Everyone knows Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in the '70s and then came back to rescue it and lead a digital revolution in the '90s, but many often forget that in between Jobs founded NeXT, one of the most influential tech startups in history whose 30th anniversary is this year.
Jobs began work on NeXT in 1985 with the goal of creating the most powerful computer of all time after being ousted from Apple (AAPL) that same year. Unsurprisingly, NeXT computers stood out for their iconic design that included a colorful, tilted logo and a sleek all-black look, but the company’s legacy lays in the impact it had on the computing world.
The NeXTSTEP operating system was one of the first to use object oriented programming and a graphical user interface, which are now two mainstays of the tech industry. Tim Berners-Lee famously used a NeXT machine to create the World Wide Web, and as a result of Apple’s $429 million 1997 purchase of the company, NeXT’s technology serves as the underlying basis for Mac OS X, iOS and watchOS, the operating systems that power Apple’s Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch products, respectively.
There are countless books, movies, documentaries and articles about Jobs and his time with Apple, but not much has been said about his time at NeXT (Ashton Kutcher’s terrible “Jobs” movie, for example, spends all of five seconds on the company). That’s why Jesse Tayler, CEO of Object Enterprises Incorporated which is an iOS development firm, has set out to create a documentary about the forgotten startup.
In the 90s, Tayler developed third-party software for NeXTSTEP, was friends with several NeXT employees and at one point, pitched the concept of an app store to Jobs himself. Now, he has a team working with him as he interviews NeXT employees for his film, titled “AppStorey.” I met Tayler at Apple’s recent Worldwide Developer Conference and interviewed him about his upcoming NeXT documentary.
International Business Times: What inspired you to start working on “AppStorey,” and why hasn’t there been more work done on this company?
Jesse Tayler: It’s not really in Apple’s interest to talk about really anything that they used to do -- they’re not a nostalgia driven kind of company. Also, if you’re them, you don’t want to talk about that time and take away from Jobs’ time at Apple. So the winds of the world have blown by this time in history because nobody really has had it in their interest to tell that story. It’s the first time that the people who were there building these NeXT computers are getting interviewed to talk about what was happening then.
These things are not going to boot forever, they’re not going to boot 30 years from now, and if they did, there wouldn’t be anyone around who knew what to do with them. So it’s a great time to capture something that happened 30 years ago that happened to be really important and happens to be a story that really hasn’t been told.
IBTimes: You showed your Electronic AppWrapper, which is credited as the first app store, to Jobs at a NeXT developer conference in the early 90s. What was that experience like?
Tayler: Steve walked the floor of these things, so when I saw him, I just walked up to him and said ‘Hi, I’m Jesse Tayler, I’ve been busting my ass on this software for the last year and a half, and I want to show it to you.’ And he said “Sure, where is it?”
I come up and my workmates hand me the mouse, and I just went into demo mode. For the next five minutes, I walked him through the app store and how the whole thing worked, speaking fast. I finished up and I turned to him. He was standing there the whole time with those hands clasped in that kind of guru pose, and he says “I like it.” That was all he said, but it was plenty good enough because he was not known for being kind. There was certainly an edge to him if you did a bad demo. You would certainly hear it in ways that were just flagrantly offensive, so saying very little was one of the things I should’ve hoped for.
IBTimes: NeXT left a legacy, but it wasn’t commercially successful. Why was that?
Tayler: There’s two answers. The simple one is that it wouldn’t run Microsoft Word or Microsoft anything, and this was during the time when Microsoft had just swallowed the desktop market. Today we can’t imagine a world where Microsoft is so powerful, but that’s the way it was.
The long answer is that the machine itself was very expensive. Jobs really just wanted to build the greatest computer. This computer basically started at $10,000, but if you wanted one that worked, you’re talking more like twice that -- I spent $17,000 on my NeXT. The NeXT was too elite and too expensive, and frankly, the NeXT solved computer problems that most people didn’t have and most people didn’t know existed. So although some people laud it as the greatest computer ever made, not a lot of people found a business reason to be able to spend that kind of money.
IBTimes: NeXT still serves as the underlying basis of Apple’s products today, but really, how closely related is the Apple Watch to the original NeXT technology?
Tayler: I have an Apple Watch, and it boots the same microkernel as my NeXT. I mean, obviously an updated copy of it, but literally, some of the same engineers who were at NeXT are still there and still chipping away at these things. The NeXT software is what Apple uses for the application layer. All of those tools for writing apps -- all of those things are the same from the Apple Watch back to NeXT. This Watch, somebody could hack it and boot NeXTSTEP with it. That’s how close these cousins really are.
There’s no official release date yet for “AppStorey” because it's still in the early stages of production, but Tayler said he hopes to release a full trailer for the film some time in the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can check out the teaser trailer for the film below.