Why Did Steve Jobs Think a Stylus Meant They Blew It?

Many people that follow technology know of Jobs’ famous line “if you see a stylus, they blew it” regarding modern device input. But I wonder how many of them know Jobs’ reasoning behind it. This was not some throw-away line to disparage other device makers, it was a fundamental philosophy behind the development of iOS.

Jobs explained it during his interview with Walt Mossberg at the D8 conference when they were discussing the difference between Microsoft and Apple tablets. It begins at ~35:00 in this video (emphasis mine).

Jobs: What I remember telling you on the tablet was that handwriting was probably the slowest input method ever invented, and it was doomed to failure. Well, what we tried to do was re-imagine the tablet. In other words I think Microsoft did a lot of interesting work on the tablet, what we’ve done is not compete with what they did. We re-imagined it, and what we’re doing is completely different than what they did. You know, they’re completely stylus-based. We…

Mossberg (interrupting): Their tablet PC that they have now…

Jobs: For 10 years. You know, and what we said at the very beginning was if you need a stylus you’ve already failed.

Mossberg: So, let’s talk about tablets…

Jobs (continuing): And that drove everything, that drove everything. Their tablet PC was based on a PC. Had all the expense of a PC. Had the battery life of a PC. Had the weight of a PC. It used a PC operating system that really needed the precision of the tip of an arrow of a cursor. Well, the minute you throw a stylus out you cannot get that precision. You have the precision of a finger, which is much cruder. Therefore you need to have totally different software, so you can’t use a PC operating system, and you have to bite the bullet and say we’re gonna have to create this from scratch because all the PC apps won’t work without being rewritten anyway. And so we built a very different animal.

Put simply, Bill Gates’ mandate that “you can’t come up with a new OS” for a tablet required that Microsoft use a stylus. We may never know whether the rest of Microsoft thought a stylus was ideal, or practical, or even a good user experience, they were bound to use it because of Gates’ “gospel” that the device had to run their desktop OS.

Jobs’ vision was different: since desktop OS’s would force the use of a stylus, a new OS should be written that wouldn’t. Who in their right mind would argue he wasn’t 100% correct? Can you imagine requiring a stylus on smartphones and tablets today? I’ll go further and posit that had the iPhone required a stylus in 2007, there’s no way it takes off like it did.

Steve Jobs and Constraints

Nice article by Matt Gemmell regarding constraints in today’s technology products. As I read it I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ similar philosophy as he described it at the AllThingsDigital D8 conference.

For example, after discussing Flash, Jobs was asked what Apple’s “ultimate goal” is in not using it for the iPhone/iPad.

Jobs: You see our goal’s really easy. We didn’t start off to have a war with Flash or anything else, we just made a technical decision that we weren’t gonna put the energy into getting Flash on our platform… and that was it.

“We just made a technical decision.” A simple statement, but when Gemmell describes the plethora of ports, switches, jacks and other “choices that weren’t made by the designers”, it’s clear those designers should’ve made technical decisions, too.

Later, Jobs was asked what would happen if customers insisted on Flash and thought the iPad was “crippled” in this respect.

Jobs: Well I’d say two things. Number one, things are packages of emphasis. Some things are emphasized in a product, some things are not done as well in a product, some things are chosen not to be done at all in a product. And so different people make different choices…

“Packages of emphasis.” Another simple statement, and when Gemmell discusses various factors — “Performance and power consumption. Size and weight. Noise and heat. Beauty, durability, and portability” and others — he’s listing opposing points of emphasis. Many designers try to cram them all in one box, Apple chooses an emphasis then designs a package for it.

Jobs continues: We’re trying to make great products for people, and so we have at least the courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this is part of what makes a great product, we’re gonna leave it out… we’re gonna take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers. And we’re gonna instead focus our energy on these technologies which we think are… gonna be the right technologies for customers and—you know what?—they’re paying us to make those choices. That’s what a lot of customers pay us to do, is to try to make the best products we can…

“They’re paying us to make those choices.” This is perhaps my favorite statement. When other firms toss every feature into a product and call it choice, what they’re really saying is “here, you figure it out.” But Jobs believed customers expected Apple to make the choices required to build the best product Apple can in a given category. As Gemmell puts it, not doing so results in compromises that “illustrate not only a damaged assessment of the choice that was made, but also a failure to grasp the product’s vision and intended usage scenarios.”

I think Jobs would agree.

Google Hard at Work

Unlike the last time Google handed out goody bags, there was no mention of a loan agreement, or any pretense that these things would be “reviewed.” This was a straight-up giveaway. Free shit. Delighted writers crowded in line to exchange their name tag for a valuable gratis thing.


It’s like one Google rep said, “We’ll take care of you!.”

Just what I want, a weather app that deceives me

Clear Day, the new name of Weather HD, was chosen to indicate that even if weather is gloomy and stormy, a vivid soothing presentation of the weather forecast would provide the user with a sensational and clear-day-like experience full of hope.

Clear Day – (Formerly Weather HD)

Huh? So even if the weather is “gloomy and stormy” it’ll present the forecast in a manner “full of hope”? That seems ridiculous to me. Look at this beautiful, sunny sky in your forecast, oh by the way a hurricane’s coming.

I guess some app updates aren’t supposed to make sense.

Oh Joy, A Firefox Tablet

The Taipei-based Mozilla spokeswoman declined to provide details on the device that the companies plan to unveil on June 3, but Focus Taiwan, citing an “industry insider”, reported that it would likely be a tablet.


Just a couple  weeks away. What’s Firefox OS like? No one really knows. What’s the “tablet” design? No one knows. Battery life? Hardware? Apps? Size/weight? Price? No one has a clue.

I’m buying two.

Dear WordPress

You’re so beautiful… I’m continually amazed and delighted by how you’ve grown. Your awkward years are behind you. Best of all, through it all, you’ve stuck with the principles that got you started in the first place. You’re always changing but that never changes. You’re unafraid to try new things that may seem wacky or unpopular at first.

Matt Mullenweg

Nice piece. The Small Wave went from Blogger to Apple’s iWeb to WordPress to Posterous and then back to WordPress. I also mirrored it on Tumblr for a while.

While iWeb was my favorite from an authoring/publishing standpoint, the sites it created were slow and clumsy. After that, and all in all, I’d have to say WordPress is my favorite.

Apple becomes latest target of the Beltway Shakedown

The grilling of Apple is best understood as a shakedown by politicians upset with Apple for not playing the Washington game that yields contributions, power, and personal wealth for congressmen and their aides.

Washington Examiner

This is no surprise. PACs are becoming little more than legalized bribery. Not sure how long Apple can go without playing at some level.