Interview: Steve Wozniak, Apple Co-founder and Inventor of the Home Computer

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak speaks at the World Business Forum in Hong Kong on June 2, 2015. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

If you haven’t heard of Steve Wozniak, it is because he has been overshadowed by his fellow co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. This is despite the fact that he was the sole person behind the invention and building of the Apple 1, the first home computer that used a keyboard and normal TV screen as a display.

Steve Jobs was arguably the force behind the creation of Apple, but the technology came from the mind of Wozniak.

Wozniak is currently on a speaking tour of Australia and appeared in Perth this week. I had the opportunity to talk to him before the show and ask a few questions.

You can see the full interview between David Glance and Steve Wozniak in the video below.

Wozniak left Apple in 1985 to finish a degree of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley. He did this under the pseudonym of Rocky Raccoon Clark. After that time, he spent 10 years teaching computing primary school children from Grade 5–9.

In terms of the disruption of education, Wozniak says that massive online open courses (MOOCs) may be appropriate for the older, more educated, student, but human interaction is always going to be more important at the primary and high school level.

In fact, this reflects Wozniak’s personal experience where he talks about the influence of his father on inspiring him into the area of electronics, and the encouragement and inspiration of teachers at his primary school. This contrasts with his relatively bad experiences at high school and university with teachers that were, in some cases, openly antagonistic.

Asked about Apple’s new app Swift Playgrounds, aimed at teaching entry level programming in the language Swift, he thinks that there may have been better languages to start with. For Wozniak, one reason for developing computer was to provide everyone with access to computing, along with all the benefits that would come from that, including the ability to program.

At Apple’s birth, nobody thought the concept of the home computer—like the one Wozniak had built—had a future. When Wozniak had worked at Hewlett-Packard, the company turned down his idea of developing a personal computer.

The Apple 1 Computer, a piece of history and art. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
The Apple 1 Computer, a piece of history and art. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

In Australia, it is debatable whether Apple would have been funded by the current venture capitalist community. At the time Apple received its first investment from Mike Markkulla. It was yet to turn a profit and had only one client.

When asked about the prospect of a new company like Apple starting today, Wozniak is more optimistic. He believes there is a huge amount of activity in the startup and innovation areas.

He has previously talked enthusiastically about the investment of the Queensland government of A$405 million in the startup scene.

In terms of privacy, Wozniak feels that all technology companies talked about privacy being central to their product strategies but that only Apple actually delivered on this. The culture of privacy existed before CEO Tim Cook at Apple, but Cook has stood behind the importance of privacy when it came to handing over details of people’s devices to the FBI.

Wozniak, has not really been following the dispute between the Australian banks and Apple. But he was really enjoying using Apple Pay in Australia. He does say that he wishes that the technology behind the payment system was an open standard but hasn’t thought about the problem deeply.

Wozniak says he always wanted to be an engineer. To a large extent, the ascendancy of technological companies has elevated the status of the computer and electrical engineer in society.

Popular culture is now reflecting this with extremely popular TV series like “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Mr. Robot” and the comedy series that Wozniak has actually appeared in, “Big Bang Theory.” Unlike Elon Musk, Wozniak has never appeared in the Simpsons, even in the show parodying Apple and “Steve Mobs.”

Despite all of this, Wozniak feels that “nerds and geeks” will still have a hard time at school, a situation that was the case when he was at school.

During our chat, Wozniak expanded on the needs of entrepreneurship. What is critical he says, is the need for business and marketing along with engineering capability.

It is not good enough to have an idea that sounds great if nobody wants to buy it. It is the role of the marketing person to do what Apple has done in not only seeing what the public wants, but to persuade them that they actually want the product you are selling, even if they didn’t know it.

In many ways, Wozniak is a stereotypical engineer. He is a very nice and largely self-effacing person who just happened to use his passion to create something that was truly great.

There is currently an Apple 1 computer that is being auctioned with manuals and tape cassettes. It is expected to sell for US$1 million. This is a far cry from the US$666.66 that this computer sold for in 1976.

On the description of the computer, it describes the computer not only as a radical device that would change society so dramatically, but simply as a piece of art. In those terms Wozniak can let his art and its legacy speak for itself.

David Glance is director of the Centre for Software Practice at the University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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