Apple's co-founder also critiques Tim Cook and casts doubt on the supposed "post-PC" era

When people think of Apple, Inc. (AAPL) they invariably first think of its iconic and exacting late leader Steven P. Jobs.  But tech fans will also remember the company's other co-founder Steve Wozniak, who many see as the workhorse that built Apple in its early years.

I. Apple is Bad... Wait, No, Apple is GOOD!

Mr. Wozniak, who did most of the engineering of the ground-breaking Apple II computer, in a new interview with The Australian Financial Review discussed the effects of the Google Inc. (GOOG) vs. Apple "patent war" on innovation.

Speaking about how patents could pose an obstacle to creative startups, he comments, "I care so much about the young person that has some technical knowledge and wants to start their own business.  Companies like Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! all started by new thinkers with new ideas. Now, with this big patent situation, there are certain categories that are heavily blocked off because the big companies make sure they own it all."

He reminisces on how RCA Corp. contacted him in a successful attempt to extort a cut of his company's Apple II profits for a single patent on rendering text as pixels on a screen.  The infringement came as a complete surprise to Mr. Wozniak, as he thought up the rendering approach on his own.

He describes RCA's "patent everything" approach, commenting:

Only a huge company with vast sums of money could have afforded to do the research when they did, because you couldn’t make an affordable product that used that technology at the time.

We actually wound up paying them two bucks for every computer we shipped just for that simple idea ... That sort of thing is going to crop up over and over – very simple ideas that the big companies with big money are going to own, and the small guy who starts up is going to have to pay.

Patent wars
The Woz has mixed feelings on Apple's patent war. [Image Source: Android Pit]

But bafflingly he then switches gears and begins to defend Apple, which seeks to ban competitors for using seeming simplistic ideas like "swipe to unlock" and gestures on touch displays.

He comments, "Apple is the good guy on the block of all of them.  It is creating so much and is so successful and it is not just following the formulas of other companies – [Apple is] totally establishing new markets that didn’t exist."

II. The Woz Praises Apple's Closed System, but Poo-Poos on Post-PC Notion

Of course it's easy to see where Mr. Wozniak's thoughts might become a bit irrational and conflicted.  On the one hand, he's gone through what Apple is putting Google and others through at present.  On the other hand as a large Apple shareholder [source], he has to appreciate the financial fortune that bullying other competitors off the market might bring him.

Thus Mr. Wozniak may be a bit biased when he celebrates Apple's all-inclusive, all-controlling approach, commenting, "The retail process is owned by Apple, the application is owned by Apple, the operating system is owned by Apple and the hardware is Apple’s.  Apple has managed to create this entire world that all the products fit in to ... there is no other company in the world that has these benefits."

That's the latest in a series of seemingly contradictory statements the Woz has put forth on the state of iPhone v. Android.  In the past he has said that he wishes the iPhone did things his Android did.  He also correctly predicted that Android would pass the iPhone (iOS) in smartphone market share.  On the other hand, Mr. Wozniak has openly said he might return to an executive leadership role at Apple, if asked.

Speaking of leadership, the Woz isn't yet willing to give new Apple chief executive Tim Cook a ringing endorsement.  He states, "It is hard to judge yet because Apple products still look like they did under Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs has stamped his mark on products that are three years in the queue.  I want to see the special touches [under Cook], not just an iteration to the iPad 3."

Bloomberg on the iPad
Despite universal acclaim for the iPad, were not quite in a post-PC era yet, says the Woz.
[Image Source: Flickr/IDG UK B2B]

As for fellow innovators like ex-Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) chief technical officer Ray Ozzie proclaiming that a "post PC" era is upon us, the Woz disagrees, "Although we are moving towards a very mobile world, I think there is going to be room for PCs for quite a long time still.  For some work like audio or visual editing, you need the complete machine and [a] larger screen. The mobile device is great for most of the things we do with our computer – but not everything."

III. A Wild Ride

The Woz's diverse and at times seemingly contradictory message over the years has been almost as fascinating as his unusual life.  

Marty Goldberg describes his early encounters with the exploitive Steve Jobs, writing:

Looking to recover from the delay time and stolen plans, Nolan and Al (of Atari) were looking for someone to pick up the ball... they offered a bonus of $100 for each TTL chip removed from the design (of Pong) at a time when games typically used 130-170 chips and tighter games in the 70 to 100 chip range.

Seeing a chance to make some more money so he could head back for the October harvest at the apple orchard commune All-One Farm, in Oregon, (Jobs) put his name in the hat for the bid ... (and he won the contract).... Allan later said "Jobs never did a lick of engineering in his life. He had me snowed. It took years before I figured out that he was getting Woz to 'come in the back door' and do all the work while he got the credit."

...Jobs did approach Wozniak with the job and two of his own requirements which are now legendary. Woz would get half of the fee which was claimed at $700 and no mention of a bonus. In fact, the way Jobs described it, if they could design it in under 50 chips, they'd get 700 bucks; and if it was under 40 chips, they'd get $1000. Likewise the second catch - it had to be done in four days. As Wozniak later found out, "Atari didn't put us on a time schedule; Steve did. I had to do it in four days because Steve had to catch an airplane to Oregon. I was the designer-the engineer-and Steve was a breadboarder and test technician."

Wozniak had designed it by hand, under the continuing pressure of Jobs to get it done quick ... Doing the designs during the day while at HP, at night Jobs would wirewrap the design under his guidance. Wozniak also spent much of his time those four nights playing Gran Trak 10, the game monopolizing most of the manufacturing assembly line at the time. Towards the end of the 4 day non-stop marathon, Woz's Breakout prototype was almost finished. Wozniak was able to get the number of TTL's down to a startling 42 chips, but still had a few problems he wasn't happy with. When all was said in done, the Breakout prototype that was submitted by Jobs to Allan and Nolan had 46 chips and left everyone very impressed. They paid Jobs in cash, the $700 plus the bonus - which turned out to be a total of $5,000! Jobs turned around and paid an unknowing Wozniak the original $350 they had agreed upon.

Both Jobs and Wozniak got mono from the 4 day event, but Jobs was off to Oregon right away with his $350 plus sizeable bonus to support him over the next few months.

Wozniak would go on to co-found Apple Computer in 1976, a company that was founded upon the Apple I -- a computer he designed with virtually no help from Steve Jobs.  Likewise, he was mostly responsible for the Apple II design.

He worked as an executive at the fast rising company until 1981, when a serious plane crash left him with amnesia.  Talking to his wife he reportedly eventually began to recollect some of his awareness, but appeared to be left with a radically different perspective, divorcing her, remarrying, silently quitting Apple, and returning to college under a fake name.  

Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak with his wife at a Dancing With the Stars celebration.
[Image Source:]

He would briefly return to Apple as an everyday engineer, but left in 1987 and went on to found a number of startups, including the first company to produce a reprogrammable remote control.  Today the tinkerer is an avid investor, educator, Segway-rider, and philanthropist, even taking time to participate on the reality TV competition Dancing With the Stars in 2009.

Source: The Australian Financial Review

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