Steve Wozniak says: “I want to be a distinguished part of this country and some day I may say I lived and died an Australian, and that would be a really nice thing to be able to say.” Photo: Nic Walker
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has officially become an Australian resident, is planning to make the Apple Isle his home – appropriately enough – and says one day he’d like it said he lived and died an Australian. The man who formed Apple with Steve Jobs in California back in 1976 has just had “permanent residency” stamped in his passport.
He originally applied for Australian citizenship in 2012. He’s since taken steps to move more aspects of his life Down Under; in October he became an adjunct professor at the University of Technology in Sydney. He says he’s thinking about a citizenship ceremony.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Australian Financial Review, Wozniak praised current Apple chief executive Tim Cook for breaking free from Steve Jobs’s “dogma” by allowing a big-screen iPhone to be made.
He labelled Google Glass as an “admirable failure” and said he was looking forward to eventually living a more relaxed life in Australia.
Wozniak says his decision to make Australia home came after he received an email from old friend, Sydney-based barrister Nicholas Baltinos, alerting him to the fact it could be a possibility.
With a son married to an Aussie and resident in Sydney, and a fondness for the local culture, Wozniak says he plunged into the lengthy series of visa applications, medicals and FBI checks before finally being accepted.
“I have now got a visa for distinguished people – or something like that – it took a long time and cost some money, but we have done it for our entire family, so we can all reside here,” Wozniak says.
“I want to be a distinguished part of this country and some day I may say I lived and died an Australian, and that would be a really nice thing to be able to say. No country is perfect, but I like a lot of things about this place.”
The Wozniaks will initially buy a home in Sydney, and are using a current visit to go house hunting. He says he’ll continue to be based mainly in the US for the time being, due to his frequent public speaking engagements, but intends to settle in Australia when he starts to slow down a bit.
Having named visits to Uluru and Tasmania as personal “bucket list” items, he says he is likely to choose Tasmania as a permanent home in the future.
“The Premier of Tasmania actually called us at our home and offered to show us around if we were ever there. Hopefully in the next few days we can get there, as I really like the idea of cooler weather,” he says.
Wozniak says moving from California and the heart of the tech world will be tough, but that he has no intention of losing touch with the latest developments. He remains officially an employee of Apple, and says he buys all the latest devices from a variety of tech companies in order to form his own views on what is working best.
Steve Jobs dogma
While some industry observers have lamented a lack of fresh innovation in recent years at Apple, Wozniak says the decision to release the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in September was symbolically important for the company. He says it demonstrated the fact that it was removing shackles imposed by Steve Jobs, who had not believed larger handsets were needed.
“I really admire Tim Cook and admire that they broke a dogma that had come from Steve Jobs, which was about only having small phones. The iPhone originally made it because it looked like a big phone, and then, when rival phones looked bigger than Apple’s they continued to say ‘we are right’,” Wozniak says.
“That was corporate culture getting in the way of expansion . . . I think that maybe came from Steve Jobs not wanting somebody to say something he didn’t create was better.”
That said, while Apple clearly still looks back to Jobs as an inspiration, it has begun to emerge as a “new Apple,” which is less secretive and more open to outside ideas.
Apple also announced it would soon release its own smartwatch, later than players such as Sony, Samsung, LG and Pebble. However Wozniak says he believes no company has yet figured out a compelling reason for a smartwatch to exist.
He nominated internet-connected cars as the area that was likely to evolve fastest in 2015, but cautioned industry watchers not to expect Apple to always lead the way into new tech categories.
“Everyone expects that Apple is going to have more of these huge new categories of products introduced all the time because that is what they did in the past, but those ideas do not come along very often,” he says.
“I bought a few of the early smartwatches, including Samsung’s, and they were so disappointing. I took them off because they were so much worse than the phone that’s right in my pocket already. Like Apple did with smartphones, one company may point the right way to a smart and useful watch, but it shouldn’t be a replacement for what the phone does, and it should have an unbelievable and fun feeling when you use it.”
Google Glass struggles
While he thinks smartwatches could still hit the mark, Wozniak is less optimistic about Google’s smart glasses, known as Glass. Google has reportedly pushed back its broad public launch of Glass, and app developers are said to have begun to lose interest.
Wozniak is a big fan of Google Glass on a technical level, marvelling at the amount of computing power packed into such a small device, but says he fears nobody had pinpointed a use for it to justify the high price for general consumers.
“I feel like the coolest person in the world when I am wearing it. When I see people wearing it, I also think they are cool because they are brave enough to play with the future with a device that makes no sense in terms of what it does for what it costs,” Wozniak says. “In my mind, it is a great product that will not succeed, just like many other great products that didn’t succeed. Maybe if they found one great commercial application, but I don’t think that has happened yet. I hope that they don’t give it up though, and I have heard that they aren’t planning to give up yet.”
The Financial Review spoke with Wozniak at Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Sydney-based Innovation Lab, in which it tests technology ideas it hopes will keep it at the forefront of modern banking. The bank brought Wozniak in to address its own staff and executives from customer and partner organisations.
The Apple co-founder says he does not consider himself an expert in banking technology, but took up the invitation because he appreciated the bank’s commitment to adopting leading edge mobile technology.
“I admire them because they are really ahead of the rest of the world in banks in stepping into the future. There are a couple of banks similar in the US, but mostly around the world, the banks are not very progressive and are not seeing the change in people’s lives brought by mobile internet,” Wozniak says.
“Everything is becoming closer to us and so simple. Credit cards are worldwide standards, but we don’t have that yet for mobile payment systems . . . This bank is a leader in thinking about this.”
It was another invitation out of the blue that saw Wozniak take on his job at UTS. He he was invited to talk to a group of six students at the university’s Magic Lab, and was then asked if he’d consider becoming an adjunct professor.
After asking what an adjunct professor actually was, Wozniak says he was delighted to accept.
Shaping young minds
“I love students, they are so important to me. I think back on my life to when my values of computers and technology got established. It is such an important point in life to discover who you are and where you can go, and that you can do things on your own,” Wozniak says.
“Right after I did it, I got about 50 requests from other universities to be adjunct professors, but it is going to be only UTS. I had already been seeking residency, so this was a beautiful addition to my life.”
Looking ahead, Wozniak says he hopes to retain his ties to Apple and hold on to his record of being the only person on every payroll since the company started. However he is aware that sometimes he is not universally liked within the company he founded.
He has no problems with Cook, but does not speak with him regularly. He says it’s within the company’s public relations ranks that he tends to ruffle feathers.
“Their publicity people watch me very closely wherever I go in the world and speak. I answer every question I’m asked and I answer honestly, so sometimes they hear things they don’t want to hear,” he says.
“My personality and my philosophies of life are really not akin to that spokesman role so much . . . I am very proud of my small regular pay cheque though, so if they decide to fire me one day . . . uh-oh, that would be bad.”