Page 168 of Steve Jobs

Jobs had another visit that month from someone who wanted to repair fences. Google’s cofounder Larry Page, who lived less than three blocks away, had just announced plans to retake the reins of the company from Eric Schmidt. He knew how to flatter Jobs: He asked if he could come by and get tips on how to be a good CEO. Jobs was still furious at Google. “My first thought was, ‘Fuck you,’” he recounted. “But then I thought about it and realized that everybody helped me when I was young, from Bill Hewlett to the guy down the block who worked for HP. So I called him back and said sure.” Page came over, sat in Jobs’s living room, and listened to his ideas on building great products and durable companies. Jobs recalled:

We talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby or being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great. I tried to be as helpful as I could. I will continue to do that with people like Mark Zuckerberg too. That’s how I’m going to spend part of the time I have left. I can help the next generation remember the lineage of great companies here and how to continue the tradition. The Valley has been very supportive of me. I should do my best to repay.

The announcement of Jobs’s 2011 medical leave prompted others to make a pilgrimage to the house in Palo Alto. Bill Clinton, for example, came by and talked about everything from the Middle East to American politics. But the most poignant visit was from the other tech prodigy born in 1955, the guy who, for more than three decades, had been Jobs’s rival and partner in defining the age of personal computers.

Bill Gates had never lost his fascination with Jobs. In the spring of 2011 I was at a dinner with him in Washington, where he had come to discuss his foundation’s global health endeavors. He expressed amazement at the success of the iPad and how Jobs, even while sick, was focusing on ways to improve it. “Here I am, merely saving the world from malaria and that sort of thing, and Steve is still coming up with amazing new products,” he said wistfully. “Maybe I should have stayed in that game.” He smiled to make sure that I knew he was joking, or at least half joking.

Through their mutual friend Mike Slade, Gates made arrangements to visit Jobs in May. The day before it was supposed to happen, Jobs’s assistant called to say he wasn’t feeling well enough. But it was rescheduled, and early one afternoon Gates drove to Jobs’s house, walked through the back gate to the open kitchen door, and saw Eve studying at the table. “Is Steve around?” he asked. Eve pointed him to the living room.

They spent more than three hours together, just the two of them, reminiscing. “We were like the old guys in the industry looking back,” Jobs recalled. “He was happier than I’ve ever seen him, and I kept thinking how healthy he looked.” Gates was similarly struck by how Jobs, though scarily gaunt, had more energy than he expected. He was open about his health problems and, at least that day, feeling optimistic. His sequential regimens of targeted drug treatments, he told Gates, were like “jumping from one lily pad to another,” trying to stay a step ahead of the cancer.

Jobs asked some questions about education, and Gates sketched out his vision of what schools in the future would be like, with students watching lectures and video lessons on their own while using the classroom time for discussions and problem solving. They agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools—far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law. For that to change, Gates said, computers and mobile devices would have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.

They also talked a lot about the joys of family, including how lucky they were to have good kids and be married to the right women. “We laughed about how fortunate it was that he met Laurene, and she’s kept him semi-sane, and I met Melinda, and she’s kept me semi-sane,” Gates recalled. “We also discussed how it’s challenging to be one of our children, and how do we mitigate that. It was pretty personal.” At one point Eve, who in the past had been in horse shows with Gates’s daughter Jennifer, wandered in from the kitchen, and Gates asked her what jumping routines she liked best.

As their hours together drew to a close, Gates complimented Jobs on “the incredible stuff” he had created and for being able to save Apple in the late 1990s from the bozos who were about to destroy it. He even made an interesting concession. Throughout their careers they had adhered to competing philosophies on one of the most fundamental of all digital issues: whether hardware and software should be tightly integrated or more open. “I used to believe that the open, horizontal model would prevail,” Gates told him. “But you proved that the integrated, vertical model could also be great.” Jobs responded with his own admission. “Your model worked too,” he said.

They were both right. Each model had worked in the realm of personal computers, where Macintosh coexisted with a variety of Windows machines, and that was likely to be true in the realm of mobile devices as well. But after recounting their discussion, Gates added a caveat: “The integrated approach works well when Steve is at the helm. But it doesn’t mean it will win many rounds in the future.” Jobs similarly felt compelled to add a caveat about Gates after describing their meeting: “Of course, his fragmented model worked, but it didn’t make really great products. It produced crappy products. That was the problem. The big problem. At least over time.”

“That Day Has Come”

Jobs had many other ideas and projects that he hoped to develop. He wanted to disrupt the textbook industry and save the spines of spavined students bearing backpacks by creating electronic texts and curriculum material for the iPad. He was also working with Bill Atkinson, his friend from the original Macintosh team, on devising new digital technologies that worked at the pixel level to allow people to take great photographs using their iPhones even in situations without much light. And he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”