Steve Wozniak is one of the biggest names in the IT industry and yesterday he was the toast of Londonderry as the headline speaker at an international conference of business advisors. More than 500 delegates from 24 countries attended the high profile event in the city’s Millennium Forum, many attending specifically to listen to the man affectionately known as ‘the Woz’.
The future belongs to the youth, Wozniak told an audience that was mostly on the wrong side of 30. “Young people start the big companies such as Apple and Google because they don’t have the attachment to do the old way of doing things,” said the Apple co-founder.
“They come up with the clever new ways of doing things. They don’t have a lot of money, so they don’t have to do things for money. So they are much greater risk takers. Once you have success in your life, you only pursue things that maintain your success. Young people are willing to go off in a different direction. They find solutions that other people would not find.”
Wozniak echoed a theme of the conference in encouraging risk taking and looking to new approaches to overcome challenges. “Change is the new norm – it’s the new status quo,” he said. “It’s ok to break the rules if you know what will work.”
But the man who broke lots of rules in helping to build Apple into one of the world’s biggest and most profitably companies admitted that it is difficult to predict the future. “It’s hard to see where we get to with all this new technology.”
Wozniak was clear, though, that he expects technology to move closer to the individual and become more interactive, both as a one-to-one teaching device in schools and in everyday life. “We are moving closer and closer to where computers are like a person,” he suggested. “Our mobile devices are becoming more like humans.”
This places Apple’s arch rival Google in a particular strong position given that connectivity with the consumer is the basis of the company’s business model. “It is probably the best stock of any in the world” to own, added Wozniak. “I predict a really great future for the company.”
Increasingly, he suggested, we will wear personalised computing devices either as wrist watches, or on our heads – as with the Google glasses. Wozniak predicted that the intimacy of the devices will be enhanced by their use of our very personal data – providing governments do not ban corporations from collating this.
Wozniak, the engineer behind the original Apple products, told the Belfast Telegraph that if Northern Ireland is to compete effectively as an innovative country it needs to provide resource centres in which young people can experiment and build. “Your real education comes in thinking out how to solve problems,” he suggested.
A bear of a man, Wozniak said he was pleased to be in Derry. “This is my first time in Ireland and my mum says I am one fourth Irish,” he said. Asked about his first impressions he said: “I can sense a lot of enthusiasm. I expect the most success from companies where I see a high level of sophistication. I see that here in the same way I do when I go to Brazil.”
Wozniak said there were lessons for new entrepreneurs from the way that Apple was founded with very little cash. “Steve Jobs and I started Apple by selling our most valuable possession for $300 each,” he recalled. “When you don’t have much money, do as much as you can without money. Try to have working models first, before you try to build it [in production]. Include the engineers from day one in terms of [deciding] what you can do.”
If our entrepreneurs were listening, a new generation of high tech Northern Ireland businesses may be about to be born. Perhaps one of them, one day, will be a new Apple.
Steve Wozniak was speaking at the 22nd annual European Business Network conference. Half of those attending have come from overseas. It is the largest ever EBN conference and is hosted by NORIBIC, the Northern Ireland Business and Innovation Centre.