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Steve Jobs at D8: Competitors, Flash, Prototype iPhones, and Foxconn

Steve Jobs yesterday appeared onstage at the D8: All Things Digital conference, hosted by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Jobs talked about Apple’s (s aapl) rivalry with other companies, Flash on the iPad, the infamous iPhone 4G debacle, and the Foxconn suicides.

On Competitors

Mossberg brought up the recent news that Apple surpassed Microsoft (s msft) in market cap. Jobs had this to say:

For those of who have been in the industry a long time, it’s surreal. But it doesn’t matter very much.

Later, Mossberg asked whether Jobs sees competition with Google (s goog), Microsoft, and others as a platform war:

No. And I never have. We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft, and maybe that’s why we lost. We just wanted to make the best thing — we just thought about how can we build a better product.

Kara asked how Jobs feels about Google as a competitor:

Well they decided to compete with us. We didn’t go into the search business!

Kara also asked whether Apple was going to remove Google from the iPhone:

No. We want to make better products than them. What I love about the marketplace is that we do our products, we tell people about them, and if they like them, we get to come to work tomorrow. It’s not like that in enterprise…the people who make those decisions are sometimes confused. Just because we’re competing with someone doesn’t mean we have to be rude.

On Flash

Mossberg brought up Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” essay that he wrote explaining Apple’s stance on Flash (s adbe), and then goes on to question whether being abrupt with consumers over Flash was really the best choice. Jobs’ response:

Apple is a company that doesn’t have the resources that everyone else has. We choose what tech horses to ride, we look for tech that has a future and is headed up. Different pieces of tech go in cycles…they have summer and then they go to the grave. We have a history of doing this. The 3 1/2 floppy. We made that popular. We got rid of the floppy altogether in the first iMac. We got rid of serial and parallel ports. You saw USB first in iMacs. We were one of the first to get rid of optical drives, with the MacBook Air. And when we do this, sometimes people call us crazy. Sometimes you have to pick the right horses. Flash looks like it had its day but it’s waning, and HTML5 looks like it’s coming up.

Mossberg then brought up how developers are affected by Apple’s decision not to use Flash, to which Jobs responded:

An even more popular development environment was Hypercard and we were OK to axe that. Our goal is really easy — we just made a tech decision. We aren’t going to make an effort to put this on our platform. We told Adobe to show us something better, and they never did. It wasn’t until we shipped the iPad that Adobe started to raise a stink about it. We weren’t trying to have a fight, we just decided to not use one of their products. They made a big deal of it — that’s why I wrote that letter. I said enough is enough, we’re tired of these guys trashing us.

When Mossberg brought up concerns with whether the market was affected by Flash, Jobs said:

Well things are packages. Some things are good in a product, some things are bad. If the market tells us we’re making bad choices, we’ll make changes. We’re just trying to make great products. We don’t think this is great and we’re going to leave it out. We’re going to take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers! If we succeed, they’ll buy them! If we don’t, we won’t sell any. And I have to say, people seem to be liking the iPad!

On the Missing iPhone Prototype

When Mossberg asked Jobs about the missing iPhone prototype that wound up at Gizmodo, he had this to say:

There’s an ongoing investigation. I can tell you what I do know, though. To make a product you need to test it. You have to carry them outside. One of our employees was carrying one. There’s a debate about whether he left it in a bar, or it was stolen out of his bag. The person who found it tried to sell it, they called Engadget, they called Gizmodo. The person who took the phone plugged it into his roommates computer. And this guy was trying to destroy evidence…and his roommate called the police. So this is a story that’s amazing — it’s got theft, it’s got buying stolen property, it’s got extortion, I’m sure there’s some sex in there…the whole thing is very colorful. The DA is looking into it, and to my knowledge they have someone making sure they only see stuff that relates to this case. I don’t know how it will end up.

Later in the interview, Jobs brought up the issue again:

You know, when this whole thing with Gizmodo happened, I got advice from people who said: ‘You gotta just let it slide; you shouldn’t go after a journalist just because they bought stolen property and tried to extort you.’ And I thought deeply about this, and I concluded the worst thing that could happen is if we change our core values and let it slide. I can’t do that. I’d rather quit. You go back five or 10 years, what would you do…we’re not going into that…we have the same values that we had back then. The core values are the same. We come into work wanting to do the same thing that we did back then — build the best products. Nothing makes my day more than getting a random email from someone talking about how cool the iPad is. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what kept me going back then, and now, and will keep me going in the future.

On the Foxconn Suicides

Swisher brought up the suicides that have taken place at Foxconn, the factory that manufactures iPhones:

We are on top of this. We look at everything at these companies. I can tell you a few things that we know. And we are all over this. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. It’s a factory — but my gosh, they have restaurants and movie theaters…but it’s a factory. But they’ve had some suicides and attempted suicides — and they have 400,000 people there. The rate is under what the U.S. rate is, but it’s still troubling. We had this in my hometown of Palo Alto, copycat suicides. We’re over there trying to understand this. It’s a difficult situation. We’re trying to understand this. We have people over there.

Photo courtesy of All Things D.

3 Responses to “Steve Jobs at D8: Competitors, Flash, Prototype iPhones, and Foxconn”

  1. pk de cville

    And here’s the nauseating extortion (noun – the practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats) letter.

    From: brian lam
    Date: April 19, 2010 4:08:07 PM PT
    To: Steve Jobs
    Subject: Let’s see if this goes through.

    Hey Steve, this email chain is off record on my side.

    I understand the position you’re in, and I want to help, but it conflicts with my own responsibilities to give the phone back without any confirmation that it’s real, from apple, officially.

    Something like that–from you or apple legal–is a big story, that would make up for giving the phone back right away. If the phone disappears without a story to explain why it went away, and the proof it went to apple, it hurts our business. And our reputation. People will say this is a coordinated leak, etc.

    I get that it would hurt sales to say this is the next iphone. I have no interest in hurting sales. That does nothing to help Gizmodo or me.
    Maybe Apple can say it’s a lost phone, but not one that you’ve confirmed for production–that it is merely a test unit of sorts. Otherwise, it just falls to apple legal, which serves the same purpose of confirmation. I don’t want that, either.

    Gizmodo lives and dies like many small companies do. We don’t have access, or when we do, we get it taken away. When we get a chance to break a story, we have to go with it, or we perish. I know you like walt [Mossberg, of The Wall Street Journal] and [The New York Times’ David] pogue, and like working with them, but I think Gizmodo has more in common with old Apple than those guys do. So I hope you understand where I’m coming from.

    Right now, we have nothing to lose. The thing is, Apple PR has been cold to us lately. It affected my ability to do my job right at iPad launch. So we had to go outside and find our stories like this one, very aggressively.

    I want to get this phone back to you ASAP. And I want to not hurt your sales when the products themselves deserve love. But I have to get this story of the missing prototype out, and how it was returned to apple, with some acknowledgement [sic] it is Apple’s.

    And I want to work closer with Apple, too. I’m not asking for more access–we can do our jobs with or without it–but again, this is the only way we can survive while being cut out of things. That’s my position on things.


  2. Cold Water

    Steve can go the politicians’ way and try to plant the word “extortion,” but Gizmodo’s demand that they fess up to it being their device was does not rise above the level of embarrassing. That’s pretty basic stuff for getting a lost/stolen item back, whether it’s your wallet or a RealDoll.

    • Dusty

      If you read the letter that Gizmodo sent to Jobs, it would be difficult to call it anything but extortion. Yes, it was an “embarrassing” exchange to witness, but there’s nothing “basic” about suggesting that, in order to get the phone back, Apple should make a deal with Gizmodo regarding access to future tech information. If that’s not extortion, what is?