Steve Wozniak: "Android frustates me"

20. Oktober 2010, 12:05
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Apples Co-founder talks about the future of smartphones, what he doesn't like about Android and his favorite iPhone Apps

derStandard.at: Scott Adams, the Author of the Dilbert comics calls cell phones "exobrains", where we can store our memories. Where do you think this development will lead us in the future? Do you reckon that one day we will eventually have implants like in the movie The Matrix to connect us to a network and download skills?

Steve Wozniak: It's funny because we're trying to create intelligence in computers, in mechanical devices and robots but we deny that we were created. We don't know how the brain works, so that's one problem. The amount of memory that supposedly fits in a brain, we still haven't proposed a reasonable way to get there other than every computer in the world added up gets close. First we will have to find out how the brain works. We've been guessing, we studied it and we have formulas that fit it, but we don't really know like in an electrical circuit where the signals go. Secondarily we don't know where memory is in the brain. The best idea we have is the holographic theory. We say that it's stored everywhere which means we don't know where it is. You lose two things between the age of six and ten: your childhood autobiographic memories and your teeth. There is no stronger evidence for where memory is and that's stupid, that's ridiculous. So we have to understand what memory is, before we can actually put devices in to enhance it. And we may find out that we are never capable of doing that with technology that we make. Although I know how to make something as smart as a person - it takes nine months.

derStandard.at: Smartphones and tablets are the big wave right now, we can see where that leads us. But what do you think is the next field after that? What kind of technology do you think will have an impact in the not too far future?

Wozniak: Almost every technology that has a big impact on us somehow impacts a part of our life and makes it more personal than it was. It makes it more like another person, a friend to us, something we want to be around not what we have to be around to get things done. In this regard I think we've taken a big step with the touch screens. Because if I want to move something on this table I reach down with my hand and move it, I don't use a remote controlled mouse to move things around. So we've got one step closer to the human world. And the closer we get to human paradigms the better it's gonna go over. Right now voice recognition has taken huge leaps. It's taken a long time but over the last 20 to 30 years it got a little bit better and now I can speak into some phones with the right chips in a noisy concert and it will understand what I said almost perfectly. The way humans speak, it's not perfect, it's not predictable. Writing a computer program you cannot leave out one letter, but the way we speak is full of simplifications and errors that you can understand. You take in an awful lot of things into your brain, a lot of different disciplines are going on at once. So we're going to get closer and closer to machines that really understand the natural way of speaking. If I want to put something in a calendar I don't want to follow set up procedures. I don't want to be all left brained, I want to be more right brained. I just speak it "Sarah, dentist, tuesday, two pm" - whatever words I use that make sense, whatever order I say them in it should just figure it out it is a calendar entry and put in calendar. I shouldn't even have to open a calendar app.

So I think these devices are going to get a little more down to natural gestures, speaking, even the look on your face. It eventually will know if you are tired today. It will start asking questions like a real person. It will become a little like- you remember that old program called ELIZA? It seemed like a real person to an extent, well they're getting much more sophisticated now and Ray Kurzweil is working on a lot of that. I think that that's going to be a major push in this technology. Right now it's input and output methods that change the most - the displays, we got the organically displays that are so bright, we got touch displays, we got foldable, bendable displays for input. We got the touch gesturing, a lot of systems that been setup now with cameras noticing where you're waving hands and we're right down to the Wii games. We got the size and the compaction down to a huge level already. You know, people always like more in a smaller space. Even then I can't store every high-def movie in the world that I want on one iPhone. So we could still improve that a little bit, but Moore's Law has been satisfying that demand.

derStandard.at: The iPhone has become a daily companion to many people. I think it's that kind of "usable technology" you wrote about in your autobiography. So what is your opinion on Android and Windows Phone 7?

Wozniak: I haven't used a Windows 7 Phone yet. I have used quite a number of Androids and Palm phones and quite a few other phones over time. I used some with the Symbian operating system. Every time I end up frustrated, not liking it, not wanting to deal with it and although I do like a lot of the things that my first Android phone did after a while I just stopped using it. My iPhone, I like it like it's a friend and a person and that's been my case with all Apple parts in all time. I try to be open minded, there is a lot of good happening as the Android operating system is maturing. So some people I can recommend that phone to, the ones that don't want to use the one carrier in the United States that has an exclusive on the iPhone or some people that don't want or can't afford it and want something less expensive.

derStandard.at: Can you explain what you don't like about Android?

Wozniak: I have an idea of something I want to do in my head and finding the steps I have to take, there is not enough consistency where the setups are for each program and how the different applications look. Well, that's third party stuff I shouldn't talk about that, because that will come to be eventually the same as the iPhone. It's just a little bit of every screen, the beauty of it - it's not quite there yet. It will take them time to catch up, I think Android should be great too. You don't have to teach a person a lot of things to use an Apple phone. Android is full of a lot of little shortcuts that give you extra methods. But as they are not the same for everyone they confuse people who don't want to be real technical geeks. I admire Android and I even know the developer (editor's note: Andy Rubin) very well but it's not my favorite.

derStandard.at: As an engineer when you designed the Apple II it was a very open system. It had slots you could tinker with and do stuff with it. When we look at the iPhone, when we look at the iPad it's become a closed world, actually we don't even open it for changing the battery. What has changed and is that something you dislike?

Wozniak: I think it comes from Steve Jobs' personality and feeling about this products from the earliest days. How to make a great product, it's his own ideas. A closed world is a better way to do it and sometimes I question how closed. It's where you draw the line, you always going to keep something closed, you're not going to say 'hey, anybody out there in the world is welcome to make what we have' - that would be open. Like Microsoft says they were open. Nobody was really being open with their own stuff only with other people's. The Apple II was very open, I think it helped launch the company quite a bit, it brought a lot of other people into the computer fold and those people are CEOs of today's technology companies. It had its time though; things aren't needed now that computers are as common as televisions.

derStandard.at: So you think there is a change in how we use technology and we don't really need to open the hood so much anymore?

Wozniak: In the United States we have a big worry about where we going to get innovation and people interested in studying technology and science and engineering and mathematics. The funny thing is those are the people that would love to get into a product and add along little touches to it on their own. And they're kind of restricted. I feel badly about that, those people are my favorites. But right now they do manage to jailbreak the iPhone that gives them some greater access. So far as I know it's not hurting anybody, not even hurting Apple.

derStandard.at: Is your iPhone jailbroken?

Wozniak: I have three iPhones that are active and one of them is jailbroken at the moment. I have to experiment and it's legal.

derStandard.at: What gadgets and apps do you use in everyday life?

Wozniak: Although I still primarily prefer to use my computer for long internet sessions because I'm on the internet maybe eight hours a day. On the iPhone I use the built in apps which are extremely good, I downloaded a little bit better weather app. I use Slingbox quite a bit so I can watch television shows. Every time I get to a new city I check to see are there any concerts of my favorite artists in this city. I also ran a program as soon as I got to this hotel that tells me what the tipping custom for that country is. I have our satellite radio in the United States so when I'm walking my dogs in the park if I hear some nice music or some interesting talk show I can listen to. I have Netflix - you can order movies and they come right to the iPhone or the computer. (I have) a bunch of normal games, I like little card games a lot. I got navigation apps on here. I have about six navigation systems all plugged in into my car sometimes I turn them all on at once but my favorite ones are on the iPhone.

derStandard.at: And they never took you in the wrong direction?

Wozniak: Well, lots of times. But there are certain ones that I like better when I compare them all. I can tell which ones give me the proper words at the right time, the proper screen display. I have a couple of VOIP apps on here so if I'm on Wi-Fi I can make a VOIP call. In the United States iPhones are known for dropping a lot of calls in certain cities but if you are on Wi-Fi on a VOIP call you not going to drop the call. Sometimes when I'm doing an interview I prefer to use the VOIP numbers just to avoid that. I got the Google app I can speak into it and do a Google search and if it's a quiet room it works pretty well. I have apps to look up what movies are playing near me. I don't use the web for that many things anymore. I got programs that let me point the camera at a barcode and tell me right in a store whether other stores have that product nearby and what they are selling it for so I can find the best price quickly. I have one (app) that I can speak in, I can say 'what's the largest lake in California' and it comes up with the right information. I like to press the button that's built into the phone and say 'call Janet mobile'. I like to speak especially if I'm driving a car. I got one (app) that sends a real postcard. I can take a photograph and send a real postcard in the mail to my wife and it will be a picture that I just took and a couple of messages I add. I got all the common social apps including Foursquare, one that does comics, guitar tuning apps and things like that. I got the Kindle on here, that's important to me. I've got a few apps here that I don't use but I trim them down frequently. And CNN News is on it too.

derStandard.at: Can I ask you about something a little different, your philanthropic efforts focus a lot of schools ...

Wozniak: ... and museums of San Jose, the Children Discovery Museum, the Technology Center, the Ballet of San Jose because I was born in that city.

derStandard.at: But what is it about school that particularly attracts you? Do you think schools are actually making good enough use of digital technology?

Wozniak: I was attracted to schools long before I knew about digital technology. When I was very young about ten years old I got a very strong value for the schools that I was in and how important they were in my life and I decided so strong I wanted to be an engineer like my father but I wanted to be a teacher as well. So I carried that with me my whole life always looking for hints of understanding how a child's mind develops. You know teaching is very important so I went and taught. It's unusual to go and teach at primary school after a big success like Apple but I did it secretly for eight years - no press - because I wanted to. Apple wanted me to write books and make CDs for the company. But I wanted a person-to-person talk like a real teacher. As far as technology in the schools - I think it's pretty well implemented and used in schools that I am familiar with and almost everywhere I go. That doesn't mean that it changes the amount of education or the quality of the education that gets done. I do wish that computers could take over a lot more of the real teaching job but again they have to be more personal like a real human being. They would have to look at me and know that I'm tired as I mentioned.

derStandard.at: Can I pick up one earlier question when we talked about Android and iPhone. It somehow reminds us to the question whether Apple should license its operating system or not. If we look at the phones today are we seeing a replay of this?

Wozniak: I mentioned we're seeing sort of a replay but I think the answer's not clear whether it's 'yes, we should have licensed' or 'no, we should not have'. And if you look at Windows which was licensed and all you see is a lot of junk a lot of vulnerabilities because Microsoft won't fix them for reasons of legacy. They have to be compatible with every product that was ever made, all the manufacturers. And not only is it difficult to do but it really causes the platform not to excel. Apple really gets around that by having more of a tight ecosystem. And the products from Apple always felt good to me and the ones from Microsoft generally not. And when you go around the world, anywhere you go people who have the Macintosh computer and have had it all their life just talk about how much they love that machine and will never go back. You don't hear that from Windows users really. You just hear 'it works, it does as many things for me' - so it does things but you don't fall in love with it. And I'd rather have the product that kept that level of humanity and quality and I think the same thing applies to the iPhone. The iPhone though has a much larger market and the Macintosh only sold in certain hotspots, certain cities in the United States. In some places there were no Macintoshes at all. We never got in, never marketed in those places. In that situation if we had licensed the operating system perhaps it would be on more hardware. But in the late days there is no way to gain what we've already lost. Some of those battles are over. And we didn't make the same mistakes with the iPhone. Mistakes might have been that the Macintosh was higher priced when it first came out. So the iPhone wasn't limited in sales. The Macintosh was worth that much as a product, it was hard to sell against much lower cost computers that kind of did the same thing.

derStandard.at: You where on the Danger board sometime ago ...

Wozniak: Like I said, I know the guy who developed Android.

derStandard.at: At what time was that?

Wozniak: I think 2001 or 2002, somewhere in there before we sold to Microsoft.

derStandard.at: And then you where sold to Microsoft and Andy Rubin went on to do Android. Does Danger have a lot in common with the Android system in terms of its foundation?

Wozniak: Some in common, that's the best I can say.

derStandard.at: In an Interview Paul McCartney said that when he looks back at the Beatles it sort of almost exists outside of him. Do you have that kind of feelings of the founding days of Apple or is that closer to you in terms of being part of your everyday life?

Wozniak: It was an exciting time that I really can't expect to ever duplicate again in my life. There was a whole new product that meant so much to the world, the people and we knew it, and we were leaders. So few people in the world actually saw where it was going and everyone was so excited, the sales were great, the company was being born. Nobody left Apple, nobody was discouraged about things. Every single project you worked on was gold. That was a very exciting time doing all out of nothing. Steve (Jobs) and I we started Apple in our young twenties with no business experience, no money at all no friends or relatives that can loan us money. Those were very special times and once the world was obviously going to go in that direction it became a lot different. It's odd for a large established company to turn out products that totally take the world on a new course. For the iPhone - even though there were phones that did those sorts of things before they just didn't have the formula for a smartphone that was the internet in your hand. And the iPad and the retail stores of Apple are so an incredible experience. And the iTunes Store, the vertical orientation - you buy a song by clicking one button, the billing happens, the song comes down on your computer, the song goes off to your iPod. You didn't have to think about a lot of steps. So those kind of things that Apple developed each one of them is as important as the Apple computer that really started the company.

derStandard.at: Were you afraid that in the nineties Apple might at some point have to either sell out or close down?

Wozniak: Well, from what I read that was a reasonable assumption. But the company had enough funding; it had enough money not to run out. It was just a matter of having to retract and stop the spending in a lot of ways. In that same timeframe we hired Jonathan Ive who is one of the most respected designers in the world of the greatest Apple products. (Birgit Riegler and Helmut Spudich/ derStandard.at, 20. Oktober 2010)

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  • Steve Wozniak says he could get a new iPhone directly from Steve Jobs, but he preferes to wait in the line every time because of the fun. "It's kind of like you're sitting all night long to get concert tickets, it's a good memory in life."
    foto: regine hendrich/ standard

    Steve Wozniak says he could get a new iPhone directly from Steve Jobs, but he preferes to wait in the line every time because of the fun. "It's kind of like you're sitting all night long to get concert tickets, it's a good memory in life."

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