Steve Jobs on Choosing Future Technologies


At AllThingsD's D8 conference in 2010, Steve Jobs made what would be his final appearance at the tech conference after numerous interviews with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Among the numerous topics discussed, including his views of the problems with the TV market, Jobs outlined Apple's (NAS: AAPL) viewpoint on the types of technologies that it uses in its products.

To Flash or not to Flash
At the time, Apple was waging a high-profile war on Adobe (NAS: ADBE) Flash, excluding support for the format in its iDevices and leading to much criticism. The iPad had just been launched a few months prior (without Flash support), and skeptics said the lack of Flash support meant the iPad couldn't properly serve up much of the Internet, as many sites use the proprietary format.

At the height of the controversy, Jobs penned an open letter, "Thoughts on Flash," laying out Apple's rationale for ditching a technological mainstay of the Web itself.

The conversation led to this exchange (excerpted from AllThingsD):

Walt Mossberg: What if people say the iPad is crippled in this respect?

Steve Jobs: Well you know, I'd say two things. Number one: Things are packages of emphasis. Some things are emphasized in a product, some things are not done as well, some things are chosen not to be done at all in a product. And so different people make different choices and if the market tells us we're making the wrong choices then we listen to the market.

We're just people running this company. We're trying to make great products for people. And so we have at least the courage of our convictions to say, "We don't think this is part of what makes a great product, and we're gonna leave it out." Some people are gonna not like that, they're gonna call us names, it's not going to be in certain company's vested interests that we do that, but we're gonna take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers.

We're going to instead focus our energy on these technologies, which we think are in their ascendancy and we think are gonna be the right technologies for customers. And you know what? They're paying us to make those choices. That's what a lot of customers pay us to do. Is to try and make the best products we can.

And if we succeed, they'll buy them. And if we don't, they won't. And it'll all work itself out. So far, I'd have to say, people seem to be liking iPads. We've sold one every three seconds since we launched it.

This quote stuck out to me for a number of reasons.

It outlines Apple's willingness to be an early adopter for technologies that it firmly believes are ramping up to become key contributors to the future, while abandoning those that it believes are outdated and need to be replaced.

In the case of the iPad and Flash, HTML5 is the technology that Apple touted as the superior format, with Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) soon joining in on the Flash bashing. Last year, Apple embraced with open arms its new Thunderbolt connectivity port, developed in conjunction with Intel (NAS: INTC) , which promised data transfer speeds up to 20 times as fast as the dominant USB 2 standard at the time:


Source: Intel.

Despite the lack of many peripherals actually using this interface, Apple jumped in feet first to push the technology. Even today, Thunderbolt accessories are limited and extremely expensive, almost prohibitively so for the average user.

Exhibit A
This stance was exemplified last week when Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. The Mac maker made the bold move of ditching several traditional technologies, such as a DVD optical drive, a wired Ethernet port, and even its own proprietary FireWire 800. Apple still supports these through adaptors and dongles, but in Apple's opinion they're obviously on their way out in favor of digital distribution, Wi-Fi only, and Thunderbolt and USB 3, respectively.

Apple chooses to focus on next-generation technologies in their "ascendancy." High-resolution Retina displays would also clearly fall into this category, a transition that began in 2010 with the iPhone 4.

"They're paying us to make those choices"
Interestingly, Jobs even framed this picking-and-choosing as a service to customers. Apple takes this responsibility into its own hands in the name of making a better product. In characteristic simplicity, he then acknowledges the market as the great equalizer that judges whether Cupertino is accomplishing this goal.

Despite all of the debate among pundits over what the iPad could or couldn't do, buyers snapped them up faster than any other Apple product category ever launched, rendering much of the discourse moot in the eyes of the almighty market.

Oh, and that three-second timeframe it took Apple to sell an iPad back then? It's gotten that lifetime figure down to just under one second.

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