Why Steve Jobs’ Playboy interview was his most revealing ever

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Jobs
This was one of the most in-depth interviews of Jobs' career.
Photo: Esther Dyson/Ann Yow-Dyson/Flickr CC

Playboy magazine may be more closely associated with bunnies than with bytes, but back in February 1985 it was home to one of the most revealing interviews of Steve Jobs’ career.

To mark the passing of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who died Wednesday at the age of 91, we revisit one of the most in-depth interviews Jobs ever gave, which was conducted at a particularly tumultuous time in his career.

Jobs’ words of wisdom

Steve Jobs’ interview with Playboy was conducted by David Sheff, a writer ten months Jobs’ junior. It was carried out the year after Jobs’ biggest triumph: the launch of the Macintosh 128K, a.k.a. the world’s first Mac. This was the greatest artistic achievement of Jobs’ career so far, and he was rightly proud of it.

Playboy Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs evidently lost out when it came to the cover.
Photo: Playboy

Unfortunately, there were two other events which were altogether less positive. The first of these was Jobs turning 30, which he appears to have taken like an early midlife crisis. The second, more major one was the beginning of a power struggle with CEO John Sculley, which ultimately led to Jobs leaving Apple later that year.

The entire interview is well worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few choice extracts, straight from Jobs’ mouth:

Apple’s approach to innovation:

“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

The pain of being passed over for the job of running the Lisa division:

“After setting up the framework for the concepts and finding the key people and sort of setting the technical directions, [Apple CEO Michael Scott] decided I didn’t have the experience to run the thing. It hurt a lot. There’s no getting around it.”

What happens when people age:

“People get stuck in…patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing.”

Working with Steve Wozniak:

“When you work with somebody that close and you go through experiences like the ones we went through, there’s a bond in life. Whatever hassles you have, there is a bond. And even though he may not be your best friend as time goes on, there’s still something that transcends even friendship, in a way. Woz is living his own life now. He hasn’t been around Apple for about five years. But what he did will go down in history.”

Why people will buy computers in the future:

“The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people — as remarkable as the telephone.”

The entire interview, one of the longest Jobs ever conducted with a journalist, can be read here. It’s a fascinating piece of tech history which shows just how bright and visionary Jobs was, and how he had many of his philosophies for computers mapped out right from the start.

We’re still glad he turned out to be wrong about his doubts concerning possible achievements in later life, though…

  • Furutan

    The worries of youth… He did his best work after 30.

    • Luke Dormehl

      I’ve always liked that Jobs quote for that reason. He wasn’t wrong about too much; we’re lucky one of the few times that he was came in assuming his best work was behind him.

  • bIg hIlL

    Interesting how Jobs was already on the WWW boat back in ’85 whilst Tim Berners-Lee was still inventing it LOL. It wasn’t made public until the early ’90s. Another interesting fact is that Berners-Lee was developing on a NeXT computer, though this must’ve been in the latter stages, as NeXT computers weren’t launched until ’88, all according to Wikipedia.

  • stanhope

    What an excellent choice of article to run!