Steve Jobs on problem solving

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple,  you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem.  Then you get into the problem,  and you see that it’s really complicated,  and you come up with all these convoluted solutions.  That’s sort of the middle,  and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant,  really beautiful solution that works.

from Insanely Great (via gmc)

“There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product”

Steve Jobs in 1995:

There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

This is why almost all successful startups have founders who understand business, design, and technology. Product development is the process of navigating a maze – not three separate mazes, but a single maze that intersects all these functions. The people navigating the maze need the full authority of the company behind them.

FiftyThree

Steve Jobs predicted that tablet computers would become so dominant that “PCs would become like trucks” – special-purpose industrial devices. Skeptics replied that tablets were only useful for consumption and not creation and therefore couldn’t replace PCs, to which Jobs said:

We are just scratching the surface on the kinds of apps for the iPad…I think there are lots of kinds of content that can be created on the iPad. When I am going to write that 35-page analyst report, I am going to want my Bluetooth keyboard. That’s 1 percent of the time. The software will get more powerful. I think your vision would have to be pretty short to think these can’t grow into machines that can do more things, like editing video, graphic arts, productivity. You can imagine all of these content creation possibilities on these kind of things. Time takes care of lots of these things.

History supports Jobs’ argument. In the past, new user interfaces led to new categories of creation applications. Back in the 70s and 80s, when computers had text-based interfaces, word processors and spreadsheets were invented. In the 80s and 90s, when computers had graphical interfaces, presentation and image editors proliferated. Jobs was simply predicting that historical patterns would repeat.

Today we are announcing that Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $15M Series A investment in FiftyThree, a company whose goal is to build the essential suite of mobile tools for creativity. You might know FiftyThree as the company behind the iPad app Paper. Paper has been embraced by millions of everyday creators, and has won dozens of awards (including Apple’s App of the Year). It is also one of the top grossing iPad productivity apps ever. But this is only the beginning of FiftyThree’s ambitious plans.

The FiftyThree team spent their careers working on breakthrough computing projects, including lead roles on Office, Kinect, Sonos, and the Xbox. Particularly relevant was a project they led at Microsoft called Courier that has been widely praised as a visionary take on tablet computing (unfortunately, Courier was never brought to market).

FiftyThree didn’t need to raise money, but decided that the opportunity was so large that it made sense to accelerate their efforts with additional capital and resources. They’ll be expanding their engineering teams in New York and Seattle, and will broaden their offerings across software, services, and hardware.

I first met the founders in New York in 2011, and have since spent a lot of time with them. I’m convinced that they are one of the most innovative design and engineering teams in the world. In the past, they reimagined how we play games, view images, listen to music, create documents, and more. With FiftyThree, they are rethinking the very way we create and collaborate on ideas. I couldn’t be more excited to be involved.

Some thoughts on mobile

– People tend to lump smartphones and tablets together as “mobile”. This can be misleading. Ask people who run internet companies and they’ll tell you that user behavior on tablets is far more similar to user behavior on desktops/laptops than it is to user behavior on smartphones. That said, the software on smartphones and tablets is similar, as are the discovery mechanisms (mostly app stores) and monetization techniques.

– Microsoft is running ads making fun of the iPad for being a “consumption” device. Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say back in 2010 about creation (“productivity”) on the iPad:

We are just scratching the surface on the kinds of apps for the iPad…I think there are lots of kinds of content that can be created on the iPad. When I am going to write that 35-page analyst report, I am going to want my Bluetooth keyboard. That’s 1 percent of the time. The software will get more powerful. I think your vision would have to be pretty short to think these can’t grow into machines that can do more things, like editing video, graphic arts, productivity. You can imagine all of these content creation possibilities on these kind of things. Time takes care of lots of these things.

If you go back and look at the history of productivity apps you’ll see that each major user interface shift led to new classes of productivity apps. Back in the 70s and 80s, when computers had text-based interfaces, word processor applications like Wordperfect and spreadsheet applications like Lotus 1-2-3 were invented. In the 80s and 90s, when graphical interfaces became popular, presentation apps like Powerpoint and photo editing apps like Photoshop were invented. If the historical pattern repeats, productivity apps that are “native” to the tablet will be invented.

– App stores have had a few important effects: 1) They take 30% of revenue, which scares away most big companies (e.g. Microsoft) and also startups/venture capitalists. Not many businesses can survive an immediate 30% haircut. 2) They’ve led consumers to expect very low prices for software. It’s hard to imagine charging $30 let alone hundreds of dollars for software through app stores (although some mega-hit games do get near these levels with in-app purchases). This is why many big software vendors are scared. 3) The discovery mechanisms (e.g. top download charts) tend to have a rich-get-richer effect, making it very hard for software to grow from niches, as they often did in the past. Just as in the movie industry, the trend is toward creating blockbusters that appeal to everyone. The emergence of new app discovery mechanisms (e.g. FB & Twitter) might alleviate this problem.

– The best entrepreneurs understand these dynamics and have been exploring “attach” business models, which basically means charging for something outside of the app store, like offline products/services (e.g. Square, Uber), online services (e.g. Spotify, Dropbox), and sometimes even hardware. Most of the companies that have succeeded (= generate real revenues/profits) on mobile were either desktop incumbents (e.g. eBay, Amazon, Facebook) or have attach business models.

– Fans of Apple and Google have been arguing lately about which company is winning mobile. Apple has more profits, but Android has more users. But what really matters is when and if developers switch over to developing for Android first, or even Android only. For now, iOS users tend to monetize much better than Android users, more than making up for the smaller user base. The switch to Android first hasn’t happened yet, but at least based on conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs, it seems likely to happen in the next year or two.

– Mobile has had a big effect on b2b software. People want to use their personal iOS/Android devices at work, and many people now have computers with them all the time who didn’t before. This has created opportunities for 1) traditional b2b software that is mobile friendly, 2) companies that support mobile devices for businesses (e.g. mobile security, compliance etc), 3) brand new categories of software for users who previously used pencil and paper for various business tasks.

“PCs are going to be like trucks”

Steve Jobs in 2010:

When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farms. Cars became more popular as cities rose, and things like power steering and automatic transmission became popular.

PCs are going to be like trucks. They are still going to be around…they are going to be one out of x people.

This transformation is going to make some people uneasy…because the PC has taken us a long ways. It’s brilliant. We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.

We are just scratching the surface on the kinds of apps for the iPad…I think there are lots of kinds of content that can be created on the iPad.

When I am going to write that 35-page analyst report, I am going to want my Bluetooth keyboard. That’s 1 percent of the time. The software will get more powerful. I think your vision would have to be pretty short to think these can’t grow into machines that can do more things, like editing video, graphic arts, productivity. You can imagine all of these content creation possibilities on these kind of things. Time takes care of lots of these things.

This year, about five times as many smartphones will be shipped versus PCs, and tablets will surpass PCs for the first time. According to Jobs, the right way to look at this isn’t that mobile devices are creating a new market. It’s that mobile devices are relegating PCs to special-purpose, mostly industrial devices.