What Steve Wozniak says: Builders matter more than ideas

Apple's enthusiastic co-founder Steve Wozniak holds court on everything from why he wants to be a Glasshole to a passion for engineering as well as every gadget he can find.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

ORLANDO — To say Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is enthusiastic about technology is an understatement. He's just as excitable when it comes to engineering and the builders that take ideas and concepts and make them real with a human touch.

"Builders know which new things can be developed and made into a final product," said Wozniak. "I credit builders for all the advancements."

Saying that you had an idea 10 years ago and not delivering on a product is irrelevant because "science fiction writers also had the same idea," said Wozniak.

Wozniak, or Woz, is a technology icon best known for his role in Apple, but has had a hand in early Internet of things development as well as solid-state storage company Fusion-io. Fusion-io was recently acquired by Sandisk. Today, Wozniak's passion — aside from gadgets and tinkering with technology, is encouraging and cultivating young engineering talent.

The Apple co-founder talked about 100 miles an hour and entertained the Gartner Symposium audience at the same pace. The man is frenetic with tech passion oozing out of him. Wozniak held court on everything from the two-dollar bill to CDs to innovation to Ethernet cords. There aren't any technologies that couldn't get Woz wound up.

"I'm gadget oriented and I test it out. It has to be in your hand to test it out," said Wozniak.


Wozniak tries to stay open and accessible and has wound up fielding a ton of ideas and queries from engineers about a bevy of topics. His recurring theme is to develop technology and products that matter to you personally instead of the masses.

Gartner analysts played a game with Wozniak where he'd riff on various rapid fire topics. Wozniak often forgot the question after his rants.


Among Woz topics:

  • He's turned off by smartwatches. Wozniak said he couldn't find a good use for smartwatches compared to his smartphone.
  • "I like Google Glass." Wozniak was wound up about Google Glass. He said it triggers ideas about what life can be. "The more people say Glasshole, the more I want to wear them."
  • On talent. "Young engineers mean the most to me," he said. "I think about young entrepreneurs...and they shouldn't go at the speed of a university class."
  • Fusion-io. "I wound up at Fusion-io because they scored a lunch with me. I had to be part of that company. They put chips right into the server. I admire those type of things as an engineer. At the second lunch they asked if I would join them. I admired their brains. There's more coming up along those lines, but I can't talk about it yet," said Wozniak.
  • Apple Pay. Wozniak cheered Google's early efforts with NFC and tap to pay. Google's efforts were spotty in the field. Apple Pay will have the critical mass. "Google had the software, but not the partners," said Wozniak. Apple Pay isn't likely to save you much time, but it's cool. "There are so many things going on with consumer payment systems. I try them all," he said.
  • Ethernet and Wi-Fi have been great for the world and the best standardization moves for connectivity.
  • Security. "I try to have just a few passwords, but I have so many accounts with sets of rules. To keep things straight I keep lists printed or at least on my computer. I'm hopeless," he said. "Passwords should be a tattoo on my hand."
  • Batteries. He likes Android phones because they can charge wirelessly. "I feel like I'm free," he quipped.
  • The iPhone worked because Steve Jobs designed a device for himself. "And he didn't share it with Bill Gates like he did with the Mac," said Wozniak. Tesla is another example of a product designed for the founder — Elon Musk — and not the masses. That's how great products are designed sometimes, said Wozniak.
  • "Everything with a computer fails," said Wozniak. And that's a problem for technology in cars and other key life tools.
  • Innovation comes from smaller spin-offs from large companies and young entrepreneurs. That's a challenge for large companies. "Rarely do you get advancements in a large company," said Wozniak. "How do you do that? I don't know. Connections to universities matter. I would look for builders." Any CEO should try to find a steady stream of young talent, he added.
  • Voice recognition. Wozniak said the technology isn't far enough along to understand everything. Wozniak said Google "Voice recognition is a key part of the future. It'll be like a best friend who knows your heart and soul," said Wozniak. "He'll point out when a pretty girl walks by."
  • Computers will become conscious at some point. Companies will skip the humans at some point. Wozniak doesn't like that thought so he's betting that Moore's Law will tap out and we won't be able to replicate all the human neurons.
  • The Internet has infinite potential and could acquire consciousness. Wozniak said we have to approach things like a human would. Wozniak touted IBM's research on semiconductors that mimic the human brain.
  • There's no loyalty to telecom carriers. Wozniak said he has no loyalty to telecom carriers and often switches service. "AT&T had a terrible reputation, but I get better service than I do from Verizon now," said Wozniak. "I go back and forth."
  • Final word: "Don't take sides too much," said Wozniak. He was referring to platform wars in technology and the religion behind it. "Be nice and make people like you," said Wozniak. "If someone else does something different than you don't criticize products just because they're not yours."


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