The Secret Of Steve

Kevin Ashton
6 min readMar 28, 2013

The secret of Steve is simple. It explains his success and excess. It exemplifies our instinct for creation. Creating is not a result of genius, unconscious incubation or aha! moments. It is a result of thinking: a series of mental steps consisting of problem, solution, repeat. The best solutions solve the most problems. This was discovered in the 1930s by psychologist Karl Duncker:

“ … action means acting, guided by knowledge of the purpose and of the means. This structure of action is no ‘definition,’ but an original and basic experience of mankind. Also the question, ‘Why doesn’t it work?’ or, ‘What should I change to make it work?’”

Jobs announced Apple’s new cell phone, the iPhone, in 2007:

“The most advanced phones are called smart phones. They are definitely a little smarter, but they actually are harder to use. They all have these keyboards that are there whether you need them or not. How do you solve this? We solved it in computers 20 years ago. We solved it with a screen that could display anything. What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen. We don’t want to carry around a mouse. We’re going to use a stylus. No. You have to get them and put them away, and you lose them. We’re going to use our fingers.”

Jobs is using steps like the ones Duncker saw. Problem: Smarter phones are harder to use because they have permanent keyboards. Solution: A big screen and a pointer. Problem: What kind of pointer? Solution: A mouse. Problem: We don’t want to carry a mouse around. Solution: A stylus. Problem: A stylus might get lost. Solution: Use our fingers.

Apple sold 4 million phones in 2007, 14 million in 2008, 29 million in 2009, 40 million in 2010, and 82 million in 2011 for a total of 155 million phones sold in its first five years in the phone business despite charging a higher price than its competitors. How?

For several years I was a member of the research advisory board of a company that made cell phones. Every year it gave me its latest phone. I found each one harder to use than the last, as did other board members. It was no secret Apple might make a phone: The risk was always dismissed, since Apple had never made a phone. A few months after Apple’s phone became available, the board met and I asked what the company…



Kevin Ashton

Called a thing the Internet of Things. Wrote How to Fly a Horse—The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, available at