You wouldn’t guess that Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple 1 and Apple II computers and co-founder of Apple Computer with the late Steve Jobs, is shy. He can talk nonstop about those early days of soldering in a garage, installing chips and being on the edge of innovation.
He especially wants to be remembered for the Apple 2, where he introduced color and more features, all using fewer parts than their competitors.
And you especially wouldn’t believe his shyness after he appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” and learning the tango. “I don’t watch TV,” Wozniak said. “When they called, I thought they had the wrong person and then they said the show was for people who don’t dance. It was scary, scary stuff.”
Wozniak, now chief scientist for Salt Lake City, Utah-based Fusion-io, was the star attraction of an all-day sales and technology conference Thursday at the Schaumburg Convention Center hosted by New Jersey-based Avaya, which has offices in Lisle.
He talked of those early days when he lived to design and solder together a computer in two days while in high school. A school friend introduced him to Jobs and they have said they first talked about how they played pranks on others.
“He wasn’t a designer, but he knew how to build from paper, not from scratch like what I did,” he said.
But they became best friends and he realized Jobs’ potential for marketing, while Wozniak remained the steadfast engineer and inventor. They had no money, no experience and no offices. But they each chipped in $500 to start their own company. Wozniak said he sold his Hewlitt-Packard calculator for $500, but the buyer paid only half and never paid the rest. Still, he came up with the funds to make his investment, he said.
Their Apple 1 computer sold well, and Wozniak remembered Jobs’ first big order, $50,000, and how they scrambled to fill it while working out of Jobs’ house. Their side-job was getting noticed, but the “big guys” thought it would “eventually just go away.”
Then they came out with Apple II, which had fewer parts, color and simplicity for the average user.
But over time, Wozniak said he noticed “shifts in Steve’s personalty,” and Jobs’ drive for profitability. They also disagreed on platforms, when Wozniak wanted open technology that could be expanded, and Jobs wanted closed technology and limited expandability.
Wozniak also recalled how Apple was going to be included in the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. He wanted to go and offered to create a floppy disk in about two weeks, just so he could attend the trade show and display the new product with Jobs and other executives.
He worked every day up until the moment they opened their display in Vegas and got the floppy disk to work, he said. He also finally got the chance to also see the city he had heard so much about.
“I even taught Steve Jobs how to play craps on that trip,” he joked.
Wozniak also recalled how they learned about phone frequencies and how he could actually use those frequencies to use one phone number to place worldwide calls. He even imitated Henry Kissinger and placed a call to the Vatican, seeking to talk to the pope. When he called back again, the bishop at the Vatican told him he had already talked with Kissinger and it wasn’t him. “I was busted,” Wozniak said.
Despite all of his innovations and jokes, Wozniak said he looks forward to the future as technology continues to evolve. So what will we be using in 10 years?
Speech recognition, he said. Wozniak believes the technology will evolve to the point of being almost human.
“I eventually want it on my watch,” he said.
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