The lights dimmed as Jobs reappeared onstage and launched into a dramatic version
of the battle cry he had delivered at the Hawaii sales conference. “It is 1958,” he began.
“IBM passes up a chance to buy a young fledgling company that has invented a new
technology called xerography. Two years later, Xerox was born, and IBM has been kicking
themselves ever since.” The crowd laughed. Hertzfeld had heard versions of the speech
both in Hawaii and elsewhere, but he was struck by how this time it was pulsing with more
passion. After recounting other IBM missteps, Jobs picked up the pace and
the emotion as he built toward the present:
It is now 1984. It appears that IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer
IBM a run for its money. Dealers, after initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an
IBM-dominated and-controlled future and are turning back to Apple as the only force who
can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all, and is aiming its guns at its last obstacle to
industry control, Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire
information age? Was George Orwell right?
As he built to the climax, the audience went from murmuring to applauding to a frenzy of cheering
and chanting. But before they could answer the Orwell question, the auditorium went black and
the “1984” commercial appeared on the screen. When it was over, the entire audience was on its feet cheering.
With a flair for the dramatic, Jobs walked across the dark stage to a small table with a cloth bag on it.
“Now I’d like to show you Macintosh in person,” he said. He took out the computer, keyboard, and mouse,
hooked them together deftly, then pulled one of the new 3?-inch floppies from his shirt pocket.
The theme from Chariots of Fire began to play. Jobs held his breath for a moment, because the demo
had not worked well the night before. But this time it ran flawlessly. The word “MACINTOSH” scrolled
horizontally onscreen, then underneath it the words “Insanely great” appeared in script, as if being slowly
written by hand. Not used to such beautiful graphic displays, the audience quieted for a moment.
A few gasps could be heard. And then, in rapid succession, came a series of screen shots: Bill Atkinson’s
QuickDraw graphics package followed by displays of different fonts, documents, charts, drawings, a chess game,
a spreadsheet, and a
rendering of Steve Jobs
with a thought bubble
containing a Macintosh.
The technology writer Steven Levy, who was then working for Rolling Stone, came to
interview Jobs, who urged him to convince the magazine’s publisher to put the Macintosh
team on the cover of the magazine. “The chances of Jann Wenner agreeing to displace Sting in
favor of a bunch of computer nerds were approximately one in a googolplex,” Levy thought,
correctly. Jobs took Levy to a pizza joint and pressed the case: Rolling Stone was “on the ropes,
running crummy articles, looking desperately for new topics and new audiences. The Mac could
be its salvation!” Levy pushed back. Rolling Stone was actually good, he said, and he asked Jobs
if he had read it recently. Jobs said that he had, an article about MTV that was “a piece of shit.”
Levy replied that he had written that article. Jobs, to his credit, didn’t back away from the assessment.
Instead he turned philosophical as he talked about the Macintosh. We are constantly benefiting from
advances that went before us and taking things that people before us developed, he said. “It’s a
wonderful, ecstatic feeling to create something that puts it back in the pool
of human experience and knowledge.”
Levy’s story didn’t make it to the cover. But in the future, every major product launch that Jobs was involved
in—at NeXT, at Pixar, and years later when he returned to Apple—would end
up on the cover of either Time, Newsweek, or Business Week.
January 24, 1984
Most of all, Jobs fretted about his presentation. Sculley fancied himself a good writer,
so he suggested changes in Jobs’s script. Jobs recalled being slightly annoyed, but their
relationship was still in the phase when he was lathering on flattery and stroking Sculley’s ego.
“I think of you just like Woz and Markkula,” he told Sculley. “You’re like one of the founders
of the company.
They founded the company,
but you and I are
founding the future.”
Sculley lapped it up.
It was a sensation. That evening all three networks and fifty local stations aired news
stories about the ad, giving it a viral life unprecedented in the pre–YouTube era.
It would eventually be selected by both TV Guide and Advertising Age as
the greatest commercial of all time.
Over the years Steve Jobs would become the grand master of product launches.
In the case of the Macintosh, the astonishing Ridley Scott ad was just one of the
ingredients. Another part of the recipe was media coverage. Jobs found ways to ignite
blasts of publicity that were so powerful the frenzy would feed on itself, like a chain
reaction. It was a phenomenon that he would be able to replicate whenever there was a
big product launch, from the Macintosh in 1984 to the iPad in 2010. Like a conjurer, he
could pull the trick off over and over again, even after journalists had seen it happen a dozen
times and knew how it was done. Some of the moves he had learned from Regis McKenna,
who was a pro at cultivating and stroking prideful reporters. But Jobs had his own intuitive
sense of how to stoke the excitement, manipulate the competitive instincts of journalists,
and trade exclusive access for lavish treatment.
In December 1983 he took his elfin engineering wizards, Andy Hertzfeld and Burrell Smith, to
New York to visit Newsweek to pitch a story on “the kids who created the Mac.” After giving
a demo of the Macintosh, they were taken upstairs to meet Katharine Graham, the legendary
proprietor, who had an insatiable interest in whatever was new. Afterward the magazine sent its
technology columnist and a photographer to spend time in Palo Alto with Hertzfeld and Smith.
The result was a flattering and smart four-page profile of the two of them, with pictures that made
them look like cherubim of a new age. The article quoted Smith saying what he wanted to do next:
“I want to build the computer of the 90’s. Only I want to do it tomorrow.” The article also described
the mix of volatility and charisma displayed by his boss: “Jobs sometimes defends his ideas with highly
vocal displays of temper that aren’t always bluster; rumor has it that he has threatened to fire employees
for insisting that his computers should have cursor keys, a feature that Jobs considers obsolete.
But when he is on his best behavior, Jobs is a curious blend of charm and impatience, oscillating between
shrewd reserve and his
Sculley was initially skeptical when he saw the storyboards, but Jobs insisted that they
needed something revolutionary. He was able to get an unprecedented budget of
$750,000 just to film the ad, which they planned to premiere during the Super Bowl.
Ridley Scott made it in London using dozens of real skinheads among the enthralled
masses listening to Big Brother on the screen. A female discus thrower was chosen to
play the heroine. Using a cold industrial setting dominated by metallic gray hues, Scott
evoked the dystopian aura of Blade Runner. Just at the moment when Big Brother announces
“We shall prevail!” the heroine’s hammer smashes the screen and it vaporizes
in a flash of light and smoke.
When Jobs previewed the ad for the Apple sales force at the meeting in Hawaii, they
were thrilled. So he screened it for the board at its December 1983 meeting. When the
lights came back on in the boardroom, everyone was mute. Philip Schlein, the CEO of
Macy’s California, had his head on the table. Mike Markkula stared silently; at first it
seemed he was overwhelmed by the power of the ad. Then he spoke: “Who wants to
move to find a new agency?” Sculley recalled, “Most of them thought it was the worst
commercial they had ever seen.” Sculley himself got cold feet. He asked Chiat/Day to
sell off the two commercial spots—one sixty seconds, the other
thirty—that they had purchased.
Jobs was beside himself. One evening Wozniak, who had been floating into and out of
Apple for the previous two years, wandered into the Macintosh building. Jobs grabbed
him and said, “Come over here and look at this.” He pulled out a VCR and played the ad.
“I was astounded,” Woz recalled. “I thought it was the most incredible thing.” When Jobs
said the board had decided not to run it during the Super Bowl, Wozniak asked what the
cost of the time slot was. Jobs told him $800,000. With his usual
offered, “Well, I’ll
pay half if you will.”
Jobs liked that. Indeed the concept for the ad had a special resonance for him.
He fancied himself a rebel, and he liked to associate himself with the values of the
ragtag band of hackers and pirates he recruited to the Macintosh group. Even though
he had left the apple commune in Oregon to start the Apple corporation, he still wanted
to be viewed as a denizen of the counterculture rather than the corporate culture.
But he also realized, deep inside, that he had increasingly abandoned the hacker spirit.
Some might even accuse him of selling out. When Wozniak held true to the Homebrew
ethic by sharing his design for the Apple I for free, it was Jobs who insisted that they sell
the boards instead. He was also the one who, despite Wozniak’s reluctance, wanted to turn
Apple into a corporation and not freely distribute stock options to the friends who had been
in the garage with them. Now he was about to launch the Macintosh, a machine that violated
many of the principles of the hacker’s code: It was overpriced; it would have no slots, which
meant that hobbyists could not plug in their own expansion cards or jack into the motherboard
to add their own new functions; and it took special tools just to open the plastic case. It was
a closed and controlled system, like something designed by Big Brother rather than by a hacker.
So the “1984” ad was a way of reaffirming, to himself and to the world, his desired self-image.
The heroine, with a drawing of a Macintosh emblazoned on her pure white tank top, was a renegade
out to foil the establishment. By hiring Ridley Scott, fresh off the success of Blade Runner, as the
director, Jobs could attach himself and Apple to the cyberpunk ethos of the time. With the ad,
Apple could identify itself with the rebels and hackers
who thought differently,
and Jobs could reclaim
his right to identify
with them as well.
The “1984” AdIn the spring of 1983, when Jobs had begun to plan for the
Macintosh launch, he asked for a commercial that was as revolutionary and
astonishing as the product they had created. “I want something that will stop
people in their tracks,” he said. “I want a thunderclap.” The task fell to the Chiat/Day
advertising agency, which had acquired the Apple account when it bought the advertising
side of Regis McKenna’s business. The person put in charge was a lanky beach bum with
a bushy beard, wild hair, goofy grin, and twinkling eyes named Lee Clow, who was the
creative director of the agency’s office in the Venice Beach section of Los Angeles. Clow
was savvy and fun, in a laid-back yet focused way, and he forged a bond
with Jobs that would last three decades.
Clow and two of his team, the copywriter Steve Hayden and the art director Brent Thomas,
had been toying with a tagline that played off the George Orwell novel: “Why 1984 won’t be like
1984.” Jobs loved it, and asked them to develop it for the Macintosh launch. So they put together
a storyboard for a sixty-second ad that would look like a scene from a sci-fi movie. It featured a
rebellious young woman outrunning the Orwellian thought police and throwing a
sledgehammer into a screen showing a mind-controlling speech by Big Brother.
The concept captured the zeitgeist of the personal computer revolution. Many young people,
especially those in the counterculture, had viewed computers as instruments that could be used by
Orwellian governments and giant corporations to sap individuality. But by the end of the 1970s,
they were also being seen as potential tools for personal empowerment. The ad cast Macintosh
as a warrior for the latter cause—a cool, rebellious, and heroic company that was the only thing
the way of the big evil
corporation’s plan for
and total mind control.
The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?” At that moment a screen
came down from the ceiling and showed a preview of an upcoming sixty-second television ad for
the Macintosh. In a few months it was destined to make advertising history, but in the meantime
it served its purpose of rallying Apple’s demoralized sales force. Jobs had always been able to draw
energy by imagining himself as a rebel pitted against the forces of darkness. Now he was
able to energize his troops with the same vision.
Jobs was at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, preparing for the press previews, so a Sunday morning
conference call was scheduled. The software manager calmly explained the situation to Jobs, while
Hertzfeld and the others huddled around the speakerphone holding their breath. All they needed
was an extra two weeks. The initial shipments to the dealers could have a version of the software
labeled “demo,” and these could be replaced as soon as the new code was finished at the end of
the month. There was a pause. Jobs did not get angry; instead he spoke in cold, somber tones. He
told them they were really great. So great, in fact, that he knew they could get this done. “There’s
no way we’re slipping!” he declared. There was a collective gasp in the Bandley building work space.
“You guys have been working on this stuff for months now, another couple weeks isn’t going to make
that much of a difference. You may as well get it over with. I’m going to ship the code a week from
Monday, with your names on it.”
“Well, we’ve got to finish it,” Steve Capps said. And so they did. Once again, Jobs’s reality distortion
field pushed them to do what they had thought impossible. On Friday Randy Wigginton brought in a
huge bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans for the final three all-nighters. When Jobs arrived at
work at 8:30 a.m. that Monday, he found Hertzfeld sprawled nearly comatose on the couch. They talked
for a few minutes about a remaining tiny glitch, and Jobs decreed that it wasn’t a problem. Hertzfeld
dragged himself to his blue Volkswagen Rabbit (license plate: MACWIZ) and drove home to bed.
A short while later Apple’s Fremont factory began to roll out boxes emblazoned with the colorful line
drawings of the Macintosh.
Real artists ship, Jobs had
declared, and now the
Macintosh team had.
Belleville decided it was best to partially ignore Jobs, and he asked a Sony executive to
get its disk drive ready for use in the Macintosh. If and when it became clear that
Alps could not deliver on time, Apple would switch to Sony. So Sony sent over the engineer
who had developed the drive, Hidetoshi Komoto, a Purdue graduate who fortunately
possessed a good sense of humor about his clandestine task.
Whenever Jobs would come from his corporate office to visit the Mac team’s engineers—which
was almost every afternoon—they would hurriedly find somewhere for Komoto to hide.
At one point Jobs ran into him at a newsstand in Cupertino and recognized him from the
meeting in Japan, but he didn’t suspect anything. The closest call was when Jobs came
bustling onto the Mac work space unexpectedly one day while Komoto was sitting in one
of the cubicles. A Mac engineer grabbed him and pointed him to a janitorial closet.
“Quick, hide in this closet. Please! Now!” Komoto looked confused, Hertzfeld recalled,
but he jumped up and did as told. He had to stay in the closet for five minutes, until Jobs left.
The Mac engineers apologized. “No problem,” he replied. “But American business
practices, they are very strange. Very strange.”
Belleville’s prediction came true. In May 1983 the folks at Alps admitted it would take
them at least eighteen more months to get their clone of the Sony drive into production.
At a retreat in Pajaro Dunes, Markkula grilled Jobs on what he was going to do. Finally,
Belleville interrupted and said that he might have an alternative to the Alps drive ready soon.
Jobs looked baffled for just a moment, and then it became clear to him why he’d glimpsed
Sony’s top disk designer in Cupertino. “You son of a bitch!” Jobs said. But it was not in anger.
There was a big grin on his face. As soon as he realized what Belleville and the other engineers
had done behind his back, said Hertzfeld, “Steve swallowed his pride and
thanked them for disobeying him and
doing the right thing.
” It was, after all,
what he would have
done in their situation.
Accompanying the main story was a profile of Jobs, which was based
on the reporting done by Moritz and written by Jay Cocks, an editor
who usually handled rock music for the magazine. “With his smooth sales
pitch and a blind faith that would have been the envy of the early Christian
martyrs, it is Steven Jobs, more than anyone, who kicked open the door
and let the personal computer move in,” the story proclaimed. It was a richly
reported piece, but also harsh at times—so harsh that Moritz (after he wrote a
book about Apple and went on to be a partner in the venture firm Sequoia
Capital with Don Valentine) repudiated it by complaining that his reporting had
noted that he “would occasionally burst into tears at meetings.” Perhaps the
best quote came from Jef Raskin. Jobs, he declared, “would have made an
excellent King of France.”
To Jobs’s dismay, the magazine made public the existence of the daughter he had
forsaken, Lisa Brennan. He knew that Kottke had been the one to tell the magazine
about Lisa, and he berated him in the Mac group work space in front of a half dozen
people. “When the Time reporter asked me if Steve had a daughter named Lisa, I said ‘
Of course,’” Kottke recalled. “Friends don’t let friends deny that they’re the father of a
child. I’m not going to let my friend be a jerk and deny paternity.
He was really angry
and felt violated and told
me in front of everyone
that I had betrayed him.”
The “1984” adReal Artists ShipThe high point of the October 1983 Apple sales conference
in Hawaii was a skit based on a TV show called The Dating Game. Jobs played emcee,
and his three contestants, whom he had convinced to fly to Hawaii, were Bill Gates and
There was one more hurdle: Hertzfeld and the other wizards had to finish writing the code for the
Macintosh. It was due to start shipping on Monday, January 16. One week before that,
the engineers concluded they could not make that deadline.
two other software executives, Mitch Kapor and Fred Gibbons. As the show’s jingly theme
song played, the three took their stools. Gates, looking like a high school sophomore, got
wild applause from the 750 Apple salesmen when he said, “During 1984, Microsoft expects
That put all the more pressure on the Macintosh, due out in January 1984, three months away,
to save the day against IBM. At the sales conference Jobs decided to play the showdown to the hilt.
He took the stage and chronicled all the missteps made by IBM since 1958, and then in ominous tones
described how it was now trying to take over the market for personal computers:
“Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry?
to get half of its revenues from software for the Macintosh.” Jobs, clean-shaven and bouncy,
gave a toothy smile and asked if he thought that the Macintosh’s new operating system would
become one of the industry’s new standards. Gates answered, “To create a new standard takes
not just making something that’s a little bit different, it takes something that’s really new and
captures people’s imagination. And the Macintosh, of all the machines I’ve ever seen,
is the only one that meets that standard.”
But even as Gates was speaking, Microsoft was edging away from being primarily a collaborator
with Apple to being more of a competitor. It would continue to make application software, like
Microsoft Word, for Apple, but a rapidly increasing share of its revenue would come from the
operating system it had written for the IBM personal computer. The year before, 279,000 Apple IIs
were sold, compared to 240,000 IBM PCs and its clones. But the figures for 1983 were coming in starkly
different: 420,000 Apple IIs versus 1.3 million
Just when the Apple sales force was arriving in Hawaii, this shift was hammered home on the
cover of Business Week. Its headline: “Personal Computers: And the Winner Is . . . IBM.”
The story inside detailed the rise of the IBM PC. “The battle for market supremacy is already over,”
the magazine declared. “In a stunning blitz, IBM has taken more than 26% of the market in two years,
and is expected to account for half the world market by 1985. An additional 25%
of the market will be turning out IBM-compatible machines.”
IBMs and its
clones. And both the
Apple III and the Lisa
were dead in the water.