Watch Steve Jobs launch ‘his biggest product failure’

“Until the video below was discovered by researchers working on Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs, the only known recording of Jobs from his NeXT years was a PBS documentary called The Entrepreneurs that included footage from a 1985 offsite meeting shot shortly after Jobs was pushed out of Apple,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports for Fortune.

“The new video — recreated out of a pair of VHS tapes only their owner knew existed — has none of the documentary’s production values,” P.E.D. writes. “It’s too long (2.5 hours), too raw, and way too dark. But it will be treasured by computer historians for what it is: The only record, outside of contemporaneous journalists’ reports, of the gala unveiling of the NeXT computer in 1988.”

P.E.D. writes, “What struck me, watching the two videos back to back, is how clear it should have been that the machine was doomed.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Considering that Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT Computer to create the World Wide Web, that NeXT employees saved some company called Apple Computer, Inc. when they took the place over, and that NeXTSTEP was the foundation for what became OS X which begat iOS, watchOS, and tvOS, calling it Jobs’ “biggest product failure,” pretty much says it all when summing up Job’s amazing, peerless level of success.


      1. But Tim would get the highest quality jock strap, get it just in time, and make sure it was perfect for Steve.

        Brillant inventors can’t do it all. They need brillant guys to implement their inventions. That’s Tim’s role.

        1. He is bending over for Wall Street so fine, thats true.

          What are the true assets of Apple?

          Tell me Tim, foreign feathers fit you the best?
          Get straight, at least in your twisted mind.

    1. By the way, in the last three years of Next as separate company it has returned profits, so the failure was hardware business, not company overall. And, of course, the issue why hardware business failed had nothing to do with hardware itself, it was a breakthrough.

    1. And… Way too expensive with storage so slow that it was unusable for many tasks it was designed for. It sold very poorly due to many design and engineering decisions that were totally misaligned with the market and needs met by other platforms at the time.

      Not to mention the fact that not only was it a net loss for the company, but the company itself was a net financial loss for investors even after the (reverse) acquisition by Apple.

      None of this is to say that it didn’t ultimately have an impact on the industry or even the world in general (I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if Jobs had never decided to build NeXT. Although really it was the OS that had the impact, not the computer.

      There’s no need to re-write history and not point out what NeXT was and why it completely failed as a product.

      1. How was it a net financial loss? What do you have to back that up? It was sold for much more than was invested in it. Are you talking about some early investors that bailed? Jobs sure made a ton of money selling it. Please provide facts.

        1. NeXT was sold to Apple for only $429 Million, and 1.5 million shares of APPL (not worth much back then). NeXT was founded in 1985 and had yearly losses each and every year until it was sold in 1997. Some of those yearly losses were over $100 Million. Investors bought in at valuation that was over $600 Million. Any way you slice it, it was a financial loss as a company for investors, but more so the computer itself was a loss. In fact, not only didn’t Apple buy a hardware company in NeXT, but NeXT had stopped making hardware and was only a software company for the 4 years previous to the acquisition.

      2. “It sold very poorly due to many design and engineering decisions that were totally misaligned with the market …”

        You make a lot of valid points, but I think one of the real reasons it didn’t work was that people were already invested in either MS or Apple’s systems, and changing systems meant getting rid of a lot of stuff you’d put time & $$$ into.

        I remember seeing a BeOS demo, probably pretty close to this same time. The demo was pretty cool – until you realized that it would mean scrapping all of those apps you’d invested in, and hoping that alternatives were built for your system.

        Along with the other things you mentioned, it just wasn’t worth the effort to switch.

        1. Yes, definitely that was an issue, especially with NeXTSTEP. BeOS came out about 7 years after NeXT was presented. While that may not seem like that long, it was ages at the time since it put it on the other side of things like OS/2 Warp and Windows 95.

          As such BeOS faced a much rougher uphill climb. Also major factors to BeOS was that it was positioned as a multimedia OS directly competing against Windows and the Mac. And while the API was C++, the platform wasn’t UNIX based.

          NeXT (and subsequently NeXTSTEP) were UNIX based workstations targeting a much different (and extremely smaller) market from Mac and Windows at the time.

          For those wanting to geek out on a UNIX workstation, NeXT didn’t really face so many issues regarding software (although it was a factor), more so the hardware was ill-suited and by the time they killed the hardware and focused on NeXTSTEP other OS options were too entrenched.

          1. Thank you for correcting me about the time-frame involved. Memory can be a faulty thing.

            And again, you’ve posted some excellent points, and background information.

            One thing that really struck me while watching the video, was Jobs’ incredible attention to small details. The striving for quality with every single detail, no matter how minute or seemingly unimportant.

            Watching the video is like a breath of fresh air! It really reminded me why I have so enjoyed using Apple products for 25 years. Even during his absence from Apple, the quality shone through – I think in large part due to the framework that Jobs developed.

            I truly hope that Apple is watching this video too, and does not forget that this is their legacy. Excellence in every detail, and logical, and intuitive interfaces.

  1. Yes, I would agree, we are essentially using the Next computer now.

    Apple could offer a line called Next, using Xeons only, crazy amounts on memory, lastest memory subsystem or it could be a platform that is fully configurable. A Next server…

  2. “In the end we knew we would be either the last company to make it or the first to not make it. We were right on the edge. We thought we would be the last one that made it, but we were wrong. We were the first one that didn’t. We put an end to the companies that tried to do that.”

    Excerpt From: Owens, J.T. “Steve Jobs Bio: The Unauthorized Autobiography.” iBooks.
    This material may be protected by copyright.

    Check out this book on the iBooks Store:

  3. The problem was that while Steve could see the future of computing (once he was presented with it by someone else) and conversely he could tell what was not the future of computing (when presented with someone wanting something to be it). It wasn’t until after his return to Apple that he got a grasp for how near future something would catch on.

    The original NeXT Cube had many things that became standard in computers (but were way to far ahead of their time):
    Vector Graphics display (Display PostScript at the time)
    A modern version of UNIX (Mach)
    Math Co-processors mandatory
    Optical Drives and no Floppy Drive
    Smarts in the computer with a very dumb printer
    Networking built into the OS at a fundamental level
    Being able to share your “desktop” and “machine preferences” through any machine on the network
    And probably many more I can’t think of at the moment.

    The problem was the cost to put the “future” into a box selling “today” was prohibitive. It was supposed to be focused on Universities and Research, but extremely few such entities could afford a box that cost 2x to 4x what other machines of that day were costing.

  4. Like Apple, NeXT didn’t ONLY make hardware. It made the OS software as well. And what did the NeXT OS become? NeXTSTEP became OS X.


    And let’s not forget some great games developed on NeXT hardware and software:

    d Software GamesI, Including:

    – Doom:
    Development of Doom @Wikipedia

    Doom was developed on NeXT workstations, under the NEXTSTEP operating system.[9] The Doom game engine was programmed in C, and the editing tools were written in Objective-C.

    – Woolfenstein 3D
    – Doom II
    – Quake
    – Heretic
    – Hexen
    – Strife

    NeXTSTEP @Wikipedia

    IOW: Hardly a ‘failure’. It was a step… 😉

  5. Here’s what I think happened. Jobs introduces the Macintosh, proving he’s knows where the future of computing is going. He tries to take total control of Apple, but gets forced out by Sculley and the Board during an industry wide slowdown. So he walks.

    While the Mac interface is clearly the future of computing, Jobs knows that the guts of the operating system have big problems (lack of multitasking and it’s going to be hard to program for). Those were things impossible to fix in time for it’s launch, and if it hadn’t been successful, they wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He’s legally prevented from competing directly with Apple, so he says he’s aiming for the high end market. He gets tons of investors.

    While on one level he would be happy to make a great computer and sell a ton of them, he’s more focused on really making something great and taking computing to the next level. He’s not willing to compromise just to make a quick buck. NeXT is so ahead of it’s time, there are problems and it doesn’t sell well out of the gate. But by then, Apple is already losing to IBM and Jobs can see that Sculley is screwing up and isn’t going to last long. So Jobs focuses on building the new operating system he knows the Mac needs. (And makes a bundle with Pixar.) Sculley gets forced out and Apple freefalls. Jobs bides his time and then takes over the company, using the operating system he created at NeXT. Apple goes on to become the biggest company in the world.

    I don’t see much failure there.

    Now, let’s say he hadn’t decided to take over Apple (or couldn’t). The NeXT operating system he helped create was so good he easily could have introduced a low cost computer with it, having well expired his non-compete clause. (Once hardware memory and processors caught up with how advanced it was.) But why do that when it was clear he was in a position to take over Apple? Don’t forget, many years before Jobs actually took over Apple, Larry Ellison offered to help him do a hostile buyout. But Jobs waited and like a chess master, made exactly the right moves.

    1. Well written. I agree with your line of thinking. Jobs worked closely with Scully, and I’m sure he knew Scully would screw up the place. Job’s knew all he had to do was wait. But I’m sure he must have been concerned when Apple went a different direction after Scully, twice, wondering if there would be anything left of Apple to take over. So, I’m not sure he really wasn’t building NeXT to be a powerhouse computer / technology firm in it’s own right and saw the ability to jump ahead by merging it with Apple. It was only after Apple’s Copeland OS turned out to be a total failure that Apple went looking to purchase an OS. It could have been the BE OS if you recall, Apple looked at BE, but bought NeXT.

    2. ” Jobs bides his time and then takes over the company, using the operating system he created at NeXT.”

      Brilliant take. And seriously – watching the man in that video, I can see Jobs having done exactly what you described.

      He could see the hand-writing on the wall, an was able to skate to where Apple would be.

      Nice analysis.

  6. White Knight takes Bishop. Black castles. White pawn advances and Queens, Black panicks and sacrifices Rook to buy time. The end game is drawn out, but the outcome is obvious to every kibitzer.

  7. watched it all just proved what a forward thinker Steve was and also that without the next system and concepts the Mac would have died. So much of Macs way of thinking is in this presentation the concept of always pushing way ahead of now so that the next build had a 10 year life span. you see this in every minor increment of the iPhone. people take for granted the tock like its nothing big but it really always is for the future.
    Steve was just way ahead of technology he was held back by the slow pace of innovation. Steve really could see the real further of computing so much more than anyone else. A genius, he will always be missed by people that truly understand the 90’s computer age and what he was doing back then and how everything about Apples now is built on Next software and his unique way of pushing further faster.

  8. Worked once the coloration of my Mac documents on a Next workstation… Gee! That was soooooo far further away from what I could have expected to get out of my own machine!!! 🙂

  9. “Way too expensive with storage so slow that it was unusable for many tasks it was designed for…”

    This is a bunch of crap, it’s totally untrue. I was at that NeXT unveiling, and I purchased my NeXT slab shortly after that. At the time it was by far the cheapest Unix workstation available, it put the Sun Solaris workstation to shame. I paid $3400 for my NeXT (with a ton of software), and the Sun machine was going for $7000. Geez, even the new Pentium 586s were going for $5000 at the time.

    I loved my NeXT and it was my primary machine for most of the 90s. It was sooo far ahead of its time, it was a reliable workhorse that, in classic Jobs fashion, just worked.

    I sold it for $1500 after many years of use. Not a bad deal, I’d say…

  10. Having used a NeXTstation from 1991 I am still so glad that as from early 2001 I was able to finally get a newer version of all that and I am even more grateful for what became of it in the mobile space.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.