In the history of tech, there are very few people who made more impact than Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Today in Singapore, the man credited with inventing and developing the Apple I and Apple II personal computers, spoke at a media roundtable, in conjunction with Paypal’s FinTech Xchange 2016 event.
The Wizard of Woz discussed a wide range of topics — including his thoughts about Apple, leadership style, startup economies and why he signed an open letter calling Donald Trump unfit to be America’s next president.
Below are the edited excerpts from the interview:
Will Apple remain a dominant player in the years to come?
I think it is wrong to think Apple will be a dominant player in the years to come. It will be a dominant player in the centuries to come.
You are a certain size, and you get a lot of retries. When things have dips, it can’t go away forever. It’s kind of like IBM, just decades or centuries, Apple will still be a very major force in our life.
In the near term will Apple have some ups and downs that can certainly happen always, but I think it still has the same spirit, same morale level. People are excited about building Apple products inside.
Tim Cook marks his five-year anniversary next week. What is your assessment of how he guided the company?
When Steve Jobs died, there was a tendency for people to say, “oh no, Apple has lost a key force and it will be in decline and it won’t be innovative because it all came from one person”.
And I said, “wait a minute, don’t be judgemental for a couple of years”.
And then I started to appreciate Tim Cook for the advances in our iPhone software. The advances were in ways that gave the users more abilities to interface with a lot of devices in their home.
Apple was the leader in developing touchID for smartphones, which they all have now. Apple was the leader in developing a simple payment system. Before that there was Google wallet and it was worse than a credit card. It was horrible, you wouldn’t want to use it.
[Editor’s Note: The next point refers to the Apple and US Justice Department dispute].
I very much admire Tim Cook for standing up for the privacy of individuals. Because for my whole life, Apple has meant to me a trial between who is more important, the human or the technology. You want to favour the human.
Privacy is one of those things that belongs in the human sphere and interference on privacy and the ability to snoop has really come into the technology sphere.
He has also been very open about saying, “hey, everybody of different cultures, different types, different ethnicities, different gender and sexual backgrounds all are treated the same”. We have the exact same pay now for women and men, and I think we are the only company in technology that has met that goal.
As far as products, the way people most judge [Apple], our sales are high, but what is Apple’s brand based on? It’s based on a long legacy of people that are satisfied and happy with how the product works. Apple has not let me down, and somehow made a product that is ‘eh’.
As smartphones become more similar, its competition is becoming a big factor in the Apple world, and that will have some effect.
What are you expecting from Apple’s new product launches?
Oh, I don’t pay too much attention until the products come out.
There is going to be big talk about an iPhone 7, what it’s features are? I don’t think anyone knows until Tim Cook and others introduce it on stage.
Giving up the earphone jack is something I don’t agree with yet, but we always get used to what we have and play with it. Sometimes you have to move into the future and Apple does that more drastically than other technology companies.
I think they are taking some big advances towards artificial intelligence. They’re synapse chips.
What is the future of smartphones?
Future of smartphones?
Well, it is already going to a lot of wearable devices. I much prefer to use Apple Pay from my watch.
You know it is questionable, [but] virtual reality is going to have a big hit with games to begin with, and Apple is not really that strong a player in the computer game market. They don’t have the hardware that can drive the Oculus Rift.
I would think self-driving cars that have a big purpose in our lives economically, meaning ride-sharing and the like. Delivery vehicles. The market size is big enough to attract a company like Apple.
With Apple in India and China in particular. What does Apple have to do to get a niche in those markets?
I don’t pay attention to the economics of it. I noticed where I go in China and India — which is seldom and not very many places — I run into a lot of people that have an admiration for Apple. It doesn’t mean the market will be hard to penetrate for a lot of reasons.
I think Apple is a strong contender and there are just some barriers to break down to have the market share.
Is Silicon Valley as a culture noticing the rise of other startup hubs globally
I’ve never noticed the culture of Silicon Valley is really worried about Silicon Valleyish technology hubs springing up in other places.
We have about six major ones in the US where almost the same percentage of people work in technology as Silicon Valley, which is 43 per cent.
For a long time, it has been a very global business and work. Silicon Valley is one of 10 counties in the US where non-English is spoken by more than 50 per cent of people at [their] home.
The influx, we are a centre for immigration of smart people that love technology.
So it boils to a lot of brains around the world. The Internet has brought almost everything you can think of, including parts, resources, communications, ideas and marketing. Everywhere in the world is the same.
And everywhere I go I see a lot countries that want to spring up there own hubs for economic reasons to have a lot of innovation. New companies, startups and entrepreneurs are encouraged. Singapore is one of those.
I’ve never felt anywhere in Silicon Valley that said, ‘oh my gosh, we’re losing the touch’. We’re so huge, so overcrowded, so expensive to live in, you can hardly drive.
[Joking] Some of us actually hope we will have another downturn.
What is the next gadget the world needs?
[Laughs] I wish I knew.
Right now, I think that for young people to learn how to adapt technology to build their own devices and their robots to programme them to do certain tasks, think we are in really good shape.
I think that is one of the big keys; it starts with the young people learning how to do the modern things.
What advice do you have for young people starting a company
If you are building a product that people would want to buy, you are using your best ideas [to figure out] ‘here is what they want’.
But what if you are one of those people? And thinking ‘this is what I want’? And if you have a really good mind and think of simplicity and elegance, make it simple and easy to use, and it’s a beautiful attractive experience, that is where it comes from.
And if it’s for yourself, you don’t give up and you don’t say ‘I am going to put in every feature in the world I can’. That’s the wrong way to think.
Everyone wants to be a market leader, but what does it take?
If someone like me had a formula then there are million people smarter than me that would really have the formulas.
Very often a great product comes out, and every judgement I have says this is great. It is superior, it does a nice job, it simplifies things.
But it doesn’t go?
What is the greatest power you can have in a product from a leadership point of view?
Which company is really shaking things up, disrupting Silicon Valley?
Disruptive to ways that we have lived before. I am often asked, ‘what is the product that changed your life the most?’
The answer now is ‘the third-party app stores’. Because people thought of ideas and tried them and found successful things. And I look at these things and how much they mean to my life.
And at the end of the day I say what would I have done in the past?
What does Singapore need to do to become better?
The desire to be better comes number one. When you want to succeed in a certain way, and want to be innovative, that’s number one.
But it really comes about in your personality, and personalities get formed around the age of 20.
So young people going through that 20-ish age frame, if they are encouraged they can come up with their own ideas and succeed and people are willing to join to support them.
And support can come from the government. Queensland in Australia I know is very adamant about funding a lot of incubators and providing startup assistance.
That can be of help because one thing we had in the Silicon Valley is so many companies for so many decades spun off other companies. Funding methods. There were funding methods that knew these things turned into big business.
So everybody in the world, Singapore obviously, recognises that technology is usually digital technology…and that is really the future.
Why did you sign the anti-Trump open letter?
You know what.
The great innovators I know are of a mindset that is very open and listening to other people and ideas.
And they are not driven emotionally. No, they are thought out. Return on investment. Here’s what we are going to spend, here is what we get back, it is very carefully analysed.
Trump’s way is just so… whoah. Go round about and blame certain things for problems. That’s not even how we solve technology problems.
I don’t know, [we are] very inclusive.
As I mentioned before, Silicon Valley is one of the ten counties where more than half the people speak non-English at home. We have to be very inclusive of everybody; they have to come over, they have helped us grow, they have helped us become what we are.
Trump has been unfamiliar — and unkind to — a lot of technology companies in his comments and his speeches.
He says “let’s make America great”. Right now, the one thing that makes America great is companies like Apple. The technology companies that are based in Silicon Valley. Microsoft came up in the United States. We really are at the front of the world.
Why would he attack something that really does make America great?
Caring about human rights is very important. You can be a caring person, or a ‘you don’t think the way I do, you’re bad’. I don’t think that way.
So that’s why I signed it.