Attendees of the Macworld Expo San Francisco next week will get the chance to see Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on the show floor. A company that makes tablet versions of the MacBook hopes that his appearance in the booth will help sell the product. Good luck to them with this experiment -— if you invite Woz to speak for your company to the public, be prepared for him to present his honest opinion, which will be genuine and interesting but potentially painful.
I look forward to seeing Woz in action at the Axiotron booth, the maker of the tablet-ized MacBook called the Modbook. The company announced on Wed. that Woz will speak with CEO Andreas Haas during next week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
... Mr. Wozniak will present his vision of how Axiotron’s approach may represent a bridge between past breakthroughs and future innovations.
“I look forward to Steve’s participation at Macworld,” said Mr. Haas. “His excitement about our Modbook has been both gratifying and inspiring. As fellow Newton MessagePad enthusiasts, Steve and I share the desire to bring back some of those powerful pen tablet features that have been dormant for so long, and I am delighted to present some of what we have been working on.”
Wow, this is brave of Axiotron. First, based on a video interview with Spencer Kelly for the BBC's Click technology show, Woz says he has an engineer's disdain for CEOs. So, Haas should hope that he can melt Woz's heart.
Perhaps that's why he's bringing up the Newton? It's a Cupertino casebook for a "great technology" but a market failure. Don't they remember how the Newton MessagePad was greeted in the marketplace? And how Palm pounded the Newton into oblivion? (I speak as a faithful owner of two MessagePads.) Warning: memories of Newton — no matter how nostalgic they wax — should mix with current brands.
In addition, while a talk with Woz can be mostly be about technological history and market context, it appears that he can veer off message quickly and "go rogue." This was evident in the BBC interview. Kelly asked a leading question about iPhone hacks and Woz took the bait. He said he's a big fan of jailbreaking.
"I love it and some of the applications. You have applications now that can record video that's at pretty good quality, 15 frames a second. I'm a user so I want those things. I want more of the world and I don't like to be locked off from it because I'm the kind of person who wants to site down and write some hacks, code some useful programs. That's the whole idea of open-source movements."
Suddenly, he looks as if he remembered the Apple party line that jailbreaking is bad, bad, bad. In the next breath, he said: "So, the iPhone is closed. But you know what, the iphone isn't necessarily a raw computer platform."
What? [Insert the 1940s toon sound of a shaking head here.]
Woz then went on to say that the closed platform is best and that Apple has "taken some reasonable steps" to avoid performance and network security issues.
But a couple of minutes later he's back in rogue town saying that Google's more-open Android platform "sounds like a lot of fun," and that "Apple will learn a good lesson" if it's a success.
Good luck, Axiotron.
Naturally, the Mac community loves Steve Wozniak: he is one of the legends of the personal computer industry, the cofounder of Apple, and a television celebrity (hello, The Colbert Report interview and the Kathy Griffin Show Season 4 ). All of this counts for a lot in geek culture.
But does all that history make Woz relevant to the Mac sitting on your desk and to the iPhone in your pocket? Nope.
While Woz has a great place in Apple history, he is only a footnote to the history of the Macintosh. Woz created the Apple II (and the Apple I) and wasn't an early fan of the Macintosh, which was a closed box. Wozniak has always been an advocate for hacking and the Apple II offered an open architecture.
(I note that there was also internal bickering in Cupertino over the worth of Apple and Mac lines to the company. Longtime Apple watchers remember that Apple's bottom line was dominated for years by the Apple II following the Mac's introduction. The expensive Mac was sold into the higher education market, a smaller market than the expandable Apple II.)
So, Woz is a computing pioneer but not a longtime Mac or iPhone developer. He's an engineer and an expert in educational computing. But when it comes down to today's Macintosh and iPhone hardware and software, Woz is just another power user. Don't count on him for a glimpse of Apple strategic direction.
At the same time, I admit that he's an entertaining user with a unique viewpoint. We will see how entertaining he gets next week in the Axiotron booth.