Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs Wanted To Reinvent TV, Textbooks, And Photography


Walter Isaacson isn't in Jony Ive's good books.
Photo by Patrice Gilbert

Nick Bilton of The New York Times recently sat down with Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson. In the interview, Isaacson shared his opinions of Jobs and other details surrounding the book.

Steve Jobs “didn’t go into details” about Apple’s future products during his discussions with Isaacson, but Jobs did reveal three things he wanted to reinvent: the television, textbooks, and photography.

He had three things that he wanted to reinvent: the television, textbooks and photography. He really wanted to take these on. I didn’t go into details about these products in the book because it was implicitly Apple’s creations and it’s not fair to the company to reveal these details. But, he did talk about the television. He told me he’d “licked it” and once said, “There’s no reason you should have all these complicated remote controls.”

Steve Jobs famously revealed in Isaacson’s bio that he had “finally cracked” the television, and industry analysts predict that Apple will introduce a standalone TV in the next couple of years. The New York Times speculated that Apple’s rumored television would use Siri as a replacement for the remote control. Such a product would assumedly integrate with online content and bypass the cable companies’ traditional channels of distribution altogether.

When asked to share “one last thing” about Jobs, Isaacson said:

The main thing is this: his petulance was not just some isolated thing. It was part of his passion for perfection. I think he truly knew that by being demanding, he was being inspiring. He created incredibly loyal teams. He convinced people that they could do the impossible. They would walk through walls for him. As a result, Apple continually made great products. Everything he did was a resolution between the misfit and the businessman, the romantic and the rational. These ended up tying together in every case. The two sides, and the fact that he is able to join them, made an amazing product: Steve Jobs.

You can read the full interview with Isaacson on The New York Times website. Make sure to read our own interview with Isaacson as well.

  • MacAdvisor

    I am in the midst of reading the book on Kindle Reader on my iPhone (a bit of irony in all of that) and noticed one gigantic lie (I want to be clear here: I think Steve’s a great man and we are lucky he was born) of Steve’s that I wish Isaacson had called him. In his senior year of high school, Steve opines he was at the nexus of nerd and creative types. Steve then announces his love of Moby Dick. I am sorry, but no one, let alone a high school senior, loves Moby Dick. The book is mostly unreadable and the first half almost completely so. The Reader’s Digest version is actually a vast improvement and a good read edited down to 90 pages or so, but the original is simply a waste of good paper and ink. Only someone who has never attempted to read the thing, but wanted to sound pretentious, would announce it as their favority book. Sure Isaacson knows this (just as I am sure he once tried to read the thing and discovered its turgid style and bolt catalog-like, mind numbing first half). Why didn’t he call Jobs on such a conceit?

  • Allan Cook

    I’m about halfway through the book. While Steve Jobs may have been a tech visionary, and while I have loved Apple products since the Apple II,  I don’t get the impression he was a very nice man, or a very happy one. His anger, impatience, arrogance and insensitivity for others leaps off every page of this book. To call these deep personality flaws — which undoubtedly spring from the psychological tension of believing he was “special” and the knowledge that he had been abandoned — his “passion for perfection” hides the sad truth that Steve Jobs was a failure as a enlightened being. That he considered himself a Buddhist is hilarious: Aside from his zen aesthetic, he seems to have learned nothing about compassion and he seems to have gained but little insight into the human condition.

  • Ronald Stepp

    If someone does a bio of Isaacson, does the Universe implode recursively?

  • Jonathan McDonald

    keep reading… the first half of the book is “negative” but the second is all the “positive” I had the same feeling at first. I would have much rather not read the first half of the book and just read the second half. that would have given me a nice reality distortion field of Job’s life.

  • Kubamirecki

    Very possible that Issacson would implode :)

  • JDWages

    To any rational, educated, non drug using (and even Christian) person, Steve Jobs without a shadow of a doubt was “a troubled youth.”  And although he matured later in life, he still carried with him some of that youthful baggage that, when you spin it right, sounds like it transformed into Jobs’ greatest attributes.  

    But my take on Steve Jobs since the 1980s is that he was heavily influenced by people “outside the mainstream.” But more than that, I see that he became a success in spite of himself (i.e., in spite of his drug use, lack of tact, rebellion against his parents, etc.).  And let there be no doubt, Jobs was a talented genius too, which is why his elementary teachers wanted to promote him up two grades.  Jobs ascribed part of his genius as having had something to do with LSD expanding his mind, but that was just his lack of understanding about his own genius.  

    It is possible for any of us to think outside the mainstream and do great things when we set ourselves completely to that task, and such can be done without the aid of mind altering drugs, fruit diets, or visits to India for Buddhist enlightenment.  The fact that most people DON’T do think outside the mainstream in no way diminishes the fact that many of us perhaps COULD do that.  And add a touch of genius to it, we may become as wildly successful as Steve Jobs.  To say that “only Jobs could have done” it is a nice way to reverence his memory, but such a sentiment undermines the worth and potential of every person on our planet.  Indeed, Steve Jobs himself drove people to do more with their lives.  May we embark on that hazardous-yet-rewarding path by inspiring ourselves to do more with our lives and embrace something far greater than ourselves.

  • jw915

    Given that many of Jobs’s products were blatant copies of other people’s ideas, the reason Jobs didn’t “reinvent” these things was probably because he didn’t find anything decent to copy.

  • bill the grownup

    I guess you are confusing your own opinion with the truth. I am not trying to defend Jobs but Moby Dick. I remember reading it as an early teenager (13 or 14)  and being pretty much absorbed by the book.

  • MacAdvisor

    Seriously?!? As a 13- or 14-year old, you absorbed by, “Now, this plan of Queequeg’s, or rather Yojo’s, touching the selection of our craft; I did not like that plan at all. I had not a little relied on Queequeg’s sagacity to point out the whaler best fitted to carry us and our fortunes securely. But as all my remonstrances produced no effect upon Queequeg, I was obliged to acquiesce; and accordingly prepared to set about this business with a determined rushing sort of energy and vigor, that should quickly settle that trifling little affair. Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our little bedroom…”?

    That was one of the better parts from the opening half. One doesn’t even MEET Ahab until Chapter 28! The first 27 chapters detail the Ish’s trip from New York to the ship in painful detail. There are three chapters just to cover the Sunday sermon. The book has a great opening line and goes down from there for 30 chapters or so. Reading it is like trying to listen to a Cockney raised by a Scottish mother. 

    The greatness of Moby Dick lies not in its writing, which is heavy and endless for the most part, but in the imagery of the battle of wills between the mad captain and the great whale. The theme is brilliant and much of that part of the story is mezmerizing, though I think somewhat out of the experience of a youngster. (I will give you that much of the pursuit of the whale in the final stages becomes a bit of a page turner.)

    Moreover, Steve’s search for perfection in products would have been instantly recognizeable to anyone well-versed in Ahab’s quest. How could Steve claim to love this book that captures the very essence of the madness found in the search for perfection then give up his life to that very pursuit? How could someone that would quote at length books by Zen writers not fall back on the lines of Moby Dick when he is forced out of the company that was his whole life? The story is akin to something like Woz mentioning he had a favorite ring that he loved very much, but he went on a journey with some friends to throw it into a volcano and, oh, btw, his favority book is Lord of the Rings.

    I could see someone as driven as Steve becoming Ahab, that “grand, ungodly, godlike man,” I just can’t see someone who loved Moby Dick as much as Steve claims to have to not see his how whole life became a search for the Great White Whale. 

    If Steve truly loved the book, then Isaacson should have pursued him to see how very much his life was that book. That Steve doesn’t even mention this, but tosses out the name, leads me to believe Steve was only passingly acquainted with it. 

  • dcj001

    I can’t understand how a literary expert, like you, doesn’t understand the difference between “here” and “hear.”

    “I want to be clear hear.”

  • MacAdvisor

    Sorry, missed that in my proofing. I am not a literary expert, mind you, but I should have, nevertheless, caught the error. It has been corrected. 

  • Archer Sully

    Read as a junior in High School, and loved it. Most people don’t get it, but there’s a subtle undercurrent of humor in it. Melville really was a great writer, even if you don’t get him.

  • Archer Sully

    Read as a junior in High School, and loved it. Most people don’t get it, but there’s a subtle undercurrent of humor in it. Melville really was a great writer, even if you don’t get him.

  • Joekarcia

    And whose ideas did Steve copy?

  • MacAdvisor

    I have to say, I have heard many defenses of Moby Dick, but funny isn’t one of them. There are, of course, funny moments — Meville was trying to show the full scope of the whaling business — but I am not sure a tale that concludes with the loss of all hands, save one, who survives by clinging to a coffin until rescued, is my idea of funny. Still, an interesting view.

  • Joel

    Who would narrate a movie about Morgan Freedman?
    Answer: Morgan Freedman.

  • John


  • HerbalEd

    Very, very few people succeed in becoming an “enlightened being” so don’t fault Jobs because he didn’t. Are you enlightened? 

    And as to Jobs being a Buddhist: I live in Thailand, a country of 60-million Buddhist, and although overall the people here tend to be much more forgiving and compassionate than the USA or Europe, there are plenty of people here with the same problems as Jobs.

    While I’ll agree that Jobs was arrogant and insensitive (aren’t we all sometimes), we have to give him credit for his love of family and the fact that he pretty much kept to himself and family on his off time instead of being an obnoxious celebrity. 

    So practice a little compassion and forgiveness yourself, and give the guy a break.

  • HerbalEd

    How can you be so sure about this? You can’t … and indeed your sureness about what you don’t and can’t really know seems a bit conceited.

  • HerbalEd

    So … you never make typos? Must be nice being perfect.

  • HerbalEd

    How do you know “everything” that Isaacson asked Jobs? Don’t you realize that he did not put every detail from his interviews with Jobs in the book? 

    Also, if you knew anything about human nature you’d know that we’re all full of contradictions and are never completely logical all of the time … and that’s because we’re human.

  • jw915

    Steve in his own words:

    Personally, I know of: Xerox, Palm, Danger, Android/Google, Microsoft, Nokia, IBM, plus a dozen small app vendors.

  • MacAdvisor

    I never suggested I knew everything Issaacson put in the book and certainly agree that, as humans, we are full of contradictions and are not close to logical. We are not rational beings, but rationalizing ones, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. As the Red Queen put it, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    However, that Jobs was driven just as was Ahab and eventually killed by his own pursuit of control (in the case of his cance, control over his own body and believing he could cure himelf), the parallel deserved some comment, yet Issaacson gives it none. Thus, I infer from the lack of any reference to such a discussion on such a pivotal topic that none occured. Nothing is certain in life, but, nevertheless, we go on. 

    Do you seriously contend that there was such a discussion? If not, you point is one without meaning and purely argumentative, not instructive. 

  • MacAdvisor

    herbaled, what is bothering you? You seem, from your posts, most unhappy. I clearly indicated I had made a mistake and I corrected it. That does not in any way imply I am perfect or never make typos, but the opposite.

    Since you seem to be lashing out and over such trivialities, you must be upset. Why don’t we talk about what’s really bother you. Perhaps I can help. 

  • MacAdvisor

    I am not sure about this, except that Moby is mostly unreadable until after chapter 28 and only sporadically so after that. I am sure of that because I’ve read the book. I did so in high school, as did so many others; I did so in college; and I did so for a book club at my local Meeting about ten years ago (I am a practicing Quaker, as was Ishmael). At 54, I think I’ve lived enough life to spot when the emperor doesn’t have any clothes on. 

    Moby Dick has some great stuff in it, some truly original stuff that strikes right to human condition. However, it is surrounded by far too much turgid dreck. The book needs to be edited down to a tighter, more focused tale. 

    I could add IMHO to all this, if that would make you feel better, herbaled, but I assume you can figure out the difference when I state a fact and when I state an opinion, so I don’t need to label them. I assume you are capable. 

    Now, hun, what’s really bothering you? You must be having a horrible, simply awful, very bad day.