One of my all-time tech heroes surfaced on Quora this week to tell the story behind this 11-year-old photograph.
From Kay’s answer Wednesday to the question What did Alan Kay and Steve Jobs talk about at the 2007 iPhone keynote?
Later, I was chief scientist of Atari for a few years (81–84), and Steve and I would periodically have lunch. The last year of Atari was a collapse and I eventually accepted Steve’s invitation to come to Apple.
In 1984, Time or Newsweek [ex ped: it was Newsweek] asked me my opinion of the Macintosh, and I said “The Mac is the first personal computer good enough to be criticized”. Internally at Apple, my first memo had the title “Have I got a deal for you: a Honda with a one-quart gas tank!”. Steve did not like this memo, but what could he do given the history, and that it was quite true?
Steve and I remained friends (I was the go-between that brought him together with the people who were to become Pixar).
I think he invited me to the 2007 iPhone unveiling partly because it was kind of a tiny “Dynabook” — and he had always wanted to do one — and partly becausethat he had always taken to heart “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware”.
The photo of us chatting was taken right after the event. He brought the iPhone to me, put it in my hands, and asked: “Alan, is this good enough to be criticized?”. My reply was to make a shape with my hands the size of an iPad: “Steve, make it this size and you’ll rule the world”.
When the iPhone had been revealed a few minutes earlier I realized that they must already have done an iPad/Dynabook-like machine (easier) and that the “iPhone first” must have been a marketing/timing decision.
My take: Alan Kay, the inventor of Smalltalk and a driving force behind Xerox PARC, is high up in my pantheon of tech heroes. Andy Hertzfeld called a lecture he heard Kay give in 1982, while Hertzfeld was writing the control manager for the original Macintosh, “perhaps the most inspiring talk that I ever attended.” Hertzfeld took notes, transcribed them, and shared them with Jobs and the rest of the Macintosh team. Among the Alan Kay aphorisms he captured that night:
- The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
- Humans like fantasy and sharing. Fantasy fulfills a need for a simpler, more controllable world. Sharing is important – we’re all communication junkies
- Find a central metaphor that’s so good that everything aligns to it. The metaphor should be crisp and fun.
- Turn up your nose at good ideas. You must work on great ideas, not good ones.
- The computer shouldn’t act like it knows everything.
- Systems programmers are high priests of a low cult.
- Remember, it’s all software, it just depends on when you crystallize it.
- People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.
Hertzfeld’s original notes are available here.