Friends noted that Jobs had retained his feistiness. During his recuperation he signed up for Comcast’s high-definition cable service, and one day he called Brian Roberts, who ran the company. “I thought he was calling to say something nice about it,” Roberts recalled. “Instead, he told me ‘It sucks.’” But Andy Hertzfeld noticed that, beneath the gruffness, Jobs had become more honest. “Before, if you asked Steve for a favor, he might do the exact opposite,” Hertzfeld said. “That was the perversity in his nature. Now he actually tries to be helpful.”
His public return came on September 9, when he took the stage at the company’s regular fall music event. He got a standing ovation that lasted almost a minute, then he opened on an unusually personal note by mentioning that he was the recipient of a liver donation. “I wouldn’t be here without such generosity,” he said, “so I hope all of us can be as generous and elect to become organ donors.” After a moment of exultation—“I’m vertical, I’m back at Apple, and I’m loving every day of it”—he unveiled the new line of iPod Nanos, with video cameras, in nine different colors of anodized aluminum.
By the beginning of 2010 he had recovered most of his strength, and he threw himself back into work for what would be one of his, and Apple’s, most productive years. He had hit two consecutive home runs since launching Apple’s digital hub strategy: the iPod and the iPhone. Now he was going to swing for another.
Into the Post-PC Era
You Say You Want a Revolution
Back in 2002, Jobs had been annoyed by the Microsoft engineer who kept proselytizing about the tablet computer software he had developed, which allowed users to input information on the screen with a stylus or pen. A few manufacturers released tablet PCs that year using the software, but none made a dent in the universe. Jobs had been eager to show how it should be done right—no stylus!—but when he saw the multi-touch technology that Apple was developing, he had decided to use it first to make an iPhone.
In the meantime, the tablet idea was percolating within the Macintosh hardware group. “We have no plans to make a tablet,” Jobs declared in an interview with Walt Mossberg in May 2003. “It turns out people want keyboards. Tablets appeal to rich guys with plenty of other PCs and devices already.” Like his statement about having a “hormone imbalance,” that was misleading; at most of his annual Top 100 retreats, the tablet was among the future projects discussed. “We showed the idea off at many of these retreats, because Steve never lost his desire to do a tablet,” Phil Schiller recalled.
The tablet project got a boost in 2007 when Jobs was considering ideas for a low-cost netbook computer. At an executive team brainstorming session one Monday, Ive asked why it needed a keyboard hinged to the screen; that was expensive and bulky. Put the keyboard on the screen using a multi-touch interface, he suggested. Jobs agreed. So the resources were directed to revving up the tablet project rather than designing a netbook.
The process began with Jobs and Ive figuring out the right screen size. They had twenty models made—all rounded rectangles, of course—in slightly varying sizes and aspect ratios. Ive laid them out on a table in the design studio, and in the afternoon they would lift the velvet cloth hiding them and play with them. “That’s how we nailed what the screen size was,” Ive said.
As usual Jobs pushed for the purest possible simplicity. That required determining what was the core essence of the device. The answer: the display screen. So the guiding principle was that everything they did had to defer to the screen. “How do we get out of the way so there aren’t a ton of features and buttons that distract from the display?” Ive asked. At every step, Jobs pushed to remove and simplify.
At one point Jobs looked at the model and was slightly dissatisfied. It didn’t feel casual and friendly enough, so that you would naturally scoop it up and whisk it away. Ive put his finger, so to speak, on the problem: They needed to signal that you could grab it with one hand, on impulse. The bottom of the edge needed to be slightly rounded, so that you’d feel comfortable just scooping it up rather than lifting it carefully. That meant engineering had to design the necessary connection ports and buttons in a simple lip that was thin enough to wash away gently underneath.
If you had been paying attention to patent filings, you would have noticed the one numbered D504889 that Apple applied for in March 2004 and was issued fourteen months later. Among the inventors listed were Jobs and Ive. The application carried sketches of a rectangular electronic tablet with rounded edges, which looked just the way the iPad turned out, including one of a man holding it casually in his left hand while using his right index finger to touch the screen.
Since the Macintosh computers were now using Intel chips, Jobs initially planned to use in the iPad the low-voltage Atom chip that Intel was developing. Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO, was pushing hard to work together on a design, and Jobs’s inclination was to trust him. His company was making the fastest processors in the world. But Intel was used to making processors for machines that plugged into a wall, not ones that had to preserve battery life. So Tony Fadell argued strongly for something based on the ARM architecture, which was simpler and used less power. Apple had been an early partner with ARM, and chips using its architecture were in the original iPhone. Fadell gathered support from other engineers and proved that it was possible to confront Jobs and turn him around. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Fadell shouted at one meeting when Jobs insisted it was best to trust Intel to make a good mobile chip. Fadell even put his Apple badge on the table, threatening to resign.
Eventually Jobs relented. “I hear you,” he said. “I’m not going to go against my best guys.” In fact he went to the other extreme. Apple licensed the ARM architecture, but it also bought a 150-person microprocessor design firm in Palo Alto, called P.A. Semi, and had it create a custom system-on-a-chip, called the A4, which was based on the ARM architecture and manufactured in South Korea by Samsung. As Jobs recalled:
At the high-performance end, Intel is the best. They build the fastest chip, if you don’t care about power and cost. But they build just the processor on one chip, so it takes a lot of other parts. Our A4 has the processor and the graphics, mobile operating system, and memory control all in the chip. We tried to help Intel, but they don’t listen much. We’ve been telling them for years that their graphics suck. Every quarter we schedule a meeting with me and our top three guys and Paul Otellini. At the beginning, we were doing wonderful things together. They wanted this big joint project to do chips for future iPhones. There were two reasons we didn’t go with them. One was that they are just really slow. They’re like a steamship, not very flexible. We’re used to going pretty fast. Second is that we just didn’t want to teach them everything, which they could go and sell to our competitors.