Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: The Steve Jobs stories you’ve never heard

Patrick Stafford /

You’ve probably heard the stories before. That Steve Jobs once threw an iPad in an aquarium; that he fired the head of MobileMe on stage in front of his entire team; that he once took the PC-like keys off a Mac keyboard before he signed it for a fan.

There are plenty of anecdotes floating around about the late Steve Jobs that show off how dedicated to detail he was. And, perhaps, that he was a little neurotic.

But a new piece on Forbes collects a bunch of stories you’ve probably never heard before. Like how he told NeXT employee Randy Adams to hide his very expensive car in the back before potential investor Ross Perot showed up – “we don’t want him to think we have a lot of money”.

Another story pins him as dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out $100 bills to employees.

But one of the best describes an Apple store opening in 2004, in Jobs’ first public appearance after his surgery. He was fretting over the material used for the floors, which showed off every scuff mark and handprint.

After a reporter told him “it was obvious that whoever designed the store had never cleaned a floor in their life”, he took action.

“A few months later an Apple executive told me that Jobs had all of the designers return to the store after it opened on Saturday, and spend the night on their hands and knees cleaning the white surface.”

“After that, Apple switched the floors to the stone tiles now prevalent in its designs.”

The stories are typical Steve Jobs, including anecdotes of him sleeping under his desk at Atari after an all-nighter.

The story of a meeting with IBM encapsulates Jobs’ philosophy in doing business – disarming the opponent.

Executives from [IBM and Apple] gathered in a conference room at NeXT’s headquarters on Deer Creek Road in Palo Alto, Calif., waiting for Jobs to arrive.

He finally came in, turned to the senior IBM executive and said “Your user interface sucks.” There were gasps from executives at both companies.

“This is kind of how he got to be a good negotiator. He would totally disarm people by dropping F-bombs,” the NeXT executive recalls. “He would say, ‘We’re doing this deal but your products are s–t. He was outrageous. But he always ended up getting exactly what he wanted.”

The stories aren’t all rough and tumble, but they provide a good snapshot of Jobs you may have never seen before.

The websites paying users for social media posts

You may have heard of eCommerce sites buying reviews, or even mentions on blogs. But a new trend is seeing these same sites buy up mentions on users’ social media accounts.

This post on The New York Times profiles the trend – which may actually be blurring some legal lines, according to the United States Federal Trade Commission.

These sites basically pick a person’s post, and then turn that into a paid promotion. The poster gets a little something, the site gets some recognition, and everyone’s happy, right?

Well, not so much. As the NYT points out, it’s problematic.

“It’s turning word of mouth into a revenue opportunity,” said Mary Engle, who directs the commission’s division of advertising practices. “Since they’re getting compensated, in a sense, for their endorsement, then they should disclose that.”

The main company at the heart of all this, Beso, is providing companies with a way to monetise these links. After all, they can be tracked from anywhere and can generate revenue.

The social media shopping sites act as a middle man, collecting fees from the retailers and depositing payments into the users’ online accounts — after taking a cut. (Sometimes, sites cut out consumers, too.)

Earlier this year, Pinterest got into hot water when it quietly adjusted some users’ links to become affiliate-marketing links, and seemed to be collecting all the revenue for itself. It says it has ceased using affiliate links and declined to comment on whether it would offer users fees from such links in the future.

Will this trend end up revolutionising the industry or just be a thorn in the regulator’s side? While it’s too early to tell, it’s definitely an interesting story you should be aware of.

Is this the end of the cash register?

More and more businesses are using iPods and iPads to confirm purchases, but not many large chains have made the leap…until now.

American fashion chain Urban Outfitters will now start using iPads as POS systems, with cash registers slowly being phased out. And as The Atlantic says, it may be the start of a larger trend – and one that has an enormous amount of benefits for business.

It also means, of course, that store workers can be relatively mobile, allowing a point of purchase to be … pretty much any point in the store. The iPods, for their part, will be used not only for sales and returns, but also for worker-side activities like retagging items and taking inventory.

The iPad may not be the only solution. But mobile payment systems will definitely change retail – and the more businesses that realise the change, the better they can improve their customer service.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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