Steve Jobs’ doodles reveal preoccupation with IBM

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Steve Jobs and IBM
Steve Jobs sends a message to the competition
Photo: Andy Hertzfield

A new book compiling the doodles and jotted notes of famous figures includes two from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, each with a cryptic reference to the bane of his existence, IBM.

Debuting last week, Scrawl: An A to Z of Famous Doodles is filled with the scribbles of more than 100 historically important people, from Queen Victoria and President Dwight Eisenhower to Clara Barton and Albert Einstein.

The doodles come from the private collection of the late autograph dealer David Schulson. It was written and curated by his family and published by Rizzoli.

Jobs was fairly uncomplicated in his feelings about IBM. He flipped a middle finger at the corporate logo for one photo, mocked the tech giant in a Wall Street Journal ad and suggested the world would “enter a computer Dark Ages for about 20 years” if Apple allowed Big Blue to control the personal computer market.

Steve Jobs’ doodles. What do they mean?

The Jobs entries in Scrawl are believed to be from 1985 and appear on unlined, looseleaf notebook paper.

Both include a crude sketch of what appears to be an envelope and the IBM letters centered on the flap.

On a yellow piece of paper, the envelope is the dominant doodle with three notes to the left: “F500, med” and “small.”

Steve Jobs' doodles
Pushing the envelop and an archrival?
Courtesy of: Schulson Autographs/Rizzoli

From Scrawl:

This sketch is from 1985 and invites multiple interpretations. “F500” might refer to a 1985 model of a Sony computer. Was Jobs imagining smaller computers than those already on the market, or monitors of decreasing sizes? Perhaps he was dismissing IBM or hinting at a collaboration with them, which did eventually happen. The sketch may also be a reminder to push the IBM envelope, and achieve another level of computing, or to change the nature of the envelope altogether.

On a blue sheet, the envelope appears much smaller amid jotted notes that are divided by the word “TECHNOLOGY.” There are also concentric circles drawn next to the envelope.

Steve Jobs' doodles
Big Blue mentioned again on blue paper.
Courtesy of: Schulson Autographs/Rizzoli

From Scrawl:

Interpreting someone’s notes always involves guesswork, but in the case of Steve Jobs, it’s all the more enigmatic. This blue sheet appears also to have been written in 1985, when Jobs was establishing NeXT, during a very preliminary meeting about the company. By dividing
the page with the word “Technology,” he might have been acknowledging the reality that IBM (above the line) held a more prominent place in America than both NeXT and Apple, founded in 1976. Despite this, the “Big Mac,” whose specifications are listed below the line, led the market in personal computing.

One note is clear: the meeting with Richard M. “Dick” Donnelly, president of General Motors Europe, was “on.” Most unclear is the doodle of concentric circles (there have been references to concentric circles in connection with Steve Jobs, the Apple logo, and Silicon Valley). However, it’s also possible that the doodle indicates the number three. Note the three connected words, “America—Factory—GM Visit.” This may hint at a trinity of important next steps for Jobs.

Scrawl is a hard-cover coffee table book that can be ordered from the Rizzoli website for $39.95.

Steve Jobs' doodles
Published by Rizzoli and available online and in local book stores.
Photo: Rizzoli

Rizzoli calls the book a “voyeur’s treasure trove of the ephemeral, in which cultural icons reveal their own preoccupations, passions, plans and distractions in the marginalia of their daily correspondence.”