT, the thirty-something entrepreneur back with a vengeance (and perhaps a healthy dose of moving scenes relating to Lisa or Mona); and finally the 45-year-old ready to take over the world.

To start with, it is bold to begin the movie in 1984. I personally like the idea to ignore the oft-told tale of the hippie days at Reed or in India, and the garage days of Apple. But to start with the Macintosh launch means probably skipping over the rough early 1980s, and how they transfigured young Jobs, with the intense learning of business, the riches and the fame from the IPO, the inner conflicts with Lisa (the girl) and Chrisann, the Eureka moment at Xerox PARC, and the fanatical days of the development of Macintosh after the failure of Lisa (the computer).

The jump from 1984 to 1988 makes more sense — some might say it’s just four years, which can be summed up with the crisis and departure of Apple, and the development of NeXT… oh, yes, there’s also that side project, a little startup called Pixar (don’t count on that one). Yet in these four years, Steve changed a lot, and I have to give credit to Sorkin for dedicating a third of his script to a crucial turnaround point in Steve’s life, which is all too often plain forgotten. I’m actually quite excited to see how NeXT could be presented in that segment. Will it be all about “revenge”? Yes, revenge was part of NeXT, but the ambition of the Cube was so much more. In a lot of ways, Steve of 1988 was a prototype to Steve of Apple 2.0. I wonder if Sorkin gets that.

Much more radical is the switch from 1988 straight to 2001. How will that account for the ten years of struggle at NeXT and Pixar? The new family life? The late triumph of Pixar? The comeback and subsequent coup at Apple? Again, I suspect NeXT and Pixar will be left in the background, and that Sorkin will try to drop hints at the future of Apple instead… that’s why the choice of the iPod keynote left me dumbfounded. Like I suspect many others, I would have bet a fiver on the iPhone introduction instead. Not only because the iPhone was perhaps Steve Jobs’s greatest masterpiece, and its introduction blew the whole world away. But also because he was actually conscious of that, and made that keynote as dramatic as can be. Everyone who watched it remembers how he started the iPhone section of his presentation by telling he couldn’t sleep the night before, because he knew that Apple was about to make history once again.

 

Steve Jobs at Macworld 2007

 

Not so for the iPod. Far from it. For those that doubt it, just watch the keynote again. I wouldn’t say it’s dull or boring, because the product was damn exciting — but you could tell neither Jobs nor the audience (mostly press and Apple employees) expected it to be da bomb that it turned out to be. And as a result, the iCEO wasn’t nearly as charismatic as he was at Macworld 2007. The scale of the keynote certainly played its part too, it was only in the small auditorium of Cupertino vs. the huge hall of Moscone West.

I don’t think that Sorkin will reflect that lack of showmanship and excitement in his movie. In fact, I expect him to put a lot in that segment that shouldn’t, that couldn’t have happened in 2001. I actually think this is what the success of his script boils down to: the sum of the choices he will have to make, because of the format he’s chosen. There’s a very high bar for him to make good ones. My hat’s off to him if he manages to give birth to a masterpiece within these self-imposed constraints.

 

A paradox

The two Jobs movies were not born under the same star.

One was conceived in 2011, after Steve’s resignation but before his passing. It is an independent movie whose creators come mostly from TV and have no track record with feature-length films, including its lead star, Ashton Kutcher, who started out as a model. It will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the first choice for most independent features. The other is based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography. The book was written with Jobs’s full cooperation, but it was rushed to market after his death, to successfully become one of the best selling books of the year. Very soon afterwards, the rights were sold to major studio Sony Pictures for a couple million dollars. One of Hollywood’s most highly-regarded writers was put in charge of drafting its scripts. It will certainly be introduced with a huge media campaign à la Hollywood.

Here comes a paradox.

On the one hand, history suggests that movies in the hands of major studios tend to feature high-profile movie starts, be overkill in production values, and unimaginative with their narrative. On the other hand, independent cinema tries to compensate its lack of visual debauch and its usually obscure cast (due to scarce funds) by being more audacious with its subject matters and plots.

This is not what we’re starting to see here. The independent movie has a movie star in its own right. And from the first images we’ve seen, the production values seem to be impeccable. The costumes and sets are almost perfect reproductions of the 1980s and the early days of Apple. Kutcher was even cast probably for the reason that he looks so much like young Steve Jobs! But his talent at impersonating our hero will have to be tested. I have honestly never watched anything from his filmography, and in fact, I had never heard of him before he was picked for JOBS. So I can’t judge him before I see the movie. However, I can’t help but hear a lot of bad rap, especially along the lines of “almost anything can be played by actors —except intelligence”. I will give Kutcher the benefit of the doubt, but this is definitely the fear: perfect form, and no substance, a movie that looks like a documentary but misses the essence of its main character. I hope this isn’t the way JOBS will go down into history.

The Sony movie is also breaking clichés on cinema. We’ll have to see if Sorkin’s plan is followed through by the studio, but if so, needless to say that the narrative of the movie will be quite unconventional. That’s right —a lot less conventional than its independent counterpart! It will be the big production that takes the most risk. I still have my doubts as to what Sorkin can make of the Steve Jobs story. Will he —can he— get it? Again, the final word will come when both movies are out. But the outcome might be quite unlike what one could have expected!

Needless to say, I am quite excited by the prospect of watching and reviewing those two movies. Please, dear moviemakers, hurry up!

Happy 2013! a.k.a the End of 2012 Steve Jobs News Roundup

Dear reader,

The new year starts as it should, with the continuation of one of my worst habits: the posting of news roundups that gather the equivalent of what should have been five or six separate, timely posts. Still, I will write such an article, because it does contain some interesting trivia that you might have missed.

 

Let’s start with the one-year anniversary of Steve’s passing. Although I did post on that sad day, it was only later that I found out the following anecdote: The favicon was at half mast during the anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death (from a great site, Little Big Details, which I recommend you check out).

Apple's favicon at half mast

That’s right, on October 11 2012, the favicon of apple.com was “flying at half mast”. Nice touch, and a reminder that the company continues to care about the smallest details (and to delight you when you happen to notice them). Of course, this was only the icing on the cake, and what a cake.

 

Another piece of news came from Steve Jobs’s “other” company, Pixar. The Disney-owned animation studios had the graciousness to name the newest addition to their campus “The Steve Jobs Building”. The building has a modernist look which SJ would probably not have disapproved of — it’s even possible he was involved in its design, like the rest of the campus, but this is speculation on my part (Source: Pixar Times).

 

PixarSJB

The Steve Jobs Building at Pixar in Emeryville

 

The day before the anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death came another piece of news that might be of interest to the “Steve Jobs community”: Chris-Ann Brennan, Steve’s high school girlfriend and the mother of Lisa, will be publishing a “memoir”, according to the NY Times blog. I wonder about its quality and content, since Chris-Ann has been known to be unstable and eccentric (this was confirmed in the Isaacson bio). It looks a lot like a get-rich-quick plan, but I won’t make hasty conclusions before I’ve read the book. While waiting for the book, you can still read the article she published in Rolling Stone’s commemorative issue after Steve’s passing: Jobs at 17: Nerd, Poet, Romantic (cached version, the actual article starts about 80% of the way).

This confirms the theory I have long held that Steve’s death would be followed by people untying their tongue, now that their fear of him (encouraged by the occasional threats) is gone. So far it has been mostly the usual suspects talking to the press or writing, but I do see a trend of former colleagues who begin to open up, too. Avie Tevanian in BBC’s documentary, or Tony Fadell, are two examples.

 

Chris Ann Brennan

My only confirmed picture of Chris Ann Brennan, from Facebook

I sincerely hope the trend continues, and that one day those who worked really closely with Steve start to speak up. Can you imagine a book about NeXT by former NeXTers, for example? I would be thrilled to see that happen. It would perhaps compensate for the usually negative image of Steve Jobs as a man, relayed by the people who had broken all ties with him and thus did not feel bound to respect him. Not to mention the shallowness of the Isaacson bio.

  

As far as pictures go, I’ve dug up a few interesting ones in these last weeks of 2012. Starting with this gallery of Apple I photos from Time Magazine’s Harry McCracken. ‘Wait’, you might say, ‘but I know plenty of pictures of the Apple I!’ And you’d be right, dear reader, but these are special. They come from Paul Terrell’s private collection. If that name rings a bell, it means you’ve done your homework: he was the owner of the BYTE SHOP, the electronics store (I daren’t say computer store) which was Apple Computer’s first client, back in 1976, before the garage — it was actually the order of 100 computers from Terrell which made the garage necessary, and made dollar signs flash in front of young-and-not-so-hippie-anymore Steve Jobs’s eyes.

The Byte shop

The first picture of the Byte Shop I ever saw, from the TIME gallery
(notice the groovy typeface for the logo) 

 

I will soon add those Apple I pictures to the site, along with a few I already added, from a few years later:

New pics of Steve Jobs

 

This batch of (too small) pics came from Vectronic’s Apple World (a treasure trove for old advertisement of the fruit company). They show Steve around 1980-81, when he was 25, a.k.a. The Moustache Years. The top left is from a series we’ve seen before, where he is riding his BMW motorcycle. All others are news to me: the top middle and right show him at a “PR agency” (perhaps McKenna’s, where he met his then-girlfriend Barbara Jasinski?) The bottom left and middle ones are probably in his ski destination of choice, Aspen. And the last one, the only large one, is obviously at a school. I will add more very interesting pictures of young Steve soon, so stay tuned!

 

In echo of my previous post, there was also some more talk of Steve’s famed yacht, Venus, in the last days of December. The talk was really not that interesting, and Philipp Elmer-Dewitt made a great short summary of it (as he does) on his blog: Steve Jobs’ yacht: The anatomy of a news cycle. Basically, French designer Starck was paid a percentage of the cost of the yacht. But the boat ended up costing less than planned (which is noteworthy), and so Starck was paid less than he expected — €3 million short (€6m instead of €9m). Apparently, Laurene quickly settled the case with him and the yacht, which had been temporarily seized by the Dutch authorities, was released a few days later. Big deal.

PED’s analysis is interesting in that it stresses how such small events become hugely inflated by the blogosphere and even mainstream media, just because they give an excuse to have ‘Steve Jobs’ in the headline and attract click$. This is something I have observed as well, and it sometimes really becomes ludicrous. The article on Examiner.com Psychic makes contact with Steve Jobs, says things not well in afterlife certainly takes the palm in that category.

I can hear your voice – “But that’s not all! He forgot about the movie! … I mean, the movies!” No, dear reader, I will speak of those movies. But they deserve their own post, and it will come very soon.

Although the blog has been quiet lately, I have been paying close attention to all things Steve Jobs all along, and even updated the site silently. Just last week, I added 22 new anecdotes and 2 new quotes to my growing collection. Rest assured that this will continue: as I’ve written before, I have some great content coming up soon.

 

Oh, I almost forgot… Happy new year! :)

Steve Jobs’s yacht, Venus, now launched

“There’s no yacht in my future,” Steve Jobs declared to NY Times journalist John Markoff in November 1995, to illustrate his goal in life was not to make money. Had he not died last year, this phrase would be filed among the many contradictory statements Jobs made throughout his life —because two weeks ago, the yacht he spent the last years of his life designing finally launched. I just added a dedicated page about this boat under Steve’s Places (where it best fits, with the private jet).

We first heard about the Jobs yacht last year, when the Isaacson biography was published. It remained a mystery to me since then, especially because of my particular interest in ship design (albeit bigger ones) —but I somehow didn’t expect it to ever be revealed. I thought it would remain in the private sphere of the Jobs family, if it was finished at all. But the resolve of Laurene Powell-Jobs and the voyeurism of today’s media got the better of me, as the yacht (Hull #684) was launched very publicly on October 28 2012. The Feadship shipyard, where the boat was built, even released a note about it on their website (without mentioning the owner’s identity, though; but the rows of iMacs in the bridge leave little doubt about that).

Feadship Press release

The press release on Feadship’s website

The Venus —as she is named, after the Roman goddess born from the foam of Uranus’s genitals dropped into the sea (Wikipedia confirms)— is indeed very Jobsian in her aesthetics. The very clear-cut lines of her hull, the minimalist superstructure with its right angles and floor to ceiling windows, the lack of any visible mooring or radio equipment… all make for a surprising design that evokes more a floating modernist house than your typical billionaire yacht. Compare and contrast, for example, with Larry Ellison’s latest yacht, Musashi, which is way more traditional —and whose design Jobs supposedly hated (according to Isaacson) which inspired him to create his own, perfect ship.

The Jobses on a yacht

The Jobses on a cruise in the Corinth Canal, circa 2006

Isaacson writes:

Before his liver transplant, he and his family used to rent a boat for vacations, traveling to Mexico, the South Pacific, or the Mediterranean. On many of these cruises, Jobs got bored or began to hate the design of the boat, so they would cut the trip short and fly to Kona Village. But sometimes the cruise worked well. “The best vacation I’ve ever been on was when we went down the coast of Italy, then to Athens—which is a pit, but the Parthenon is mind-blowing—and then to Ephesus in Turkey, where they have these ancient public lavatories in marble with a place in the middle for musicians to serenade.” […]

After the joy of that cruise, Jobs had amused himself by beginning to design, and then repeatedly redesigning, a boat he said he wanted to build someday. When he got sick again in 2009, he almost canceled the project. “I didn’t think I would be alive when it got done,” he recalled. “But that made me so sad, and I decided that working on the design was fun to do, and maybe I have a shot at being alive when it’s done. If I stop work on the boat and then I make it alive for another two years, I would be really pissed. So I’ve kept going.”

After our omelets at the café, we went back to his house and he showed me all of the models and architectural drawings. As expected, the planned yacht was sleek and minimalist. The teak decks were perfectly flat and unblemished by any accoutrements. As at an Apple store, the cabin windows were large panes, almost floor to ceiling, and the main living area was designed to have walls of glass that were forty feet long and ten feet high. He had gotten the chief engineer of the Apple stores to design a special glass that was able to provide structural support.

By then the boat was under construction by the Dutch custom yacht builders Feadship, but Jobs was still fiddling with the design. “I know that it’s possible I will die and leave Laurene with a half-built boat,” he said. “But I have to keep going on it. If I don’t, it’s an admission that I’m about to die.”

The scenes described by Isaacson lets my imagination run wild. Can you imagine being shown models and drawings of the yacht of Steve Jobs’s dreams… by the man himself? It reminds me of the famed models of a hypothetical modern house for Woodside, dating back from the late 1980s, but which never materialized. It seems that the prospect of a nearing death must have pushed the Apple CEO to stop refining (some would say procrastinating) and actually turn his plans into reality. I find it interesting that he chose to spend the limited time he had on the yacht (and the Apple Spaceship) rather than his family home. Perhaps it is because of the greater liberty and challenge that is peculiar to naval architecture; a ship is its own universe, it must be self-sufficient when on water. Not so with a house. Or perhaps it was only because he could see the Woodside teardown taking too long to happen, who knows.

This first, exciting yet mysterious reveal was in October 2011, just two weeks after Steve’s passing. But another one came some six months later, when my fellow countryman designer Philippe Starck announced in a radio interview he was working on a “revolutionary” project with Apple that would come out “in eight months”. I assumed he was drunk or suicidal —the former option was probably the most likely, because after Apple denied his claims, he admitted he was in fact working on a personal project with the Jobs family: “I’ve come to visit him once a month for seven years in Palo Alto, and I’m actually going there next Monday, because now that he’s dead, I’m working with his wife. We enjoyed exchanging about interesting things” (translated from the French by yours truly).

Philippe Starck

French designer Philippe Starck who partook in the Venus design

The anecdote aside, I thought it was another Jobsian move to use the services of Starck. This is because I’ve come to believe the theory laid out by Alan Deutschman in The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, according to which Jobs was insecure about his taste in his personal life (not so much in his work, obviously) and liked to take advice from renown taste makers to shape his own. It’s possible he couldn’t decide when you know he spent the better part of his youth living in empty houses. And it’s also true that he used world-famous architect I. M. Pei’s services to design not only the staircase of the NeXT offices, but also the remodeling of his Manhattan apartment (not that he ever lived there) and supposedly some early projects for Woodside, too. That he would call on Starck for the design of his yacht fits well within this trend.

The last Jobsian touch was actually from the Jobs family —maybe Steve had planned, or maybe Laurene did something she thought he would have done. They sent a thank you note to all the workers of the Feadship yard stating “Thank you for your hard work and craftsmanship – from the Jobs family” with a stylized silhouette of the Venus at the bottom. (The note came with an iPod shuffle which, to be honest, did remind me of one of the earliest Fake Steve Jobs pieces…)

Cadeau

And so it is one year after her reveal, and apparently eight years since her inception, that the Venus starts sailing the seven seas. I really wonder what she will be used for. Will the Jobses actually use it and sail across the globe? Or did Laurene insist on finishing one his husband’s late projects? This might stay secret as it is part of the Jobses private life. But my appetite for more details is really not about that. Indeed, many more questions have sprung in my mind from these first photos of the yacht: what is it like inside? Where and how is the equipment hidden? How does the superstructure hold? How are the navigation computer systems designed? What’s the engine room look like? (I imagine it’s neat knowing Steve’s love for machines)… The mystery of Steve Jobs goes on.

Remembering Steve

To mark the one-year anniversary of Steve Jobs’s passing, Apple posted the following tribute on the homepage of their website on October 5, 2012:

 

 

It is still up at the time of this writing. I suspect it will stay here for a week. For future visitors of the site, I have republished the video in the new Misc Movies & Recordings section.

The images that can be seen in the video are, in order of appearance:

  • Steve Jobs in his home with Macintosh, 1984 (by Norman Seeff)
  • with MacBook Air, Macworld 2008
  • with the original iMac, 1998
  • with the first iPod, 2001
  • with iPhone, Macworld 2007
  • again, at Macworld 2007 doing the joke with the Starbucks employee on a call
  • laughing at his desk, 1984 (by Norman Seeff)
  • at the opening of the New York 5th Avenue Apple retail store, May 2006
  • outside the 5th Avenue retail store, same day
  • working on the Apple I, 1976 (by Joe Molena)
  • at home in summer 2004, by Diana Walker

As far as Steve’s voice is concerned, the extracts come from:

  • Macworld 2007, 9 January 2007
  • original iMac introduction, 6 May 1998
  • iPod introduction, 23 October 2001
  • Macworld 2007 again (for both the introduction and the phone prank)
  • iPad 2 introduction, Steve’s second-to-last keynote, 2 March 2011

All these keynotes can be seen in the Steve Jobs Keynotes section of the site.

The soundtrack is Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, which I suspected on Twitter. Macstories has a nice story on how they are sure of it, because Yo-Yo “plays the first four Bach suites tuning down his cello a full semitone” to be closer to how the music sounded back in the 17th century. 

I found the video to be very well made, and frankly, quite moving. Tim Cook’s letter, who picked his words just as carefully and with the same talent as Steve himself used to do on such occasions, were also very appropriate.

 

Tim Cook's letter

One year without Steve

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs.

I can distinctly remember October 5, 2011. Just like most people remember what they were doing when they heard about 9/11, just like Steve remembered “the exact moment [he] heard [Kennedy] had been shot”, I will probably remember when I heard about my hero’s death for the rest of my life. I was half awake, as the radio had been playing for 5 minutes, just like every morning, to wake me up. As I was slowly opening my eyes, I heard the anchorman’s dreaded words: “Steve Jobs est mort”. I literally jumped out of surprise. It was probably the fastest I ever woke up in my life. I quickly grabbed my iPad and slowly started discovering the sad truth, replaying in my head the words that Steve had used when he resigned from Apple some 42 days before: “Unfortunately, that day has come”.

Screenshot 148

The iPhone 4S had been introduced one day earlier, yet everybody quickly started to forget about it. Apple’s own homepage had been replaced by a huge black and white portrait of Steve, the one he had picked for his only authorized biography. In the following weeks, people around the globe paid homage to one of the greatest geniuses of our time, half-Edison, half-Disney. He was celebrated by everyone, friends and foes alike (apart from that jackass Richard Stallman).

I have to say that period left a strange taste for me. I remembered how I had been made fun of for using a Mac in junior high. How Apple was heralded as a business counter-example by industry pundits in the 1990s. And how Jobs was decried as a tyrant, obsessing over unnecessary details, prioritizing form over function in beautiful but overpriced, underpowered machines. However, as years went by, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad had changed that. Apple was now the king of the hill, and Jobs a genius heralded as the ultimate model entrepreneur. Yes, it felt good to say we —Mac people— had been right all these years. But I started wondering how would Steve’s death have been received had Apple stayed the same as it was in 2000.

Then Isaacson’s biography came out. It was almost too much. Steve dies, a myriad of articles, tributes, anecdotes, “lost” pictures and videos come out, and then that huge book that we had been hearing about for the past two years is on the promoted shelf of every bookstore around the world. I don’t remember where I read this, but someone compared it to an Apple launch: a beautifully packaged mass market product that takes the world by storm. The book had even been rushed out to market, to capitalize on the media attention that Steve Jobs’s death had received. This, also, kind of left me with a weird sentiment. Especially since the bio was disappointing a read —my review of it is yet to come, but I essentially agree with John Siracusa’s excellent argument: Walter Isaacson was the wrong guy. A unique opportunity to look into the mind of Steve was wasted.

Bio

Then the world moved on. I, of course, continued to look back at Steve’s life, and soon redesigned and enriched the website to make it an even better place to help others learn about it too. But the tech industry, which is not fond of history (not enough anyway), started focusing on the present again. The homages became rarer. Apple released new products. Tim Cook became an increasingly recognized figure. Apple’s stock kept rising. Steve’s name was only invoked as a ridiculous hypothetical benchmark to judge Cook’s Apple: what would Steve have done? Exactly the opposite of Steve’s independent thinking, one of his biggest strengths.

Yet I have to say that my vision of the tech industry —and, yes, the world— has changed. It’s like something is missing. Not the actual Steve Jobs human being, whom we had painfully learned to accept was not eternal. But what he meant. For me, it was the promise of a better, magical future. However stupid Dan Lyons’s writings have become, there was some genius in a few of his catch phrases when he run his former parody blog, Fake Steve Jobs. One of them was how he phrased Steve’s mission: “Restoring a sense of childlike wonder” to our lives. And this rang true to me. This is how I had felt watching every one of his keynotes (OK, except that iPod hifi one). I distinctly remember the thrill of the announcement of the G4 Cube in 2000. Of the iMac G4 in 2002. Of the Power Mac G3 in 2003. The MacBook Air. The iPad. And of course, the bewildered amazement experienced when the iPhone came out. “Is this even possible they built such a thing?”, I thought at the time.

Those years of successive stunners —not necessarily commercial successes, mind you— had built in me a certainty that I did not have to worry about the future. As long as there was a Steve Jobs, I was certain that a great and inspiring product was sure to delight me some time in the future. Something exciting and unexpected was surely around the corner. I would lie if I didn’t say that certainty has faded.

Looking back, I feel like a spoiled child. I was lucky enough to live the great saga of Steve Jobs. I saw this man realize his vision of computing. With the launch of the iPad in 2010, he achieved his thirty-year-old desire to build a simple, smart, beautiful and yes, magical computer —at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, as he often liked to say. It’s almost as if he was taken away after his mission on Earth was accomplished. This was not obvious, this could have not happened. We should all feel lucky that there was a man forceful and genius enough to put our industry in that direction. It is now our job to keep the flame going.

Thanks Steve. We are forever in your debt.

APPLE

New Movies collection added to the site

I added a new section to the site last week. While I was trying to decide where to host the new videos that I recently discovered, I realized that the current sub sections of the Movies section were not appropriate to categorize the growing collection of the website.

So I created a new one: it’s called Misc Movies & Recordings. I wish I had found a better title, but it’s really what it is: a pot pourri of all videos (and sound recordings, which are new) that do not belong either in Keynotes, Best Moments, or Steve-isms.

So, a recap:

Steve Jobs Keynotes is unchanged and will present you with the most complete online collection of keynotes performed by Steve Jobs known to man. By “Keynotes” I mean product announcements and press conferences that Steve gave as the head of Apple or NeXT.

Steve-isms is also unchanged, and is still a collection of montages of Steve Jobs’s favorite expressions, stage tricks and gimmicks that give some perspective to his long career as a showman.

Best Onstage Moments has been reconfigured to be what it was meant to be: a real collection of cool moments to remember from Steve’s career, either because they were historic, dramatic, or just plain funny.
To perfect that, I removed the video Tour of the first retail store as well as the Stanford commencement speech, and added a few that belonged in this section yet were glaringly missing. Those new videos are:

  • Introducing Macintosh, the famous moment from the January 24, 1984 introduction
  • Peace with Microsoft, the short sentence that followed the talk from Bill Gates at Macworld Boston 1997
  • G4 Cube unveiling, when Steve first showed off the Cube at Macworld NY 2000
  • iMac G4 unveiling, complete with the design thinking lowdown, from Macworld 2002
  • The death of Mac OS 9, an astonishing show performed by SJ at WWDC 2002
  • iPod nano unveiling, one of Steve Jobs’s most creative product introduction, in September 2005
  • and the hyper famous (and deservedly so) iPhone unveiling at Macworld 2007

I hope you enjoy re-watching those videos as much as I do.

- The brand new section is Misc Movies & Recordings, and is home to a number of videos I had long hoped to put on the site. You can find over there short clips, such as a nervous Steve Jobs on a TV set in 1981; promotional videos, such as the first retail store video, or the heart-breaking Think Different ad with Steve as narrator; but also product demos, homages, occasional speeches… and also sound recordings, which I host on SoundCloud. There are three of them so far, but I expect that collection to grow. I have included the recent find of an hour-long speech and Q&A given by Steve at the International Design Conference in 1983 (more on that in a later post).

Finally, as indicated on the new page, I do have a number of videos (30 at the time of this writing) in the Interviews section of the site: click on the “video” filter to only see them. I decided to keep them on that page, because I did not want to encumber the Movies section with too many videos, and because I think they fit in with the rest of the interviews. Some of these video interviews even have transcripts, that best belong with their written counterparts. By the way, I also added a new interview recently, basically a mashup of extracts from Triumph of the Nerds.

How expensive the NeXT computers actually were?

Screenshot 38

While I was busy doing research for the re-writing of my Long Biography of Steve Jobs, I came across an old link I had bookmarked some years ago: Éric Lévenez’s website. Lévenez is a fellow countryman of mine, who has a long history with UNIX and NeXTSTEP, as you can tell from his webpage. (I can’t say I share his aesthetic inclinations though). He has in his NeXT archives a couple copies of articles written in the early 1990s about the NeXT systems, in the French press. If you are interested in reading them, they are available on this nice dedicated page (look for “SVM” in the Magazines window).

The first article is from July 1989 and introduces the NeXT Cube and its operating system to the French, who still couldn’t buy the computers back then. The article has a very optimistic tone and doesn’t fail to recognize the technical superiority of NeXTSTEP. The tagline proclaims “Why it won’t be possible to design, develop on and use a computer the old ways after NeXT”.

Lost among the technical specs is an interesting table comparing the prices at which the company sold its four computers in the US:

Screenshot 37

The five rows represent the five configurations of the NeXT systems that could be bought. The two columns represent the University price and the Businessland (NeXT’s retail partner) price —which as you can see cost 50% more. The configs were:

  • Standard: 8MB of RAM and a 256MB optical drive
  • Academic: standard + laser printer
  • Advanced: standard + 330MB hard disk
  • Developer: academic + 660MB hard disk
  • Server: 16MB of RAM, optical drive and 660MB hard disk
All these Cubes (or “NeXT Computers” as they were called back then) came with the 25 MHz Motorola 68030 processor.
So how much did these beasts cost? Let’s find out.
As you may know, Wolfram|Alpha (the search engine that powers some of Siri’s requests) can calculate the value of a dollar from the past. Here’s what we get for the $6825 entry price point of NeXT —only for the Education market:

Screenshot 59

$12,600, and around $18,500 for the retail entry price point. I played around the Apple Online Store to try to find out a config that would reach such a price today. I came up with the following: a 12-core Mac Pro with 64GB of RAM, two 512GB SSDs and a 2TB hard drive, two SuperDrives, and a Quad-channel PCI Express card; of course complete with a 27-inch LED Cinema Display (the NeXT came with a display too).

Screenshot 60

And this is just the base configuration, discounted for universities! The top config (Server) amounts to $44,000 in 2012 dollars…
Of course, it makes little sense to compare technologies twenty years apart, given the advancement of hardware manufacturing and how it led to price shrinking. It does however give an idea at the type of market the NeXT computer was aiming at. It was designed for universities, but because of its high price tag (and Steve Jobs’s greater ambitions) was later retargeted at corporations and professionals. It was even rebranded as a “personal workstation” in 1990.
Let’s look at Apple’s concurrent offerings to illustrate that point, since the fruit company sold both home computers (Macintosh) and workstations (Quadra) back then, as it still does today (iMacs and Mac Pros). By having a look at Mactracker (and Wikipedia), I came up with the following Macintoshes for my benchmark:
  • the Macintosh SE/30, introduced in January 1989 for $6,500, came with a 16 MHz Motorola 68030 and 1MB of RAM built in
  • the Macintosh IIcx, March 1989, $5,369, 16 MHz Motorola 68030, 1MB RAM
  • the closest to the NeXT Cube is the Macintosh IIci, launched in September 1989 (one year after the NeXT Computer) for $6,269 with the same processor, the Motorola 68030 running at 25 MHz, and 1MB RAM in the default config
You see where I’m going with this. Compared to the machines of its time, the NeXT Cubes were not exaggeratedly overpriced. For example, the entry level education Cube cost about 20% more than the Mac IIcx, but with over 50% processor speed, 8MB of RAM and a stunning 17-inch display. Because the Mac did not come with a display! For that you had to pay an extra $2,000… Now for the killer argument, let’s put these competing systems side by side:
NeXTvsMAc
Which one looks like a totally lame PC that you’ve seen too many times in the 1990s? And which one looks so cool that it could be Darth Vader’s computer? And still, I was kind enough to put up a photo of the IIcx with a monitor on top. It looks even lamer without it. Enough said.
Now, to be fair to the Mac, the Cube had its downsides. First, even though NeXTSTEP was ten years ahead of the Mac OS, it was also much slower and buggier, especially in 1989. Most people consider it became reliable only in 1990 —after all, version 1.0 was introduced in September 1989, eleven long months after the Cube introduction (think about that for a second). The Cube’s default optical drive was also a bummer, with its very limited and widely incompatible optical drive, a technological bet that would certainly cost a lot to NeXT.
But the Cube’s main weakness was its platform. Indeed, NeXTSTEP was a new OS, and when it came out, Windows and the Mac OS already had huge installed bases, with the variety of software that come with it. To compete, the NeXT platform had to offer attractive, plentiful software that would make its computers shine. Steve Jobs understood this very well. Not only did the NeXT Computer come with great bundled apps such as Mail.app (the direct ancestor of today’s OS X equivalent – in 1989!), the WriteNow word processor, a full version of Mathematica, the Digital Librarian (sort of an ancestor to Spotlight for text files), and a Digital Library that included the complete works of William Shakespeare and Webster’s Dictionary and Therausus; but it was the most advanced and effective development platform of its day, with its object-oriented programming and Interface Builder tool. The goal of making app development compelling was at the heart of the NeXT system, because of the strategic importance of having a critical mass of software available to attract users. Today’s Xcode is a proud descendant of NeXTSTEP’s development environment.
Why didn’t it work? For one, let’s not forget switching costs. If you were an advanced Mac user in 1989, why would you switch to NeXT, with all the time and money you had invested on the Mac OS? Not to mention if you were a company or a university… Of course, the high price tag of the NeXT Cube limited its appeal only to such users and developers, who had in turn no hope of selling their software to home users.
So who ended up buying NeXT machines? Companies and institutions who developed their own tools, and who were only looking for performance, regardless of the price. That included: financial services (yes, the Wall Street firms that are so much decried these days); research/medical centers; a handful of creative businesses; and governmental agencies such as the CIA, who were in fact one of the most prominent markets for NeXT. Those users really did leverage NeXT’s promise of “building mission-critical custom apps” easily and in “a tenth of the time” of its competitors (these were all slogans NeXT adopted in 1991, after the flops “personal workstation” and “interpersonal computing”). Unfortunately, these clients came too few, too late, and NeXT was doomed; the company closed its hardware operations in 1993.

Screenshot 58

Steve Jobs selling OpenStep on Intel machines at Morgan Stanley, 1994

When you see where NeXT came from when it was purchased by Apple in 1996, it is probably easier to understand why the return of Steve Jobs to the company was not always welcome with cheers. How NeXTSTEP was used in the real world appeared the absolute antithesis of the Macintosh: an expensive, exclusive, professional platform for businesses and big institutions. So much for the “computer for the rest of us” of old —how could that system give birth to the next generation Mac OS? It turns out it not only saved the Mac OS but gave birth to its brilliant cousin, iOS.

If you’ve read this far, you probably are as hard-core a fan of Black Hardware as your fellow webmaster. Perhaps you remember that I mentioned a second article on Lévenez’s website. What was it about, you might ask? Well, it was a great relief for me, who sometimes wishes I could have lived during the NeXT days. Indeed, the second article was about the arrival of NeXT to the French market. The Cube was priced… 130,000 Francs of 1990 i.e. 18,000 USD of 1990 —almost twice the US price, and over $32,000 of 2012… Surprise, surprise, I don’t think I could have afforded them anyway!

Screenshot 57

NeXT Cube on fire by Simon L. Garfinkel – the Cube’s magnesium was a great combustible material

The Steve Jobs movies

Because I have been very busy with my studies in the past months, I haven’t been able to write a proper lowdown about the two Steve Jobs biopics that are currently being prepared for release in the coming months. Yes, for those of you who haven’t paid close attention to the news, there are really two Steve Jobs movies in the works.

1. jOBS: Get Inspired (official site)

The first project that was started is more commonly known as “the Kutcher movie” because the part of Steve Jobs will be played by Ashton Kutcher, as we learned in April. Being a Parisian snob, I had no idea who that Kutcher character was so I looked him up. Apparently he owes more his fame to his good looks than his acting skills. He is a former model and was Demi Moore’s husband for (only) six years. From his filmography I have only seen The Butterfly Effect (if you omit Robot Chicken episodes, that is). Since I have no preconception on the guy, I have yet to see the movie to judge him. I do find that physically speaking, he does bear a resemblance with Jobs.

The movie will be directed by Joshua Michael Stern, who appears to be a debuting director… Other members of the cast include Matthew Modine, who will play John Sculley, Josh Gad who will play Woz (via The Verge), and Ahna O’Reilly who will play Steve’s girlfriend, Lisa’s mother Chris-Ann Brennan (via Variety). These are all no-names to me.

Top: Modine as Sculley. Bottom: O'Reilly (L) and Gad (R)

According to the producer of the movie who was interviewed by Neowin, the movie “will focus on the early years of Apple, its founding and the up and down years: 1971 – 2000″. Those of you who follow this website closely know that I am hugely interested in Jobs’s NeXT years, which spanned from 1985 to 1996 — that’s almost 40% of the time period that jOBS will cover. However, if past books/documentaries/movies (Pirates of Silicon Valley) are any indication, NeXT should barely be touched upon in the movie, if even mentioned. The fact that the producer only talks about Apple to describe the 1971-2000 period is another indication. I also wonder if Pixar will be talked about — it wasn’t in Pirates. But Hollywood being so self-centered, we can hope that the movie will at least evoke Pixar.

The fact that NeXT is so often left out when telling the story of Steve is quite revealing. First, despite all the talk about the Silicon Valley/US entrepreneurship culture being not afraid of failure, it seems that failure does not appeal to the masses. It is also probably too difficult for journalists and screenwriters to explain that Steve’s failures at NeXT were the foundations for Apple’s success in the 2000s. Not to mention the absolutely crucial family events that happened to Steve during those years (his meeting with his sister Mona, then his marriage with Laurene and the birth of his son Reed).

I will write a detailed review of the movie when it comes out in the fall, but I start with low expectations, to say the least. For example, here is a picture that was taken on the set:

The anachronism of this image is painful. Kutcher is confusing all genres, sporting the same beard as Steve in his 20s… and the turtleneck/jeans/running shoes from this 40s and 50s. Duh.

The title of the movie is no stunner either. It is using the over-used, not-creative pun on capitalization to evoke the iProducts. It reminds me of the bad title of Fake Steve Jobs’s good book, oPtion$.

 

2. The Sorkin picture

The second movie has been discussed since the release of Walter Isaacson’s biography, only three weeks after Steve’s passing. Sony Pictures lost no time in buying the rights of the book with the intention to make a movie. In late November, rumors started to appear regarding the lead role: would it be Noah Wyle, who played Steve in Pirates of Silicon Valley (my personal choice), or George Clooney of Nespresso fame? Then on November 22, E!Online broke the news that Aaron Sorkin had been pitched the script, and was seriously considering it. His involvement was later confirmed.

Sorkin has a history with Steve Jobs because he was asked by Steve Jobs himself to write a screenplay for a Pixar feature. He declined that offer, unfortunately — perhaps that would have saved us from Cars 2. But I am digressing.

Sorkin is the brilliant writer behind the script of The Social Network, which tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his building of Facebook. I am very fond of that movie, which made the masses (re-)discover the meaning of tech entrepreneurship, in a compelling though dramatized fashion. That the same man (and same studio) will take over the adaption of Isaacson’s bio is encouraging.

However, Sorkin tried to downplay my and many others’s enthusiasm at the All Things D conference where he was speaking last week:

On his turn on stage, Aaron Sorkin talks about his concerns that he’s entering “a minefield of disappointment” as he undertakes the task of writing the movie adaptation of Walter Issacson’s Steve Jobs bio. It’s like writing about the Beatles—there’s a huge contingent of people who are emotionally attached. The screenwriter admits that he still doesn’t have a handle on Jobs—whether he should be, like most Sorkin characters, an aspirational hero or, like the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network, somewhat of an antihero. (Wired)

That’s the mystery of Steve Jobs. He is both an antihero and a hero. I’m not saying this is an easy paradox to depict on screen. Will Sorkin be able to write a masterpiece out of the 700-page long press article that was the Isaacson bio? That we will see.

As for myself, I have been thinking that Steve Jobs’s life would make an amazing movie to make for several years — perhaps since 2007. Having closely studied Steve’s life for so long, I am convinced that his unique personality and the remarkable turn of events of his life would make for outstanding movie material. However, I’ve always thought to myself that not one, but at least three, if not four movies would be necessary to appropriately depict his tumultuous life. They could be titled the same as the three-part eulogy that BusinessWeek published after Steve’s passing: I. The Beginning II. The Wilderness & III. The Return.

 

Johnny Grey remembers his work on Steve and Laurene Jobs’s kitchen

Reader Bertrand Hayotte pointed out to me a story by kitchen designer Johnny Grey about how “Steve Jobs and his wife Laurene almost had one of [his] kitchens.”

The story gives an insight into the “private Steve Jobs” with details of his taste for a simple and authentic design for his kitchen. Grey only worked on the design part, going even as far as showing the drawing he made for the Jobses:

It is not known whether his design was implemented, since Steve Jobs apparently “was a very private person and reluctant to have any building work done, powerfully disliking noise, mess and invasion of their home”.

Although I did know that Steve worked very hard on his kitchen and on his garden design, it is the first time that such details come out. The story also reinforces the idea that he  applied the same beliefs in all aspects of his life, from product design to kitchen decoration:

We once met in London at the Savoy hotel during one of his rushed, but highly publicised European trips. His comments, as you might expect knowing his track record at Apple, were brief and to the point, mostly in the direction of simplifying the design, staking out a more severe, monastic approach. Shaker simplicity was often his default position.

Thanks Bertrand!