Keynote: Variations on a Theme of Steve Jobs

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Ten years ago, in 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple introduced iPhone to the world.  For those of us too young or too old to remember it well, which is to say all of us, it’s worth watching again, or for the first time, if only to see his dazzled audience erupt in wild applause as he demonstrates ‘cover flow,’ a conference call, sending a text, flipping a photo from portrait to landscape, accessing voicemail: things that are so woven into our daily experience by now that they’ve come to seem humdrum.

But man, are they ever not.

It’s nearly an hour long, but if you’re feeling low about humanity lately, it will restore your sense of wonder: here are the things we are able to do. The talk is a work of art in itself, a litany of miracles intoned by a simply dressed man who’s remembered as part geek, part tyrant, and all genius.

What follows is a found poem from the transcript of that talk, which has been engraved in my memory since my son, then 14, showed it to me in 2007: ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ he said. ‘Grab onto something.’  Its words are, for the most part, Jobs’s: verbatim in some places (the final stanza contains the longest direct quotation); tweaked for fluency, coherence, and scan in others, with some words of my own mixed in, sort of a verbal glue.

Steve Jobs was possessive of what he created: notoriously secretive, intensely private, sometimes litigious, wary of theft. But at the same time he was a collaborator and borrower par excellence, taking and using the work and ideas of others to create something entirely new. I hope, from his place in the Cloud, that he will see this recycled piece in that spirit.





Push here for the days I’ve waited,
We’re gonna leave them here for now
Hit this little button here
And put them all to sleep.

Hit it again, and wake it up
And here it is: today
Portrait to landscape
Sleeping to waking

No, I mean it!
One from three
A leapfrog product
All we need
It’s all we need
It’s everything
It’s in my hand
It’s built right in

This stuff off a server? Up there in the cloud?
I, a proud father
Captured it here
The things we never knew we wanted
Right here in my hand.
Miniature interface
Graphite and hardware
Web-fingered software
Battery life
Custom-mold silicon
Speaker and microphone
All of it, here, in the palm of my hand.

Featherweight management,
200 patents
It takes you back home from wherever you are
Your life in your pocket,
The usual suspects
Mouse, clickwheel, multi-touch
Infant to man

Now here’s stuff you can’t see:
An ambient sensor
Proximity sensor

What does that do?

Well, have you heard about spurious inputs?
Those things your face does when it’s pressed to the screen?
A sensor ignores unintentional touches
It turns them all off
So the data stays clean.

This is not what you find on most phones.

This is not the crippled stuff.


It’s amazing
How hard, making calls
Actually having to dial them each time

How many of you do that?
I bet more than a few

So you’re gonna use contacts like never before
Bring down your contacts right into your phone
Set some stars
Hit the buttons
The bandwagon
All of those things that you find in the world

Here’s what it looks like when you get a call
Here’s what it sounds like
Go on, take a look
Push it right here, boom,
And there, you can see them,
Favorites and recents and contacts and mail
Scroll through them,
Scroll through them,
Scroll through them once more
These arrows and buttons and stars.


Jony! How are you?
It’s over 2 years!
I’m thrilled
I remember
When we started all this.
It’s amazing
Wait—whoa, what is this?
Sorry J, I got a call coming in

J, can I put you on hold for a minute?
Hi Phil
I’ll just touch him and bring Jony back.
Hey, J, are you there?
Hey listen, uh, Phil’s here
I’ll conference you in

And so
Here we are


J? You there?
Phil? You there?

Jony. Jony.

Okay, take care, Jony.
Phil, thanks very much, but I gotta go, so–
Yeah, alright.
I’ll talk to you later
Like sometime this fall
Okay then, alrighty.

And I end this call.

So, now there’s a way to make favorites here.
Move Phil if I want to, you know, to the top.
Jony, well, Jony- now he’s changed his number.
I’ll just remove Jony.
And boom, there we go.

It’s that simple.
Very, very easy.

If I wanna see all the ones that I’ve missed
I go up, touch that button
Boom: ones that I’ve missed.

If there’s a new message, it goes there and tells me
Error prevention
Error correction
I won’t not make some, I probably will
But then I can just say sounds great, see you there
And then I can send that. And then, there it is.

It’s that simple.

You don’t have to manage the network, you know.
Be sure, no, be certain it will do the right thing.


Now let me show you something else.
I’ll pick Italy.
Push that button and we go right there.
I turn, I’m in portrait.
I turn, I’m in landscape.
Here, look at the pinch: make it bigger, now smaller
So let’s take a look now.
What’s this all about?

Satellite photos, directions and traffic.
Touch maps with my finger, the world on a screen.
And here we go. Scroll here. Go there, now we’re there.
Just go over there now; come back over here.

Get rid of them all just by hitting the X.

I know!
Let’s go to the Washington Monument.
Double-tap here,
Hit this button and

…uh, let’s just let it catch up to me

Okay, so now
The Washington Monument.
People down there!
There we go. Look at this!

And now here’s another one, uh, Eiffel Tower.
Look at this, right here, the real Eiffel Tower.
There’s people down there! On my phone! You can see!
Look at that.
Do you see them?
Do you think they see me?

So now, over here,
Colosseum in Rome
Here we are, Colosseum.
Colosseum in Rome.
Satellite imagery.
Look at that. God!
That’s the Colosseum,
The Colosseum in Rome.

Here we go,
Here’s the weather.
Let’s see what it’s like.
49 now, 61 later
We’ll just stay in here then, until it warms up.

Here’s Paris right here, and it’s nighttime in Paris.
It’s nighttime in Paris, and warmer than here.
Wow. Aspen. No snow until later this week.
Hawaii–it’s raining, that’s not good at all.

[I hope you’ll never really know
Because it’s really bad out there]


Let’s put it together
and see what it does
Is everyone with me?
Okay. Here we go.

Go on ahead and touch your music
While I set some stars by hitting the marks.
Slide it across now
We’ve only just started
Go on, touch your music
Take your finger, and scroll

See? Here we are. We’re in artists right now
A little rubber banding when I run off the edge
And if I wanna pick one
Well then, I pick one
I scroll here
I tap it
And boom, there it is:
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With A Little Help From My Friends

We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket.

Music fades,
The screen changes.
There’s a call here, coming in.
So I can ignore it, but I think that I’ll answer.

I answer it.

Oh, hi Phil. Hey listen, I’m busy right now–
–A photo? Hawaii?
Uh, Okay.
Hold on.
[So I go home, right here, and I’m still on the call.]
Okay, let me look.

[I scroll through the photos
I think it was this one…
Don’t know why he wants it
He looks like a slob]

Yup, Phil, here, I’ve got it.
You want I should send?
[Now watch this. I tap here? And boom. There it goes.]

This is what it’s like when you put it together.
A real-life scenario
Here’s where you are.


You know, when I was in high school.

Steve and I, well, mostly Steve, uh, he made this little device called the tv jammer. And it was, it was this little oscillator that put out frequencies that would screw up the tv. And he would have it in his pocket, and we’d go into like a dorm where he was going to school and a bunch of folks was watching like Star Trek and he’d screw up the TV, and somebody’d go up to fix it,
and and and
just as they had their foot off the ground,
He’d turn it back on. And if they put their foot back on the ground he’d screw up the TV again.
And within 5 minutes he’d have somebody like this for the rest of the Star Trek episode.

I don’t think anyone is gonna look at anything quite the same way again.

What does this tell you?

Those of us there, we will never forget
And I don’t think the world will, ever again.
First was the first one
The second came next
And now here’s the third, in the palm of my hand.

I wanna get home, so I push the button,
I wanna get home, and it takes me home.
The button, you touch it, and it takes you home
It takes you back home from wherever you are.

Look at all the days I’ve waited,
We’re gonna leave them here for now.
We skate to where the puck will be,
Not to where it’s been.

Why do you do things the way that you do?
Alan, he asked me this 30 years back
Why do you do that?
Well, Alan, tell me
Why do you do things the way that you do?

It’s really not too shabby, is it?
We’ve really only just begun
I think I’ve shown you everything
Let’s go ahead and turn it on

You know, I showed this once to someone
Someone who’d never seen it before
Well, what do you think? I asked
I remember
He told me
Dude, you had me at scrolling.


©Melinda Rooney, 2017