“Microsoft’s McDonald’s”—so accused Steve Jobs in a 1995 sit-down with reporter Robert X. Cringely that is presented in its hourlong entirety in Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. Pieces of the interview already aired as part of Cringely’s Triumph of the Nerds, a series about the birth of the personal computer. But the master tape was lost—no big deal, at least until Apple’s resurgence via iPod, ’Phone, and ’Pad, and definitely with Jobs’ death last year. Oh no, how are we going to capitalize on the mock-turtlenecked one’s passing? Oh look, here’s a VHS copy of the whole interview, shot with a static camera, in the series’ director’s garage! Let’s RELEASE IT IN THEATERS.
Really? One imagines only the most diehard Jobs devotees would shell out a tenner to catch these not-all-that insights. The Apple co-founder may have revolutionized computing and in turn modern life, but this is a slice of Jobs arcana better suited for cable, or maybe 60 Minutes, if edited—which it should have been. Otherwise we have to sit through hard-hitting Cringely questions such as, “What’s it like to get rich?” or “What did people actually do with these things?” to get to the good stuff, of which there’s not quite enough.
Sure, it’s interesting to hear first-hand Jobs account of how he and Steve Wozniak built Apple when they were still kids, when they started their technological tinkering with a “blue box” that would allow the user to make free phone calls. That they “eased into” business and developed increasingly more sophisticated machines until they unveiled the first fully packaged personal computer is undoubtedly a marvel; Jobs says he was worth “over $1 million at 23, over $10 million at 24, over $100 million at 25.” But money didn’t motivate him as much as developing products that would enrich people’s lives, which he did by surrounding himself with the best thinkers around.
Which leads back to that McDonald’s reference. It wasn’t a remark on Microsoft’s popularity: “The problem with Microsoft,” he says, “is they just have no taste...they are very pedestrian.” Jobs’ goal was to produce “better things” and eventually make the public “understand the subtlety of these better things.” Jobs doesn’t specifically speak of design and elegance, but it’s implied.
At the time of this interview, Jobs wasn’t with Apple; after disagreements with CEO John Scully and the board, he was effectively told there was no longer a position for him there in 1985 and went on to found NeXT, another company. His opinion of his baby in1995? “Apple’s dying today....and I don’t really think it’s reversible at this time.” Jobs may have been wrong about that, but what was right-on was his prediction of the future of computing, particularly the way in which the Web would be “huge,” the “defining social moment” for computers and its users. So ultimately what The Lost Interview provides, along with some humanization of the mogul, is proof that Jobs was a visionary—and everyone already knows that.