January 7, 1997: Steve Wozniak returns to Apple to participate in an advisory role, reuniting with co-founder Steve Jobs onstage at the Macworld Expo.
Woz’s Cupertino homecoming is revealed at the end of the Macworld conference. With Jobs’ recent return to Apple (thanks to the NeXT buyout, it marks the first time the two co-founders have been at Apple together since 1983. It’s a great way to celebrate Apple’s 20th anniversary. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last.
Bringing the band back together
As I’ve written before in “Today in Apple history,” Woz’s interest in Apple centered predominantly on the Apple II and the days before Apple became a giant company. Whereas Jobs pushed for more power after Apple went public in December 1980, Wozniak took the $116 million he made in the IPO and investigated new avenues.
This included everything from pursuing the computer science degree he never got, raising kids, promoting a couple of giant music festivals and other ventures.
By 1997, Woz’s beloved Apple II product line had been out of action for around four years, and the Macintosh had long since taken over. Apple was struggling, but reuniting the two co-founders gave faithful fans something to be optimistic about.
At the time, Jobs had recently rejoined Apple as part of the NeXT acquisition, intended to give Apple a new operating system. Like Woz, Jobs was supposed to be nothing more than an unofficial advisor to CEO Gil Amelio, although he wound up parlaying this into replacing Amelio as CEO.
When Woz and Jobs appeared onstage at Macworld, it was just the jolt of life the event needed. Amelio, never a smooth talker, spoke for hours in a rambling, unexciting manner, before finally bringing the co-founders on stage.
Jobs, however, spoiled the moment slightly by refusing to fully join in the triumphant scene. “He ruthlessly ruined the closing moment I had planned,” Amelio later complained.
Woz and Jobs: A short-lived return
As that moment suggested, Woz’s return to Apple wasn’t long-lived. Although he was full of ideas for resurrecting the company (such as seeking to expand its focus on the education market and producing easy-to-use machines), Jobs clearly viewed his own return as a one-man show, rather than as half of a double act.
Once Amelio lost his job in July, Jobs made CFO Fred Anderson call Wozniak and say that he was no longer needed in the advisory role.
While it sounds brutal, it may have been for the best. Jobs proved more than capable of turning around Apple with his own ideas. Furthermore, Woz wasn’t in total agreement with Jobs’ approach.
“To be honest, I was never all that crazy for the iMacs,” Woz wrote of the iMac G3, the computer that helped set Apple back on the path to success, in his biography. “I had my doubts about its one-piece design. I didn’t care about its colors and I didn’t think its looks were all that good. It turned out I just wasn’t the right customer for it.”
Wozniak’s return didn’t pan out as many hoped. Still, for those watching the Macworld Expo, it was a moment to be savored!