Steve Jobs To John Carmack: ‘Why Don’t You Write A New OS?’

by Ian Hamilton • May 14th, 2018

Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack shared recollections of his interactions with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The Facebook note is a fun read, with one particular quotation Carmack attributes to the former Apple leader that might become particularly meaningful in the years to come.

Steve Jobs died in 2011 as the company he started decades earlier was just cementing its dominance of the smartphone market. Stories of Jobs’ “reality distortion field” are famous, and I recommend checking out the full Carmack note for another perspective on the executive. In 2012, Carmack’s endorsement of Oculus helped kickstart the company and, since joining the startup, his work has been critical to the development of high-quality VR experiences running on top of Android. Here’s the notable exchange recalling Carmack’s reaction to the original Web-based app development model Jobs originally pitched for the iPhone:

Steve first talked about application development for iPhone at the same keynote I was demonstrating the new ID Tech 5 rendering engine on Mac, so I was in the front row. When he started going on about “Web Apps”, I was (reasonably quietly) going “Booo!!!”.

After the public cleared out and the rest of us were gathered in front of the stage, I started urgently going on about how web apps are terrible, and wouldn’t show the true potential of the device. We could do so much more with real native access!

Steve responded with a line he had used before: “Bad apps could bring down cell phone towers.” I hated that line. He could have just said “We aren’t ready”, and that would have been fine.

I was making some guesses, but I argued that the iPhone hardware and OS provided sufficient protection for native apps. I pointed at a nearby engineer and said “Don’t you have an MMU and process isolation on the iPhone now?” He had a wide eyed look of don’t-bring-me-into-this, but I eventually got a “yes” out of him.

I said that OS-X was surely being used for things that were more security critical than a phone, and if Apple couldn’t provide enough security there, they had bigger problems. He came back with a snide “You’re a smart guy John, why don’t you write a new OS?” At the time, my thought was, “Fuck you, Steve.”.

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