Saturday, April 2, 2016
It only seems appropriate that the first Apple computer was launched on April Fools' Day. Very few industry critics believed the personal computer had any chance of success, but those who bought into Apple when it first went public in 1980 definitely got the last laugh.
The Apple 1 was a kit, not much unlike one of those electronic kits from the 70s, but here in laid the core of an ambitious dream by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, wonderfully played in the recent film by Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogan. It sold for $666.66, not the best marketing strategy, but the computer carried Apple for several years before Jobs unveiled his Macintosh in 1984, which the film opens with. The Mac, as it became called, would revolutionize the personal computer industry, turning it from a hobby kit into a valuable personal computing tool. Hard to believe it was powered by a 128K processor! It failed to meet sales expectations and Jobs was pushed out of his own company by the board, but he would eventually win his way back into Apple, which was the focus of the second scene in the film.
The film by Danny Boyle was controversial in the way it presented Jobs in three scenes built around product launchings, and that it chose to make his relationship with Chrissan Brennan central to the story. Brennan was Jobs' girlfriend for years and had a child, Lisa, which Jobs publicly denied paternity. Jobs lost the paternity suit and was forced to pay palimony, although he insisted that 28% of the male population could have been Lisa's father. Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell, refused to work with Boyle, which is why he focused on this earlier relationship. A disgruntled Powell tried to halt production of the movie as a result.
Like Apple's Cube, the subject of the second scene, the movie was a flop. However, I thought Boyle presented Jobs in a much better light than did the previous biopic starring Ashton Kutcher. The film illustrated not only Jobs struggles with Apple but his own personal struggles to recognize the people around him. Johanna Hoffman is transformed into his "work wife," brilliantly played by Kate Winslet, who tried to help Steve pull all these loose ends together.
For the most part, Woz remains in the background, constantly reminding Steve of all the persons who made Apple possible, notably himself, but which Jobs didn't acknowledge in his launchings. Given that Wozniak served as a consultant on the film, one assumes this was true. However, Jobs has become a cult figure in the industry and there are many who want to protect that image, like Tim Cook, who found the film "unflattering and opportunistic."
Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs served as the base text for both films, and has also been criticized by Laurene Powell and Tim Cook. I suppose this is in part because Isaacson saw Jobs as a clever businessman first and foremost, who turned Apple from the ultimate proletarian computer into the fetish item we see today. Jobs initially thought he could corner the market on the PC, only to be outflanked by Bill Gates, who quickly saw that the bigger market would be in software.
For some it is better to put Steve Jobs in a cube, like his signature glass stores around the world. This is the same Apple that for years denied its Macs could get viruses, finally admitting in 2012 that its computers were not immune. Jobs has long been viewed as a latter-day Mozart and Bill Gates as Salieri, unable to match the virtuoso's creative talent, so he sponged off him to create Microsoft. Yet, the two were not at odds with each other, as is so often portrayed, but rather approached the same problem from different angles. They are also not the only innovators in the computer tech industry. There were many others who contributed to the proliferation of the personal computer.
Probably the best film to present the personal computer in its historic context is Triumph of the Nerds, which first premiered on PBS in 1996.