The Correspondence of Steve Jobs

Nine very brief missives from a very busy man.

By  |  Monday, April 19, 2010 at 2:09 am

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but an awful lot of people have decided that it’s reasonable to treat Steve Jobs as a one-man Genius Bar–and Jobs seems to be okay with the idea.

In March and April, he he has apparently answered a question about iPhone e-mail plans, said there are no plans to let iPhones tether with iPads, bucked up a worried Mac fan, criticized Google Picasa, talked up YouTube as a Blu-Ray alternative, clarified the iPad’s international shipping schedule (and bristled at a theory that a conspiracy was behind delays), confirmed that the original iPhone was toast, defended changes to iPhone software-development policies, and more–all with messages between one and twenty-four words in length.

Jobs’ correspondence with consumers first made news back in 1998, when he prankishly informed an Apple devotee who’d been waging a quixotic campaign to be named as Apple’s CEO that the fan had gotten the gig. The Apple cofounder, who was still calling himself the company’s interim CEO at that point, came off poorly. Whether intentionally or not, he’s long since paid his penance by engaging in a dialog with Apple customers that seems quite sincere, even though it’s remarkably terse–and occasionally downright irritable. And in recent weeks, either he’s picked up the pace or an unusually high percentage of receipients of Stevemail have gone public.

We don’t know much about these messages. It’s been theorized that assistants are involved–to help identify messages that need responses, at least, if not as ghostwriters–or that some are hoaxes. They certainly read like they’ll all from one particular person, and they’re fun to revisit. So here’s a selection of them. I’ve focused on mail sent prior to 2010 for which the original message as well as Jobs’ response are available. And for each dialog, I look at the aftermath of the subject at hand.

June 2004

A Mac enthusiast, irate over Apple’ Dashboard and its similarities to the Konfabulator widget platform–writes an impassioned letter to Jobs and Apple marketing honcho Phil Schiller.


You said it yourself:


If Dashboard isn’t a rip-off of Konfabulator then what is? I don’t care that much about Sherlock/Watson as both are equally useless to me, but this it too much.

And what Phil said is embarrasing:

In response Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller told CNET: “The goal of Dashboard isn’t to be like anything else. It’s not his stuff. What we’ve done is ours.”

Of course, you did it from the ground up. But it’s stealing directly from Arlo Rose’s Konfabulator. Arlo Rose is a very famous Mac developer. You should just buy the thing from him!

Remember, it’s GOOD KARMA!

I’m a huge Mac fan and have been for the past 15 years, and I believe this is the first time I’m so angry at Apple.

And I know I’m not the only one.

leo prieto

———– —- — — –

———– —- — — –
+56-9-9992475 – Santiago

Jobs replies:

Excuse me, but Mac OS 9 had desktop widgets long before Konfabulator did. Apple was the first to use the term Widgets as well. We never complained when the Konfabulator guys “ripped off Apple” and I think it’s a bit unfair for them to be claiming we ripped them off now.Steve

Aftermath: A year later, Yahoo bought Konfabulator. It’s still around, under the name Yahoo Widgets. More interestingly, it serves as the foundation of Yahoo’s Connected TV platform–a more interesting idea than anything Apple has done with Dashboard.

March 2006

A customer who apparently didn’t notice that Steve Jobs announced in June of 2005 that all Macs would be moving to Intel processors is taken aback when Apple releases an Intel iMac, and wants one gratis:

Hi, Steve,

It has recently come to my attention that Apple has released an Intel version of the iMac. I bought a 20″ iMac G5 for my son just before christmas and I was under the impression that this was the fastest iMac out there and would continue to be so for quite some time. As you imagine i was dismayed to learn, just 15 days later, that Apple had released a substantially faster Mac with a completely different chip architecture–making our brand new iMac obsolete. My wife and I had been saving for almost two years, and it was important to us that we bought a Mac that would be a solid long term investment. My son is very important to me and I always wish to support his passion for photography and graphic design. I’m worried that we have purchased a Mac that only a few months after purchase is already outmoded. I understand that this is how it goes, new computers are always being released, but we figured that since we purchased it soon after it’s release it would be top of the top for at least a year. Now I feel like we’ve purchased a beta and everything is going VHS. I don’t know if it is possible, but would you be willing to exchange the G5 for one of the new intel iMacs? If you could do anything at all to help us please let us know. We are long time Mac users and love the work that you and your company do, we just want to stay up to date!

Jobs replies:


The iMac G5 is a splendid computer and will remain so for a long time to come. Not to worry.

Aftermath: I still see Power PC-based Macs in use. Only in 2009 did Apple release an OS upgrade, Snow Leopard, that wouldn’t work on them.

March 2008

A MacBook Pro owner doesn’t like the uncertainty of Apple’s repair policies for laptops that have had unfortunate encounters with liquids:

Dear Steve Jobs,

I wanted to write and express my concern about some recent problems that I have had with Apple Care. This week, my MacBook Pro unfortunately sustained water damage. I understand this is entirely my fault but it is still something I would like to get fixed. After three or four calls I was finally able to get a straight answer. While I was happy to get a straight answer, I was not at all happy with the answer. It is very worrisome to me that the only way to get my computer fixed is to pay almost $300.00 up front with no guarantee that this will fix the problem. I was horrified to learn that their is no system to assess the problem and bill once all damage is known. I am reluctant to put money into a problem that could easily grow. I have had three Apple computers in a row. I love using them but I am not sure if my replacement will be one. I feel powerless in the situation and the whole experience has turned me off of the Apple company.


[name withheld]

Jobs replies:

This is what happens when your MacBook Pro sustains water damage. They are pro machines and they don’t like water. It sounds like you’re just looking for someone to get mad at other than yourself.


Aftermath: The Boy Genius Report found the response so obnoxious that it couldn’t deal with the idea that Steve Jobs wrote it. (Hmmm–surely the more brusque the message, the less chance it was cranked out by a customer service rep, no?)

The same month, an iPhone buyer thinks the iPhone is too fragile:

Mr. Jobs,

I was first in line for this phone. I paid a premium. The screen broke from a short drop. $250 dollars?

I have sold at least 3 of these things for you. I feel dirty.

Jobs replies:

Imagine this for a car:

I was first in line for this car. I paid a premium. Then I crashed it. $2500.

I have sold at least 3 of these cars for you. I feel dirty.

Sent from my iPhone

Aftermath: I like the customer’s take on Jobs’s response: “Wow! How cool and how completely unsatisfying all at the same time!”

August 2008

Wouldn’t it be a great idea if you could tether an iPhone to a laptop as a wireless modem?

AT&T offers data plans for BlackBerry that include tethering for an additional $30 per month (a total of $60 per month for the BlackBerry+tethering plan).

It seems ludicrous that the same thing is not offered with the iPhone. I understand the desire to prevent tethering with the current data plan, but I am willing to pay more money to allow tethering! With such an advanced device, why can I not do so?

Jobs replies:

We agree, and are discussing it with ATT.


Sent from my iPhone

Aftermath: In November of 2008, AT&T Mobility’s president said tethering was coming soon. In March of 2009, Apple announced iPhone OS 3.0, with built-in tethering. In April of 2010, AT&T customers are still waiting.




1 Comments For This Post

  1. Amie Finton Says:

    If there is one person in this world that I have really admired, that was Steve Jobs. I even cried the whole day when he died. Call that an exaggeration but I really admire and salute Steve Jobs for all the inventions he has created.

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