The expensive piano Steve Jobs bought the Mac team lives on

By

piano
Don't even think about playing the Samsung ringtone.
Photo: Freddy Anzures/Instagram

From lavishing employees with stock options to offering inspirational speeches to just plain yelling at folks, Steve Jobs had plenty of methods he could use to drive people to do their best work.

When it came to developing the original Macintosh, however, he had another ace up his sleeve: he bought them a crazy expensive piano. And, from the look of things, it lives on at Apple.

Symbols of excellence

Perks in Silicon Valley are nothing new, but normally they extend to things like foosball tables and free food and laundry services, rather than anything that could be considered “high culture.” That was one of the ways the original Mac team, which was sequestered away from Apple while they developed the first-gen Macintosh 128K, was different.

“In the Mac building Steve Jobs had bought a piano, just in case anyone felt like playing,” Bruce Tognazzini, an Apple engineer who was working in a different part of the company at the time, told me when I interviewed him for my book The Apple Revolution. “It was a Bösendorfer, which is one of the finest pianos in the world. They cost $75,000 to 80,000, and it was just sitting out there in the lobby. That was only playable by the Mac team, and only during development time.”

This wasn’t just about showing off, though. In the years before Apple had an inspirational campus like its new Apple Park, Jobs felt that the Bösendorfer — and other items like black and white photography prints of the American West by Ansel Adams — were important to inspire the team to think of the Mac as a work of art. (Remember that this is the same computer he later got the original team to sign, just like any other artist!)

“I don’t even know if you’d call some of those perks,” Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team, told me. “They were things that I would refer to as symbols. Steve was always thinking about how best to inspire the team and how to reflect our values, which were really his values. So he started getting these beautiful objects for the Mac building… You could call those perks. I mean, they were expensive, but really – at least in Steve’s mind – they were symbols of excellence.”

A source of inspiration

Today, it seems that the Bösendorfer lives on at Apple, now accompanied by a large image of Steve Jobs holding up the MacBook Air, taken around the time of its launch in 2008. The photo was shared on Instagram by Freddy Anzures, a designer in the Human Interface Group at Apple, who reportedly came up with the original “slide to unlock” mechanism on the iPhone, among other things.

In a recent Instagram post, Anzures wrote that:

“This Bösendorfer grand piano was a gift from Steve Jobs to the team that created the original Macintosh in 1984. They were musicians and artists who understood that technical mastery alone is not enough. They believed the true measure of the things we create is the joy they bring and that beauty matters.”

More than 30 years on, it’s great to see that the piano is still available to inspire Apple employees.