Apple's closed ecosystem not all bad: Woz

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has put to bed claims that he is a fierce advocate for open architecture over closed architecture, saying that he sees value in both.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has put to bed claims that he is a fierce advocate for open architecture over closed architecture, saying that he sees value in both.

Steve Wozniak

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Credit: Luke Hopewell)

Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce and iiNet-sponsored summit in Sydney this morning, Wozniak said that while Apple started out as being very open, with the Apple II being a "very open machine", Steve Jobs was drawn towards closed architectures after that. Wozniak said that he isn't a fan of closed architectures, but admitted that they have their benefits.

"There's a lot of things about the closedness of Apple I don't like and wouldn't have done myself, but obviously I'm very overjoyed with the quality of the products. So is that a result or not? I'm not expert enough to say," he said.

"If making it open would give us not the quality of Apple products all working together like they do, I would say keep it closed."

Wozniak questioned how anyone could convince a company like Apple, which is making so much money in a closed architecture, that opening up the iOS ecosystem could be beneficial to Apple.

"I like a lot of the openness I see in Facebook or Google, and how things can interplay on the internet. I think that Apple could be just as strong and good and be open, but how can you challenge it when a company is making that much money?

"I'd like a programming language, like Apple script, on my iPad," he said, but added that Apple wouldn't let people get applications on their iPad that don't come from the iTunes store itself.

While Wozniak has previously said that putting marketers in charge, who didn't listen to the engineers when the Apple III was being developed, was a major reason that the product flopped in the '80s, he said today that it is ultimately for the best that engineers don't run Apple today.

"Fortunately, at Apple, the major decisions weren't made by engineers. At Hewlett-Packard, that was the case, and it was appropriate because we were making products for engineers. If we had engineering making all the decisions at Apple, it would have been — in my mind — very bad."

He said that while engineers may be able to come up with clever ideas to make a product run more efficiently, unless there is any impact on the user, there is no benefit for that user. With many engineers coming up with many ideas, ultimately, this makes the product more complex, in his opinion.

"Apple products, if you look at them, are very much different, and that is thanks to basically having one mind at the top that would not let them get overly complicated; have good, friendly things for normal human beings and have very few functions that get in the way, but still let you do what you want to do, but not a lot of gizmos."

Apple's notoriously high level of secrecy is also beneficial to the company, he said, because it allows Apple to get a product exactly right before announcing it.

"Steve Jobs, upon his return, kept a lot of projects secret from the outside world. The outside world sort of knew every step Apple was making for a long time, and it really inhibited innovation. If everyone knows what you're doing, you're almost scared to take any steps that are very risqué, very different," he said.

He pointed to the iPhone, and said that the key to Apple's redesign of the mobile phone as we know it was that the company was able to work on it over a number of years.

"With the iPhone, secrecy allowed a whole new look at mobile, and where it was going to go with the internet. There were a lot of attempts at Apple to get it to the phone market. A company like Apple that is so good at everything developed phones for quite a number of years, and the trouble is that they just didn't have that special thing that this is so new, so different, so special."

The leap, he said, was in the a single, multi-touch glass touchscreen of the iPhone.

Woz left his full-time role at Apple in 1987, but is still a paid employee, and has shares in the company. He now works at storage company Fusion-io, and says he has no regrets over leaving Apple before Jobs' triumphant return in the 1990s.

"I judge my life not by Apple's success, not by amounts of money that we made," he said. "I do a little bit miss that I missed out on the iProducts [and] having them right there on the spot, because they're so exciting, but, as a consumer, I get to enjoy that anyway."

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