The Woz Wows Audience with ITEXPO Keynote - Out of the Darkness, into Enlightenment!

By Tony Rizzo August 29, 2013

About six months ago, we wrote an article noting that Steve Wozniak would be keynoting at ITEXPO Las Vegas 2013 – and we noted why we were personally excited about this. We suggested that Steve would be historical, futuristic and transcendent. Well, six months have flown by and this morning the Woz launched his keynote. As we expected, it was deeply insightful, it was in large part historical, it was funny, and it was quite forward thinking.

Woz claims he was an electronics prodigy – but his key message from his early years is that he was doing electronics mostly on his own and that this led to lots of discoveries. He was into “logic gates” early in his lifetime and found it very exciting to use his logic gates knowledge to build computer designs. He kept challenging himself to build those designs with lesser parts, seeking to make them smaller – all the time challenging himself to deliver. Those logic gates evolved into intimate knowledge of chips and that knowledge evolved into sophisticated, cutting-edge products. All this time the key for Steve was to always “challenge himself” to always take things one or two steps beyond where he'd already been.

In college Woz got the opportunity to build his own computer based on one of his designs – at which time he met a 16-year-old Steve Jobs. It turns out that Bob Dylan played a key role in establishing their relationship – interestingly it all started with the Dylan line, “If you ain’t got nothing you ain’t got nothing to lose.” An interesting line to be sure. Jobs immediately made his marketing and sales skills evident to Woz.

Woz’s first real project was working on the HP 35 calculator. It was the forerunner of the now famous HP 41c calculator (we still own ours!) and it meant to Steve that he was now working on tools that the serious engineers used – a sort of nirvana for Woz. This experience became coupled with his first sighting of Pong in an arcade – and of course he ended up building his own improved version.

Steve Jobs took the resulting board design to Atari and “somehow got hired” – which for Woz meant he now also had access to the place where the most amazing arcade games were being built. At some point Jobs got Woz to develop a next  arcade game and Woz began to think about adding color. From there Woz began to experience Arpanet and teletype access, and communication via Arpanet. So of course he had to build his own means of access beyond teletype. He linked his color TV experiences he'd acquired to the project and began to develop a terminal to communicate on Arpanet via color screen and keyboard. This effort led to the creation of the Home Brew Computer Club.

It didn’t take long for Woz to then make the leap to taking this color terminal to adding a processor and building… a computer, complete with an expensive 4K memory. Woz then began working on a version of BASIC – all of it done before Jobs became aware of it. But Jobs jumped right in when he finally got around to finding uut about it and managed to figure out how to get Woz some advanced Intel chips “for free.” Woz then put his design out into the public domain, but “no one built their own from the design.” People - even those excited about personal computers - didn’t want to build them. But they wanted to use them.

Based on this key insight, Jobs immediately took the leap to creating a company to deliver these computers. Before Woz got on board with a new business however, he went to HP and offered them first dibs – which they turned down. HP in fact turned Steve down five times overall. Jobs and Woz also understood that potential users did not want to build these from kits – they ;itera;;y wanted fully built machines. Along the way to Jobs and Woz creating Apple, they built and delivered their first 25 Apple I computers, all built in Jobs’ kitchen.

Meanwhile, the Apple 2 (or perhaps we should write it Apple ][) had already been designed before the first Apple I was sold. Jobs sold all 150 Apple Is for cash. The Apple 2 then proved to be the real game changer – a true home computer that angel investor Mark Markula was smart enough to see as the game changer it truly was. Markula also famously realized that for Apple to succeed it had to become a marketing-driven company. 

The rest of course is history.

Woz notes that Jobs was not a techie and had no real patience for tech talk – he wanted things simple and this was critical to successful designs. At this point Visicalc emerged and was quickly adopted for use - not by consumers but by the business world. It became clear that the business world was going to be the far greater market opportunity for APple than the home market. This realization and of course the influence of Xerox Parc then led to the Lisa and Macintosh.

We’ll skip entirely beyond the Macintosh history and fast forward from then to today. 

The Future

First things first – Woz makes it incredibly clear that the new Jobs movie is “really lousy.” Yes, that is a direct quote. 

Today Woz recognizes that the iPod was critical to our mobile future because it did away with anything geeky – simple, no file formats… plug it in, simply find what you want in ways that are intuitively understandable, and play what you want to hear. For Woz, the iPhone 4 is the most beautiful device he has ever been associated with and was the next real step in technology for Woz. It became the epitome of simplicity and beauty.

The future leads out from the iPhone 4. Look for the hardware to become ever more “human-like,” with human voice and vision recognition becoming central to how we communicate and use them. Fusion-io, a company Woz is currently associated with as chief scientist, is working on some of these things. Robotics focused, the company – in Woz’s words – is designing devices that will make his - and your - life easier… much easier.

And with that, the keynote was over. Historical, futuristic… and transcendent.

It is always fascinating to hear first-hand from the pioneers that launched our futures. For us personally, Apple launched the real era of mobility. Much as many others had previously tried, it was not until the iPhone appeared that our lives changed, that "anytime, anywhere" became today’s model by which we live. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Woz rather modestly brought the same thing – anywhere, anytime computing – to us by way of making computers instantly and immediately and personally accessible and available to us. Yes, Jobs sold them, but Woz actually invented them. That was the critical leap from the dark ages to today’s enlightened age. It now sets the stage for what Woz wants next. And what we want next.

Thank you, Woz, for making it so!

Edited by Alisen Downey

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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