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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.

According to Otellini, it would have made sense for the iPad to use Intel chips. The problem, he said, was that Apple and Intel couldn’t agree on price. Also, they disagreed on who would control the design. It was another example of Jobs’s desire, indeed compulsion, to control every aspect of a product, from the silicon to the flesh.

The Launch, January 2010

The usual excitement that Jobs was able to gin up for a product launch paled in comparison to the frenzy that built for the iPad unveiling on January 27, 2010, in San Francisco. The Economist put him on its cover robed, haloed, and holding what was dubbed “the Jesus Tablet.” The Wall Street Journal struck a similarly exalted note: “The last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it.”

As if to underscore the historic nature of the launch, Jobs invited back many of the old-timers from his early Apple days. More poignantly, James Eason, who had performed his liver transplant the year before, and Jeffrey Norton, who had operated on his pancreas in 2004, were in the audience, sitting with his wife, his son, and Mona Simpson.

Jobs did his usual masterly job of putting a new device into context, as he had done for the iPhone three years earlier. This time he put up a screen that showed an iPhone and a laptop with a question mark in between. “The question is, is there room for something in the middle?” he asked. That “something” would have to be good at web browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, and ebooks. He drove a stake through the heart of the netbook concept. “Netbooks aren’t better at anything!” he said. The invited guests and employees cheered. “But we have something that is. We call it the iPad.”

To underscore the casual nature of the iPad, Jobs ambled over to a comfortable leather chair and side table (actually, given his taste, it was a Le Corbusier chair and an Eero Saarinen table) and scooped one up. “It’s so much more intimate than a laptop,” he enthused. He proceeded to surf to the New York Times website, send an email to Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller (“Wow, we really are announcing the iPad”), flip through a photo album, use a calendar, zoom in on the Eiffel Tower on Google Maps, watch some video clips (Star Trek and Pixar’s Up), show off the iBook shelf, and play a song (Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which he had played at the iPhone launch). “Isn’t that awesome?” he asked.

With his final slide, Jobs emphasized one of the themes of his life, which was embodied by the iPad: a sign showing the corner of Technology Street and Liberal Arts Street. “The reason Apple can create products like the iPad is that we’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts,” he concluded. The iPad was the digital reincarnation of the Whole Earth Catalog, the place where creativity met tools for living.

For once, the initial reaction was not a Hallelujah Chorus. The iPad was not yet available (it would go on sale in April), and some who watched Jobs’s demo were not quite sure what it was. An iPhone on steroids? “I haven’t been this let down since Snooki hooked up with The Situation,” wrote Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons (who moonlighted as “The Fake Steve Jobs” in an online parody). Gizmodo ran a contributor’s piece headlined “Eight Things That Suck about the iPad” (no multitasking, no cameras, no Flash . . . ). Even the name came in for ridicule in the blogosphere, with snarky comments about feminine hygiene products and maxi pads. The hashtag “#iTampon” was the number-three trending topic on Twitter that day.

There was also the requisite dismissal from Bill Gates. “I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard—in other words a netbook—will be the mainstream,” he told Brent Schlender. “So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with the iPhone where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’” He continued to insist that the Microsoft approach of using a stylus for input would prevail. “I’ve been predicting a tablet with a stylus for many years,” he told me. “I will eventually turn out to be right or be dead.”

The night after his announcement, Jobs was annoyed and depressed. As we gathered in his kitchen for dinner, he paced around the table calling up emails and web pages on his iPhone.

I got about eight hundred email messages in the last twenty-four hours. Most of them are complaining. There’s no USB cord! There’s no this, no that. Some of them are like, “Fuck you, how can you do that?” I don’t usually write people back, but I replied, “Your parents would be so proud of how you turned out.” And some don’t like the iPad name, and on and on. I kind of got depressed today. It knocks you back a bit.

He did get one congratulatory call that day that he appreciated, from President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. But he noted at dinner that the president had not called him since taking office.

The public carping subsided when the iPad went on sale in April and people got their hands on it. Both Time and Newsweek put it on the cover. “The tough thing about writing about Apple products is that they come with a lot of hype wrapped around them,” Lev Grossman wrote in Time. “The other tough thing about writing about Apple products is that sometimes the hype is true.” His main reservation, a substantive one, was “that while it’s a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate its creation.” Computers, especially the Macintosh, had become tools that allowed people to make music, videos, websites, and blogs, which could be posted for the world to see. “The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.” It was a criticism Jobs took to heart. He set about making sure that the next version of the iPad would emphasize ways to facilitate artistic creation by the user.

Newsweek’s cover line was “What’s So Great about the iPad? Everything.” Daniel Lyons, who had zapped it with his “Snooki” comment at the launch, revised his opinion. “My first thought, as I watched Jobs run through his demo, was that it seemed like no big deal,” he wrote. “It’s a bigger version of the iPod Touch, right? Then I got a chance to use an iPad, and it hit me: I want one.” Lyons, like others, realized that this was Jobs’s pet project, and it embodied all that he stood for. “He has an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn’t know we needed, but then suddenly can’t live without,” he wrote. “A closed system may be the only way to deliver the kind of techno-Zen experience that Apple has become known for.”

Most of the debate over the iPad centered on the issue of whether its closed end-to-end integration was brilliant or doomed. Google was starting to play a role similar to the one Microsoft had played in the 1980s, offering a mobile platform, Android, that was open and could be used by all hardware makers. Fortune staged a debate on this issue in its pages. “There’s no excuse to be closed,” wrote Michael Copeland. But his colleague Jon Fortt rebutted, “Closed systems get a bad rap, but they work beautifully and users benefit. Probably no one in tech has proved this more convincingly than Steve Jobs. By bundling hardware, software, and services, and controlling them tightly, Apple is consistently able to get the jump on its rivals and roll out polished products.” They agreed that the iPad would be the clearest test of this question since the original Macintosh. “Apple has taken its control-freak rep to a whole new level with the A4 chip that powers the thing,” wrote Fortt. “Cupertino now has absolute say over the silicon, device, operating system, App Store, and payment system.”

Jobs went to the Apple store in Palo Alto shortly before noon on April 5, the day the iPad went on sale. Daniel Kottke—his acid-dropping soul mate from Reed and the early days at Apple, who no longer harbored a grudge for not getting founders’ stock options—made a point of being there. “It had been fifteen years, and I wanted to see him again,” Kottke recounted. “I grabbed him and told him I was going to use the iPad for my song lyrics. He was in a great mood and we had a nice chat after all these years.” Powell and their youngest child, Eve, watched from a corner of the store.

Wozniak, who had once been a proponent of making hardware and software as open as possible, continued to revise that opinion. As he often did, he stayed up all night with the enthusiasts waiting in line for the store to open. This time he was at San Jose’s Valley Fair Mall, riding a Segway. A reporter asked him about the closed nature of Apple’s ecosystem. “Apple gets you into their playpen and keeps you there, but there are some advantages to that,” he replied. “I like open systems, but I’m a hacker. But most people want things that are easy to use. Steve’s genius is that he knows how to make things simple, and that sometimes requires controlling everything.”

The question “What’s on your iPad?” replaced “What’s on your iPod?” Even President Obama’s staffers, who embraced the iPad as a mark of their tech hipness, played the game. Economic Advisor Larry Summers had the Bloomberg financial information app, Scrabble, and The Federalist Papers. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had a slew of newspapers, Communications Advisor Bill Burton had Vanity Fair and one entire season of the television series Lost, and Political Director David Axelrod had Major League Baseball and NPR.

Jobs was stirred by a story, which he forwarded to me, by Michael Noer on Noer was reading a science fiction novel on his iPad while staying at a dairy farm in a rural area north of Bogotá, Colombia, when a poor six-year-old boy who cleaned the stables came up to him. Curious, Noer handed him the device. With no instruction, and never having seen a computer before, the boy started using it intuitively. He began swiping the screen, launching apps, playing a pinball game. “Steve Jobs has designed a powerful computer that an illiterate six-year-old can use without instruction,” Noer wrote. “If that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.”

In less than a month Apple sold one million iPads. That was twice as fast as it took the iPhone to reach that mark. By March 2011, nine months after its release, fifteen million had been sold. By some measures it became the most successful consumer product launch in history.


Jobs was not happy with the original ads for the iPad. As usual, he threw himself into the marketing, working with James Vincent and Duncan Milner at the ad agency (now called TBWA/Media Arts Lab), with Lee Clow advising from a semiretired perch. The commercial they first produced was a gentle scene of a guy in faded jeans and sweatshirt reclining in a chair, looking at email, a photo album, the New York Times, books, and video on an iPad propped on his lap. There were no words, just the background beat of “There Goes My Love” by the Blue Van. “After he approved it, Steve decided he hated it,” Vincent recalled. “He thought it looked like a Pottery Barn commercial.” Jobs later told me:

It had been easy to explain what the iPod was—a thousand songs in your pocket—which allowed us to move quickly to the iconic silhouette ads. But it was hard to explain what an iPad was. We didn’t want to show it as a computer, and yet we didn’t want to make it so soft that it looked like a cute TV. The first set of ads showed we didn’t know what we were doing. They had a cashmere and Hush Puppies feel to them.

James Vincent had not taken a break in months. So when the iPad finally went on sale and the ads started airing, he drove with his family to the Coachella Music Festival in Palm Springs, which featured some of his favorite bands, including Muse, Faith No More, and Devo. Soon after he arrived, Jobs called. “Your commercials suck,” he said. “The iPad is revolutionizing the world, and we need something big. You’ve given me small shit.”

“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”

“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”

Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started screaming at me,” Vincent recalled. Vincent could be volatile himself, and the volleys escalated.

When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

“Oh, great, let me write that on my brief for my creative people: I’ll know it when I see it.”

Vincent got so frustrated that he slammed his fist into the wall of the house he was renting and put a large dent in it. When he finally went outside to his family, sitting by the pool, they looked at him nervously. “Are you okay?” his wife finally asked.

It took Vincent and his team two weeks to come up with an array of new options, and he asked to present them at Jobs’s house rather than the office, hoping that it would be a more relaxed environment. Laying storyboards on the coffee table, he and Milner offered twelve approaches. One was inspirational and stirring. Another tried humor, with Michael Cera, the comic actor, wandering through a fake house making funny comments about the way people could use iPads. Others featured the iPad with celebrities, or set starkly on a white background, or starring in a little sitcom, or in a straightforward product demonstration.

After mulling over the options, Jobs realized what he wanted. Not humor, nor a celebrity, nor a demo. “It’s got to make a statement,” he said. “It needs to be a manifesto. This is big.” He had announced that the iPad would change the world, and he wanted a campaign that reinforced that declaration. Other companies would come out with copycat tablets in a year or so, he said, and he wanted people to remember that the iPad was the real thing. “We need ads that stand up and declare what we have done.”

He abruptly got out of his chair, looking a bit weak but smiling. “I’ve got to go have a massage now,” he said. “Get to work.”

So Vincent and Milner, along with the copywriter Eric Grunbaum, began crafting what they dubbed “The Manifesto.” It would be fast-paced, with vibrant pictures and a thumping beat, and it would proclaim that the iPad was revolutionary. The music they chose was Karen O’s pounding refrain from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’” Gold Lion.” As the iPad was shown doing magical things, a strong voice declared, “iPad is thin. iPad is beautiful. . . . It’s crazy powerful. It’s magical. . . . It’s video, photos. More books than you could read in a lifetime. It’s already a revolution, and it’s only just begun.”

Once the Manifesto ads had run their course, the team again tried something softer, shot as day-in-the-life documentaries by the young filmmaker Jessica Sanders. Jobs liked them—for a little while. Then he turned against them for the same reason he had reacted against the original Pottery Barn–style ads. “Dammit,” he shouted, “they look like a Visa commercial, typical ad agency stuff.”

He had been asking for ads that were different and new, but eventually he realized he did not want to stray from what he considered the Apple voice. For him, that voice had a distinctive set of qualities: simple, declarative, clean. “We went down that lifestyle path, and it seemed to be growin............
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