How Apple Park is like Steve Jobs’ ill-fated NeXT Computer

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Apple Park
Both examples of hubris on their creator's part?
Photo: Igor America

Apple Park is a physical manifestation of Steve Jobs’ undying hubris, a monument to fussy perfectionism that’s as crazy as his NeXT Computer, the not-entirely-successful computer he launched after being booted from Apple in 1985.

That’s the premise of a new Bloomberg op-ed, which draws parallels between the new Apple campus and one of Jobs’ most notorious tech launches. It’s interesting, but ultimately wrong. Here’s why.

Author Joe Nocera starts his article by recalling the perfectionist touches Jobs applied to the NeXT Computer:

“It had to be a perfect cube, which created various manufacturing complications. The screws inside the computer required expensive plating. His engineers designed custom chips instead of using off-the-shelf semiconductors. He built a futuristic factory to manufacture the computer, which included, as Walter Isaacson recounts in his biography of Jobs, ‘$20,000 black leather chairs and a custom-made staircase, just as in the corporate headquarters.'”

Apple’s campus, meanwhile, represents the same kind of crazy perfectionism. It features the world’s largest pieces of curved glass. The stone exterior for its fitness and wellness center had to be distressed “like a pair of jeans, to make it look like the stone at Jobs’s favorite hotel in Yosemite.”

Nocera also notes that both projects went significantly over budget. The NeXT Computer, intended for colleges, wound up being priced far too high for them. Jobs’ market research indicated customers wouldn’t pay more than $3,000 — and identified $2,000 as an ideal price. Instead, the finished product cost $6,500.

The Apple Park campus, meanwhile, budgeted at under $3 billion, came in at $5 billion. “That makes it the third most expensive modern building at the time of completion, not just in the U.S. but in the world,” Nocera writes.

Apple Park comparison to NeXT Computer doesn’t stand up

It’s certainly an interesting comparison (and it’s not Apple Park’s first damning review). However, if Nocera’s goal is to rise above the massive number of misguided Apple doom predictions, it doesn’t stand up.

For one thing, Apple’s not trying to sell its campus to customers. There’s a big difference between spending $5 billion out of a $250 billion cash pile to construct a headquarters you can afford, and pouring money down the drain building a ridiculously expensive computer that doesn’t fulfill users’ demands.

Nocera may have a point that both creations are examples of massive hubris. But for all kinds of reasons, the situation of Apple, circa 2017, looks absolutely nothing like that of Jobs, circa 1985. Besides, while the NeXT Computer failed, the software developed for it wound up setting up the most successful years ever for Jobs and Apple.

Then again, maybe the author’s still upset that Jobs once called him out as a “slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.”

You can read Nocera’s article in full here.