This just in: Steve Jobs CANNOT predict the future.

9To5Mac Intelligence has rounded up two rare video interviews between Steve Jobs and Walt Mossberg.   The interviews took place at the 2003 and 2004 D:All Things Digital Conference.

Steve makes some very interesting remarks…some contradictory…some quite perceptive.  Frankly it’s quite refreshing to watch Steve Jobs be flat out wrong about some things, as the web seems to often times be inundated with articles about his charisma, and business savvy-ness.  Here are some choice remarks.

“The iPod might be great; it holds all your music, but we see it more as a satellite device because you couldn’t really do a music store on it because a music store needs more screen real estate…it’s going to be hard to browse music and find the music you want on the iPod itself, even if it has an internet connection.”
-Jobs 2003

No music store on a mobile device?  Oh really, Steve?  I beg to differ.  Steve had this to say about the future of tablets, and Microsoft’s recent (at the time) push for handwriting recognition.

“No plans at the current time to make a tablet”
-Jobs 2003
“I think it’s about handwriting input verses a keyboard…the problem is it’s really slow to write stuff and so it turns out that people want keyboards.  People know how to type now, and if you do email of any volume, you’ve got to have a keyboard.”
-Jobs 2003

While it’s interesting to note that in 2003 Jobs said there were no tablet plans, it’s even more interesting for him to talk down to handwriting recognition which, at the time, was thought to be the wave of the future.
But what about the tablet simply as a reading device?  Steve had this quip for Walt.
“If you’ve got a bunch of rich guys, who can afford their third computer; they’ve got a desktop, a portable and now you’re going to have this reading device…that’s you’re market.”
-Jobs 2003
Clearly the iPad, and the popularity of eBooks had yet to be realized, at least by Mr. Jobs.  Walt then shifted the conversation towards a PDA.  Steve’s response is a good one; here’s one I think he got right.
“We thought about this a lot, and what we decided was that for all the universe of people using a PDA, 90% of them just want to get the information out, only 10% want major input on this thing, and so if what they really want is a repository for data that they can put out, occasionally correcting a phone number or address; we believe that cell phones are going to do that.”
-Jobs 2003
Walt then asks the obvious question: Are you working with cell phone carriers to try and make this happen?
“Yes, absolutely.”
Cool stuff eh?  The 2004 interview had some interesting tidbits as well.  When Steve gave this interview, the iTunes store was just over a year old, and growing in popularity fast.  At the time there was a lot of talk among the record industry that songs needed to cost more than 99c apiece.  So Walt obliged Steve, only to get a simple, wry response, that in fact turned out to be a lie.
“Well the prices aren’t going up on iTunes, I can tell you that.”
-Jobs 2004
Everyone knows there are plenty of songs on iTunes now that are above 99c; Apple introduced the tri-tiered pricing plans some time ago.  So Steve flunks the class on this.  Walt then shifts the discussion to products, asking Steve what other products may be in the pipeline for Apple.
“We don’t want to get into something unless we can invent or control the core technology.”
-Jobs 2004
This is a very interesting remark, given that these days Apple is accused all the time of being to controlling and private.  Said in this context it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for Steve to say, but these days that model seems to be pissing a lot of people off.  Walt then mentions that cellphones are gaining capability, and asks Steve if he still sees the Mac as the center, the digital hub, of ones digital life.  Here is a glimpse into Apples strategy for iPod back in 2004, which we all seem to take for granted these days.
“Oh yeah, where are you gong to put your 5,000 digital photos?  You’re not going to put them on your cell phone for safe keeping.  Where are you going to put your 5,000 songs?  You’re not going to put them on your cell phone.”
“Cell phones haven’t docked with computers.  So every time you buy a new cell phone you’re sitting there putting the new numbers in…it’s crazy!  You want these things to dock with your PC so they grab your calendars they grab your contacts etc.”
-Jobs 2004
Ahead of your time much?  This answer is just a home run, and you can tell that when he introduced the iPhone, and talked in length about how long they have been working on the product, he wasn’t lying.

But of course, I’ve got one more swing and a miss for Steve.  Walt asks “Wont the introduction of hard drives to cell phones allow for more data storage?”


“…you’re not going to want to sit there and edit these things…you’re not going to want to sit there and browse music on these tiny little screens.”
-Jobs 2004
Well Steve, just last year you introduced the ability to edit video on the iPhone/iPod Touch, and the iTunes store has been a huge success on these devices.  Looks like you can’t predict the future after all.
For someone as idolized as him, it can be quite a breath of fresh air to look back at some of these comments and realize that Steve Jobs is just as human as you or I, and while he does have a good amount of valuable insight (and frankly, control) as to where the future is heading, a good part of him has absolutely no idea where we will be in 10 years.
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About Justin A. Watson
Rowing Coach, Recording Engineer/Instructor, and tech enthusiast from central Connecticut, USA. I am interested not in just technology alone, but its impact on, and place within our culture. This presence is the result of my ranting mind, the product of my itchy fingers, and the answer to questions oft asked by peers, family and colleagues.

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