Wozniak details computer revolution, but not Apple's problems

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Steve Wozniak was a big draw at Robert Morris University.

But for all their excitement, the hundreds of students who showed up on Wednesday to listen to the co-founder of Apple didn't seem interested in finding out what he thought about the pressures facing the computer giant. And some didn't know much about him beyond the basics.

“Not much. I'm here to learn,” said Allison Couch, 18, when asked what she knew of Wozniak beyond him co-founding Apple 38 years ago. The freshman biomedical engineering major said she was assigned to attend Wozniak's appearance for her public speaking class.

Wozniak, the builder of the first personal computer, spoke to the students and others for about half hour at the Moon campus. He touched on his pioneering days at Apple and his work with the late Steve Jobs, his partner and the company's visionary leader. And he enlightened them about how he envisioned and built the company's first successful commercial computer, the Apple II.

They rushed to meet, question and photograph him in person after his speech. But none asked him about the problems buffeting the $171 billion company that reshaped technology and society with the iPhone, iPod and iPad devices. Its stock plummeted 9 percent during the past two days because of flagging sales and concerns that it has not released another blockbuster product.

Wozniak, who left Apple almost three decades ago but is still a shareholder, avoided talking about the company's struggles. The trendsetting company is losing ground to rivals who are offering what Apple so far has refused to make: lower priced smartphones and larger screens.

Christopher Hare, 20, a sophomore cyber forensics major, said he'd done no research on Google or YouTube about Wozniak or what's going on at Apple. But he was excited to hear him speak.

Others knew Wozniak from recent television appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

Yet his on-campus appearance at Robert Morris generated the largest crowd on record, officials said. Wozniak also spoke on Wednesday evening at the Robert Morris-sponsored Pittsburgh Speakers Series at Heinz Hall.

“For many of us, it was the first computer we ever touched,” said RMU President Greg Dell'Omo of the Apple II. “This is a great turnout,” he said.

“His life's work is not done; he‘s got a long time to go,” said Kevin Miller of Wozniak. The CEO of software company Cogistix LLC, of Boardman, Ohio, said he learned to program on an Apple IIe. “That's my connection — I've kind of come full circle.”

Apple's popularity appears to know no bounds among generations — even for its aging inventor who helped start the personal computer revolution.

Wozniak, 63, said his interests began in the days when electronics were build with wires, solder and vacuum tubes, evolving to the miniaturized digital circuits of today. “Back then there were no instructions, no manuals,” he said. “I taught myself.”

He began by combining parts into little gadgets that became bigger gadgets, on which he could end up playing games like tic-tac -toe. “I fell in love with it. It was the passion of my heart,” Wozniak said.

He joined an electronics club where he, engineers and academicians “talked about if we ever had our own computer, there would be a social revolution.” Then he met Jobs, who upon seeing Wozniak's gadgets, had an idea to start a company.

“There's a lot of mythology about Steve Jobs and a garage that didn't exist,” Wozniak told the RMU students.

Apple's first products, the Apple I and then the Apple II, were built in a cubical at Hewlett Packard, where Wozniak worked.

Of the Apple II, Wozniak said, “Steve Jobs saw it and found a way to turn it into money. ... He understood electronics, but he never could create (them). He took the public role, while I did the engineering.”

Apple's shares fell $5.75, or 1.1 percent, closing at $500.75, after falling $44.00 on Tuesday when the company reported iPhone sales for the holiday season missed analysts' estimates. The holidays are typically the most lucrative period for Apple.

Apple projected revenue may fall early this year, in what would be the first quarterly sales decline since 2003. Last year, Apple posted its first profit drop in more than a decade.

Apple's quarterly profit and revenue still beat projections. Profit last quarter was $13.1 billion, or $14.50 a share, little changed from $13.1 billion, or $13.81, a year earlier. Sales rose 5.7 percent to $57.6 billion. Analysts had predicted profit of $14.07 a share on sales of $57.5 billion.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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