So Steve Jobs calls me up
So I’m having my Pop Tarts this morning, when all of the sudden, I get a call on my phone from Cupertino. Immediately I recognized the number and picked up.
“Steve, how’s it going, man?”
“Aaron, it’s been awhile since I called. Sorry about that.”
“No worries, man!”
We shoot the breeze for a bit. He asked me what my favorite Lion feature was so far (it’s the ability to resize a window from any edge) and being the perfectionist I am, I had to get on his ass a little bit about why we haven’t seen an HFS+ replacement yet. “Steve, that freaking file system is a colossal accident waiting to happen! What’s the deal with that?”
“Do you have any idea how fucking boring it is to write a file system? I can’t get a single engineer to commit to a next-gen one. They all threatened to quit. You try to put some fear into them, but they know they’re the best, and they know they can go anywhere they want to. So we’re pretty much being held hostage by this piece of shit file system until file systems become cool enough that someone wants to make a new one.”
“Well fuck. So, what’s the deal with all these lawsuits against HTC? You’re starting to remind me a little bit of Microsoft.”
“You know, everyone tells me that the patents we’re suing HTC for are blatantly obvious. If they’re so obvious, how come they didn’t appear in a single fucking phone until we decided to make one? I want to see some fucking creativity out of our competitors, and if it means that they have to be creative by avoiding getting sued by Apple, then so be it. I’d love to get in on some more patent action against RIM, but nobody at Apple has yet been willing to put their name on a patent for something so shitty that RIM would be infringing on it.”
The man speaks truth.
“Anyway, what I really called about is a succession plan. The original plan this whole time has been to put Tim in as permanent CEO should I ever leave. I mean, you know he’s a hell of a guy. We wouldn’t be half this successful without him. But there are just a lot of things I do that he’s not into doing. He just isn’t as hands-on with the products, and I’m worried that they’ll suffer for it.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Have you considered Phil, or Johnny?”
Steve paused for a bit. He always pauses when answering an important question. He really loves to think his answers through. “Johnny is a fantastic designer. His creativity would definitely be useful, but all the demands of being CEO would drain him. Plus he really has confessed that he needs someone to work under.”
“Phil’s really such a logical choice, isn’t he? I mean, everyone expects me to pick either Phil or Tim as successor. I just feel like something’s missing from no matter who I pick.”
I nodded, even though this wasn’t a FaceTime call. “Steve, I’m not trying to kiss ass here, but you’re looking for a copy of you that you can just hot swap right in. You’re just not going to find a person like that.”
“I realize that, and coming from one of my best customers, that really means a lot. People are going to flip shit when I leave. And this isn’t something that’s happening any time soon. But it really keeps me up at night. I’m worried that Apple isn’t going to be Apple when I’m gone. But you know what worries me even more? I’m worried that people are going to be conviced that Apple won’t be Apple without me, and Apple will just accept the fate the public has given it and become another has-been.”
The man’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown here! He needs a pep talk. ”Steve,” I said. ”First off, don’t worry too much about Apple after you’re gone. Your life’s work has reflected in this company. If you quit right now, you truly owe them nothing more. They’ve got enough freaking money in the bank that they could make zero sales for the next six years and still be able to make payroll without making any changes. You’re running the healthiest company in the world!”
“And yes, people are going to predict Apple’s demise when you leave, just like they predicted your demise when the MacBook Air didn’t have a fucking optical drive in it. Fuck these guys! Apple has moronic tech journalists constantly offering up unsolicited sucky advice telling them to abandon their philosophies lest they are doomed as a tech company, yet almost every single quarter is a record quarter for you guys for the past several years!”
“Some day, you’re going to announce that you are transitioning away from Apple. Maybe you won’t announce this at all, but instead just do it gradually and let people eventually get the message. You’ll announce who is taking your place at some shareholder meeting. People are going to sell AAPL like it’s going out of style, and I’ll be right there buying it up. And then you know what will happen? Apple will release some fucking sublime products and have a few more years of solid record high quarters. Eventually, it’s going to become obvious that your philosophies are baked into Apple’s culture.”
Steve was speechless. “I really just needed to hear someone else say that.”
“But Steve, I’ve got to ask. You’ve got all these douche bag reviewers talking about how ‘Steve doesn’t want me to save my files anymore’ and ‘Steve doesn’t want color in Lion icons’. Oh, and on that note, can we please have some color back? Anyway, how do you put up with that shit?
“Oh, Aaron,” he chuckled. “I read your blog sometimes, and it’s really kind of you to jump to Apple’s defense like this. But you know just as well as anyone that Apple doesn’t need your blog posts. We are absolutely fucking successful. And sure, it might bother you a little bit that some of your admittedly moronic peers think you’re a cultist or something. Don’t care about it! Just silently enjoy your extra productivity as the others continue on their merry way, thinking you’re suffering Stockholm Syndrome while they themselves have become convinced that freedom means putting up with a bunch of shit the computer should be handling for you anyway.”
“This is a war you’ll gradually win. This is why I always laughed at those Linux geeks. They never put any focus on actually making the computer better because they were afraid of losing functionality that they truly only needed in the first place because the underlying system was more complex. But gradually, OS X and iOS are going to become more and more conducive to your productivity, and before too long, you’re going to be twice as productive as the people who laughed at you. You don’t have to blog about why they’re wrong. Reality is going to show that they were wrong at some point.”
It was a bit of an epiphany for me. He was completely right. “You know what, Steve, I will stop blogging about that. It’s a waste of the time I saved with a more productive OS. Just promise me you won’t be switching the Mac App Store to be the only way I can put software on my Mac.”
“Aaron, I’m not promising you that, because I’m not making promises I can’t keep. There is going to be a day when non-Mac App Store software won’t install. And some people are going to feel like we did that prematurely, but it really will be okay.”
“Okay, fine. I’ve got to get going. What do you say one of those MacBook Airs mysteriously ends up on my doorstep some time this week?”
“Oh, that’s rich, Aaron. I know just as well as you do that you’ll end up buying one of the damn things anyway. Why would I screw Apple out of a sale?”
Touchè, Steve. Touchè.