Feisty Jobs takes swing at Google, Adobe, future of PC
Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs may look frail nowadays, but he showed plenty of fight, and humor, in a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday night at the D8: All Things Digital conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
Seattle Times technology columnist
RANCHO PALOS VERDE, Calif. — Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs may look frail nowadays, but he showed plenty of fight, and humor, in a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday night at the D8: All Things Digital conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
For nearly two hours, Jobs jousted with hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, who pressed the Apple co-founder on his company's strained relationship with Google and Adobe, competition with Microsoft and Apple's push into the ad business.
Even at the start of a three-day conference full of celebrity chief executives, Jobs received rock-star treatment. A crowd waited behind velvet ropes outside the ballroom at the Terranea Resort and surged when the doors opened at 5:45 p.m., jockeying for the best seats.
Swisher jumped right into the interview with Jobs, asking for his thoughts on Apple surpassing Microsoft's market capitalization last week.
"For those of us who have been in the industry a long time, it's surreal," Jobs said. "But it doesn't matter very much; it's not what's important. ... It's not why any of our customers buy our products. So I think it's good for us to keep that in mind."
Walt Mossberg kept up the pressure, asking Jobs about his controversial decision not to support Adobe's Flash technology on mobile devices — a technology that enables users to see video — and how it's affecting consumers and developers.
Jobs said Apple makes technical decisions to support what it sees as emerging technologies such as its early decision to support the 3.5-inch computer disk over the 5-inch floppy disk and to drop serial ports on the Mac.
He said Apple believes Flash is on the "wane" and HTML5 is in its spring phase.
"Sometimes when we get rid of things like the floppy-disc drive in the first iMac, people call us crazy," Jobs said.
"Or at least premature," Mossberg said.
"No, they call us crazy," Jobs said.
Swisher and Mossberg also pressed Jobs to discuss the growing tension between Apple and Google. They tried to pin him down on whether Apple will replace Google as the search service on its mobile devices — some have speculated Microsoft's Bing may take its place — but Jobs sidestepped the question.
What changed in the relationship between Apple and Google?
"They decided to compete with us, and so they are," Jobs said.
How about PC operating systems with Google's Chrome OS?
"Chrome is not really baked yet, so we'll see."
Asked about Apple's long platform war with Microsoft, Jobs said he never thought about the competition that way.
"We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft," Jobs said. "Maybe that's why we lost — we saw ourselves building the best computers we could build."
Jobs drew laughs talking about why he prefers the consumer market over the business-enterprise market, in which Microsoft is a huge force.
"What I love about the consumer market and I always hated about the enterprise market is we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it and every person votes for it themselves. They vote yes or no," Jobs said.
"The enterprise market, it's not so simple — the people that use the product don't decide for themselves. The people that make those decisions sometimes are confused."
The conversation elicited an interesting story about the genesis of the iPad.
Jobs said he'd asked his team to develop some kind of display he could type on early in the decade and they produced an amazing touch-screen system. Scrolling and other features made him think, "My God, we can build a phone out of this."
Phones were a more important market, so the tablet was shelved while the iPhone was created.
"When we got our wind back and thought we could take on something next, [we] pulled the tablet off the shelf, took everything we learned from the phone and went to work on the tablet," he said.
Jobs predicted PCs are going to be used less and less as new computing devices emerge. What the dominant computing device will be is unclear.
"Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it happen five years or seven years from now, who knows?" Jobs said. "But I think we're headed in that direction."
Swisher asked about plans for the iPad and how it could help the struggling news industry. Jobs said he hopes he's helping newspapers "find new ways of expression so they can afford to get paid, so they can keep their newsgathering organizations intact."
"Even more than magazines, some of these newspapers — the newsgathering and editorial organizations — are really important," Jobs said. "I don't want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers myself. I think we need editorial more than ever right now."
Apple is also going to enter the advertising business, but Jobs said the company won't make a lot of money with the new venture. He said the objective is to help developers make money so they can keep providing free or low-cost apps.
News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch opened the event, recalling how Jobs appeared at the first D conference eight years ago. Jobs talked then about misunderstandings between technology and content creators, a gap that Murdoch believes has since narrowed.
"The worlds of technology and content have moved much closer since our first gathering," Murdoch said. "In fact sometimes the line between them has been completely erased."
Brier Dudley's blog excerpts appear regularly on Thursdays and on other days of the week. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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