Steve’s anniversary was a few days ago. I always pause, at least for a moment, to remember how great those times were after his return to Apple in 1996. A rollercoaster that convinced me to leave my secure job in the scientific community, and risk everything on something new they were calling “apps”.
Unlike other developers of my era, I never had an exchange with Steve Jobs, and I regret that I now will never get the opportunity. But I do have a “Steve Jobs story”, which I have never shared. I actually don’t know whether it was a hoax, and I also wanted to respect his privacy in the case that it wasn’t, so I have never spoken about it. I think enough water has flowed that it should not be sensitive any longer.
Back in 2009, I was developing a flashcard app in my spare time called Mental Case (now Studies). I was selling it as shareware, but I still had a day job at the university. Apple was fast on its way to becoming the most valuable company on the planet, with the release of the iPhone in 2007, and the new App Store in 2008.
At the time, Steve was sick. It would remain a recurring theme of his last years. He would be at the reigns one minute, and then be away for a few months on “medical leave”. Outside of Apple, it wasn’t clear how serious this all was. They certainly played it down, as you would expect of a company discussing the health of its CEO.
That’s when I got the order. I would receive details of all Mental Case purchase orders in my email inbox. (Yes, there were so few I could read them all individually.) This one was different, because I recognized the name immediately.
Could this be the real Steve? I knew the email address was his, but everyone under the Sun knew that email address, so it meant nothing.
What about the street address? Not a California one. Missouri? Didn’t ring any bells at the time, but a few months later it became known that he had been treated for his liver problems in Missouri.
I’ve since searched for that address. The street seems to be fictional, but the zip code is in St. Louis, and does include a few medical centers, so I guess it is plausible that it was the real Steve. It was either the real Steve, or someone filling in false information, including a false email, and thereby donating their payment receipt to Steve Jobs. Both are plausible.
I have no idea if this was the real Steve Jobs on the line, or just a carefully crafted practical joke. (I don’t think the information about treatment in Missouri was even common knowledge at that time.) But I like to think it really was Steve, bored in his hospital bed, recovering from surgery, and just browsing through apps to see where the wind was blowing. Maybe he even wanted to learn a language, or memorize the names of presidents, or some other skill that Mental Case could help with.
I never met or spoke to Steve Jobs, but I like to think he at least used a piece of my software.