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9/08/2007
  Cringely Explains Jobs

If you want to understand Steve Jobs (pay attention Paul Kedrosky), you must read Bob Cringely's opus to Jobs ego this week.

Cringely opens with a great anecdote. Cringely was going to interview Bill Gates and Steve Jobs about their relationship for a Vanity Fair article. Jobs says "OK - as long as you interview Bill first." So after a month of scheduling, Cringely gets an hour with Gates, just on Jobs. Now it's time to talk to Steve.

The promised interview with Jobs never happened. His excuse was that the antitrust case against Microsoft had reached a point where it would have been imprudent for Jobs to comment on Gates. Come back when the case is over (or Hell freezes, whichever comes first).

While I suppose there may have been some legal reason not to talk, I really doubt that was the issue. Rather, Steve Jobs just liked snubbing the world’s richest man. It was classic Jobs, and I should have seen it coming. We both should have. So the Vanity Fair story never happened.

Cringely then turns to the iPhone pricing incident, his thesis being that Jobs knew exactly what he was doing: "So Steve does things like this because he can. It reaffirms his iron grip over both Apple and Apple’s customers. It’s a lot about ego and a little about business, though with Steve Jobs they are hard to differentiate."

And then, in the brillant summary bit that made me laugh out loud:

So Steve slapped his customers around a bit and what happened? Apple got free publicity worth tens of millions and the iPhone, which was already the top-selling smartphone in the world, will now sell two million units by the end of the year, up from an estimated one million. And Steve, having deliberately alienated his best customers, now gets a chance to woo them back. He has finally placed millions of people in the role of every key Apple employee — being alternately seduced and tormented.

In the end, Cringely's psycho-analysis of Jobs says that everything he does is a reaction to being fired by Apple back in 1985.

In the 22 years since that humiliation, Jobs has devoted himself to proving: 1) that he can deliver the numbers (and does he — Apple is the best-managed computer company on Earth), and; 2) that he is a better marketer than Sculley, the supposed marketing genius. The product vision part is easy. Not only does Jobs push these products out without apparent effort, he couldn’t make himself not do it if he tried. It’s an obsession. So he puts the real sweat into managing and marketing and occasionally beating up on anyone who gets too close.

And that 1999 quote from Bill Gates [from the interview, Gates wondering why Jobs would go back to Apple] about Jobs: “He has to know that he can never win."

The ironic part, and perhaps with a bit of foreshadowing is that Gates is now the one lost in the wilderness while his company is run into the ground by pretenders without a technology vision.

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