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iWitness

Jobs was an unapologetic critic of every step of the product-development process, from hardware functionality to the experience of opening the box.

Burlington Mac maker Jerry Manock remembers his old boss: Steve Jobs.

Jerry Manock’s Burlington office is crammed with industrial-design jobs that never saw the light of day: a hockey skate with an adjustable blade; a “Cubic” furniture building block that IKEA almost bought; and a model for the “rumbler,” a bathroom-scale-like device designed to vibrate at a frequency to maintain elder bone density.

Any number of factors -- timing, money, patent problems -- can kill a great invention. But Manock got at least one product right. In 1977, when he was 33 and Apple had just five employees, Steve Jobs hired him as a consultant to design the Apple II, one of the first personal computers in history to be successfully mass produced and marketed.

Manock gets credit for almost everything but the circuit board and the logic (which was engineered by Jobs’ partner and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak): the machine’s “thermal management, the structure, the outside aesthetics, the color -- beige, Pantone 453, the color of the deep-space universe,” Manock says, rattling off his contributions to the once-cutting-edge Apple II, which now looks like a yellowing typewriter on a shelf in his office.

Beside it sits the smaller, self-contained, revolutionary Macintosh. A successor to the Apple II, it was the first personal computer to incorporate both a graphical interface and a mouse in a way that inspired the term “user-friendly.” Manock was part of the original team of a half-dozen workers who designed the Mac.

Both man and machine are Apple originals.

Manock first turns up on page 73 of Walter Isaacson’s 627-page best-selling biography, Steve Jobs, which was rushed to publication last October, just three weeks after Jobs died of pancreatic cancer. Although Isaacson never spoke to Manock, the book reads like he did. About the Apple II, he writes, “Jobs wanted a simple and elegant design, which he hoped would set Apple apart from the other machines, with their clunky gray metal cases… He offered a local consultant, Jerry Manock, $1500 to produce such a design.”

Manock says the deal was for $1800, and has a letter signed by Jobs to prove it. Isaacson goes on: “Manock, dubious about Jobs’ appearance, asked for the money up front. Jobs refused, but Manock took the job anyway. Within weeks, he had produced a simple foam-modeled plastic case that was uncluttered and exuded friendliness. Jobs was thrilled.”

Such positive reactions were rare. As Isaacson documents, Jobs was an unapologetic critic of every step of the product-development process, from hardware functionality to the experience of opening the box. But he was satisfied enough with Manock’s work on the Apple II -- and subsequent Disk II -- to hire him full time as corporate manager of product design.

For three and a half years, Manock and his colleagues worked under Jobs, perfecting the Mac. He witnessed Apple’s early innovation, exponential growth and subsequent conflicts -- including the one between Jobs and CEO John Sculley. Although Manock left Apple before Jobs was ousted, he recaps, “The minute Sculley got the majority on the executive council, it was all over.”

In fact, Jobs was just getting started. Apple went on to develop the iPod, iBook, iPhone and iPad. Last week, Apple briefly overtook Exxon as the most valuable corporation in the U.S. From his unique vantage point, Manock had a clear view of a visionary entrepreneur who employed what colleagues describe as a “reality distortion field” to charm, inspire and drive his employees to do the impossible. Manock lists Jobs among the top five most influential people in the world, along with Gandhi and Jesus Christ.

You could say Manock, now 66, is an Apple apostle. The sole proprietor of Manock Comprehensive Design has mastered no shortage of design challenges, and for 21 years has taught a University of Vermont class on integrated product development. Art and engineering -- and marketing -- are compatible in Manock’s world. His wife, Mary Ellen, and two daughters, Abby and Katherine, are all artists. Abby borrowed her dad’s copy of Steve Jobs before Manock had a chance to do much more than check the index, confirm he was in it and determine Jobs hadn’t described him as a bozo.

On a recent trip to Maine with her parents, “Abby read it all the way over and all the way back, and would all of a sudden start cracking up,” Manock says. “Then she’d ask me about those parts of it I was involved in. I loved her interest in it. And it is sort of part of her heritage, too.” The Manocks still have the teddy bear Jobs gave Abby on the occasion of her birth, almost 35 years ago.

These days, Jerry Manock is busy readying all his other historic Apple paraphernalia -- blueprints, business plans, confidential memos, color chips, hardware, project notebooks -- to ship to the Silicon Valley archive at Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering with a graduate focus on product design.

Manock suggested the curator come out to see what he’s got first, but a few brief mentions sufficed. “I started naming off some stuff,” Manock says. “He said, ‘We’ll take it.’”

Not included in the shipment: Manock’s memories of working alongside a future legend, and their brief encounters after he moved his family to Vermont in 1985. That conversation -- pieced together from talks at his Burlington home and office -- is excerpted below.

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