When Steve Jobs cruises into the airy reception area on the Apple Computer campus in Cupertino, California, on a recent morning, nobody pays much attention to him, even though he's the company's CEO. He's wearing shorts, a black T-shirt and running shoes. Tall and a little gawky, Jobs has a fast, loping walk, like a wolf in a hurry. These days Jobs seems eager to distance himself from his barefoot youth – who was that crazy kid who once called the computer "a bicycle for the mind"? – and driven to prove himself as a clear-thinking Silicon Valley capitalist.
Jobs punches the elevator button to the fourth floor, where his small office is located. For a man who is as responsible as anyone for the wonder and chaos of Silicon Valley, Jobs' view of it all is surprisingly modest: shrubby treetops extending out toward San Francisco Bay, the distant whoosh of the freeway below.
There is nothing modest, however, about Apple's recent accomplishments. In the past few months, Jobs' company has rolled out the PowerMac G5, arguably the fastest desktop computer on the planet; has redesigned the Powerbook and iBook laptops; and introduced Panther, a significant upgrade of the OS X operating system. But Jobs' biggest move, and certainly the one closest to his heart, has been Apple's plunge into the digital-music revolution. It began two years ago, with the introduction of the iPod portable music player, which may be the only piece of Silicon Valley hardware that has ever come close to matching the lust factor of the original Macintosh. Then, in April of this year, Apple introduced its digital jukebox, the iTunes Music Store, first for the Mac, and then, in October, for Windows. The result: 20 million tracks downloaded, close to a million and a half iPods sold, aggressive deals with AOL and Pepsi, and lots of good PR for Apple as the savior of the desperately fucked-up music industry.
Still, Jobs' bet on digital music is a hugely risky move in many ways, not only because powerhouses such as Dell and Wal-Mart are gunning for Apple (and Microsoft will be soon, as well), but because success may depend on how well Jobs, a forty-eight-year-old billionaire, is able to understand and respond to the fickle music-listening habits of eighteen-year-olds in their college dorms.
Do you see any parallel between the music revolution today and the PC revolution in 1984?
Obviously, the biggest difference is that this time we're on Windows. Other than that, I'm not so sure. It's still very early in the music revolution. Remember, there are 10 billion songs that are distributed in the U.S. every year – legally – on CDs. So far on iTunes, we've distributed about 16 million [as of October]. So we're at the very beginning of this.
Bringing iTunes to Windows was obviously a bold move. Did you do much hand-wringing over it?
I don't know what hand-wringing is. We did a lot of thinking about it. The biggest risk was that we saw people buying Macs just to get their hands on iPods. Taking iPods to Windows – that was the big decision. We knew once we did that that we were going to go all the way. I'm sure we're losing some Mac sales, but half our sales of iPods are to the Windows world already.
How did the record companies react when you approached them about getting onboard with Apple?
There are a lot of smart people at the music companies. The problem is they're not technology people. The good music companies do an amazing thing. They have people who can pick the person who's gonna be successful out of 5,000 candidates. It's an intuitive process. And the best music companies know how to do that with a reasonably high success rate.
I think that's a good thing. The world needs more smart editorial these days. The problem is that that has nothing to do with technology. When the Internet came along and Napster came along, people in the music business didn't know what to make of the changes. A lot of these folks didn't use computers, weren't on e-mail – didn't really know what Napster was for a few years. They were pretty doggone slow to react. Matter of fact, they still haven't really reacted. So they're vulnerable to people telling them technical solutions will work – when they won't.
Because of their technological ignorance.
Because of their technological innocence, I would say. When we first went to talk to these record companies – about eighteen months ago – we said, "None of this technology that you're talking about's gonna work. We have Ph.D.s here who know the stuff cold, and we don't believe it's possible to protect digital content."
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