4 Things Steve Jobs Was Right About, And 3 He Got Wrong

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died 10 years ago today. He's widely considered one of the greatest technology visionaries of all time, and the company he founded is now worth more than 2 trillion dollars, the most valuable in the world.

Jobs' legacy is not in doubt, and Apple has continued to flourish since his death on October 5, 2011: shares bought 10 years ago have gone up over 1,100% in value.

However, although many of his predictions for the future came true, he got a few wrong too. Here are the highlights.

Computers and the web

In an interview with Playboy in 1985, several years before Tim Berners-Lee and hypertext, Jobs said, "The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network."

Back then, computers were used primarily for work purposes, and even that was rare.

"The primary reasons to buy a computer for your home now are that you want to do some business work at home or you want to run educational software for yourself or your children. If you can't justify buying a computer for one of those two reasons, the only other possible reason is that you just want to be computer literate," he said.

"You know there's something going on, you don't exactly know what it is, so you want to learn. This will change: Computers will be essential in most homes."

A year earlier, he had predicted that children would be using them from a young age, telling Newsweek's Access magazine: "You'd get one of these things maybe when you were 10 years old, and somehow you'd turn it on and it would say, you know, 'Where am I?' And you'd somehow tell it you were in California."

Information overload

One of the consequences of being plugged into that universal communications network is being overwhelmed by a deluge of information, another thing that Jobs saw coming.

"We live in an information economy, but I don't believe we live in an information society. People are thinking less than they used to. It's primarily because of television. People are reading less and they're certainly thinking less," he told Wired in 1996.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin started cooking up Google that same year, and while Jobs saw that the web would bring more information to people's fingertips than ever before, he didn't fully recognize just how reliant on the internet we'd become for everyday tasks, big and small.

In that same interview, he added: "So, I don't see most people using the web to get more information. We're already in information overload. No matter how much information the web can dish out, most people get far more information than they can assimilate anyway."

E-commerce

Jobs understood that the web could revolutionise one industry perhaps more than all others: commerce.

He predicted that sellers will be the biggest beneficiaries of the shift to digital, telling Wired in in interview in 1996: "People are going to stop going to a lot of stores. And they're going to buy stuff over the Web!"

However, in that same interview he downplayed the effect that the web could have on publishing, and along with retailers like Amazon it is social media firms that have gone on to dominate the web.

Just-in-time supply chains

Along the same lines, Jobs knew that the near-instantaneous flow of data across the web would completely change the pace of everyday life, delivering an analogy that has gone down in legend in that same 1996 interview.

"Today a dealer says, 'We can't get your car in a week. It takes three months.' And you say, 'Now wait a minute, I want to order a pink Cadillac with purple leather seats. Why can't I get that in a week?' And he says, 'We gotta make it.' And you say, 'Are you making Cadillacs today? Why can't you paint a pink one today?' And he says, 'We didn't know you wanted a pink one.' And you say, 'OK. I'm going to tell you I want a pink one now.' And he says, 'We don't have any pink paint. Our paint supplier needs some lead time on that paint.' And you say, 'Is your paint supplier making paint today?' And he says, 'Yeah, but by the time we tell him, it takes two weeks.' And you say, 'What about leather seats?" And he says, "God, purple leather. It'll take three months to get that.'

"You follow this back, and you find that it's not how long it takes to make stuff; it's how long it takes the information to flow through the system. And yet electronics move at the speed of light—or very close to it."

Nobody wants a stylus

Several of Jobs' predictions have been used to beat Apple's CEO Tim Cook and long-time Chief Design Officer Jony Ive with, the most infamous example of all being the Apple co-founder's aversion to the stylus.

When the Apple Pencil launched alongside the iPad Pro in 2015, derisory comments that Jobs made almost a decade earlier were recirculated at Apple's expense.

"Who wants a stylus?" Jobs pointedly asked during the unveiling of the original iPhone in 2007.

"You have to get them and put them away and you lose them. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus."

Big screens

Of course, Apple's belated rejection of Jobs' less-than-complimentary view of the stylus was deemed necessary because of the steady expansion of phone and tablet screens.

Jobs had been adamant that hand-held devices shouldn't exceed a certain size, going as far as remarking that 7-inch tablets should include sandpaper so users could make their fingers smaller during a 2010 conference call.

He also compared large-screened phones to Hummers, and said that "no one" would buy one so big that "you can't get your hand around it."

In 2012, Apple launched the iPad Mini, which was 7.9 inches. The iPhone 13 is 6.7 inches.

Music streaming

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2003, Jobs expressed a strong view on subscription music services. Spotify didn't exist at this point, but Jobs was unequivocal about the idea.

"People don't want to buy their music as a subscription. They bought 45s, then they bought LPs, they bought cassettes, they bought 8-tracks, then they bought CDs. They're going to want to buy downloads."

Apple Music was introduced in 2015, and the company started to wind down iTunes in 2019.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs delivers a keynote address at the 2005 Macworld Expo on January 11, 2005 in San Francisco, California. The Apple co-founder is one of the most celebrated figures in business and technology. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images