Apple’s Education Announcements Began With Steve Jobs and NeXT


Apple had a number of announcements during its education event yesterday. They announced an update to iBooks with new interactive books, a brand new authoring tool called iBooks Author, and a new iTunes U app for iOS devices. But we’re not here to talk about what Apple announced at their event today or the other things that everyone seems to be talking about. Instead, we’re going to take a trip back in time to the mid-1980′s when Steve Jobs left Apple and was just 90 days into his next big company called NeXT.

An Abridged History of NeXT

Shortly after Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985, he started a computer company called NeXT. He pumped millions of dollars into NeXT, hired Paul Rand to design its logo (as seen in the video below), and poured his heart into every aspect of NeXT. Unlike Apple at the time, Jobs’ vision for NeXT was to take personal computers and sell them to university students and faculty at affordable rates.

While chairman at Apple, he began visiting universities to sell Macintosh computers, and became intrigued with the education industry. So thanks to Jobs, NeXT’s focus was almost entirely on the education industry and providing learning tools to help students learn and faculty teach more effectively. Years passed and NeXT continued to grow as a company hiring over 500 employees during its course of 11 years. It finally shut its doors and sold itself to Apple in 1996.

The Steve Jobs Interview

But prior to the closure of NeXT, Steve Jobs and his crew of ex-Apple employees were filmed in a documentary titled Entrepreneurs just months after NeXT was started. I happened to stumble across this documentary yesterday, and after hearing the latest Apple news from its education event, I began to realize there were a lot of similarities between what Apple said during its event and what Steve Jobs and NeXT were trying to accomplish nearly 27 years ago. What especially drew my attention was what Steve Jobs said during an interview in the documentary. The video below will start at the interview.

Interactive Textbooks

About 30 seconds into the interview, Steve mentions “simulated learning environments”, and describes them as an affordable alternative to a linear accelerator or recombinant DNA laboratory. If you watched or read about Apple’s education event yesterday, you’re probably starting to see a similarity between what Jobs calls “simulated learning environments” and what Apple now calls “interactive magic” with iBooks.

While neither Jobs’ nor Apple’s alternative to a DNA laboratory is perfect for isolating and cloning DNA like you can in an actual laboratory, both aim(ed) to provided students with a cheaper alternative. However, Apple’s now doing it with a $500 device while NeXT did it with a $6,500 computer. Which brings me to my next point…

The iPad

Right after Steve talks about these simulated learning environments, he goes on to say that…

…you can simulate those things on a very powerful computer… if we can do the same thing for this type of computer, which is maybe 10 times as powerful as a personal computer… then I think we can make a real difference in the way the learning experience happens in the next 5 years.

It may have taken Steve Jobs and Apple a little longer than 5 years to invent this “powerful computer”, but they finally did 15 years later when the iPad was first released in 2010. I’m not sure if the device itself was exactly what Jobs had pictured back in 1985, but I’m sure its affordability was something he was aiming for.

Steve’s Dream

Within seconds of the Apple event starting yesterday, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, walked out on stage and told attendees that “education is deep in Apple’s DNA”. Deep within Apple’s DNA and even deeper thanks to its acquisition of NeXT, a company whose primary focus was education.

It’s been said that Steve Jobs had left Apple with four years of plans to ensure the company’s success in the future. After watching this documentary about NeXT, I think it’s obvious now that part of those plans was to ensure his dream of providing teachers and students with affordable, user-friendly tools was met.

Patrick is the founder and editor-in-chief of pinglio. He works as a system administrator and studied at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He currently lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and two dogs.