How Steve Jobs First Reacted To Video Chatting

These days, group video calling has become so commonplace it's almost hard to believe that just a few decades ago, the tech almost seemed like science fiction. Originally released in 2002 at a time when most people still used dial-up, Apple's iChat was designed as a text-based instant messaging app. The rapid expansion of broadband in the early aughts, however, increased internet speeds nationwide and sparked a surge of voice and video calling services, most notably Skype, which launched in 2003, and iChat AV, which debuted that same year. However, many of those early video calling apps lacked Apple's distinctive panache — some apps could be clunky and difficult to use. 

When Justin Santamaria joined the iChat team in 2004, the engineers were working on the next major leap in iChat functionality: group calling with up to four participants. Beyond the technical challenges of synchronizing multiple audio and video streams, the team also had another high bar to clear: Steve Jobs' impossibly high expectations. Speaking to the Techmeme Ride Home podcast, Santamaria recounts the day the late Apple chief demoed Apple's new iChat AV group calling feature, and his reaction was classic Steve Jobs.

Jobs didn't hold back his reaction to the video call feature

Steve Jobs didn't earn his reputation as Silicon Valley's most charismatic showman by acting coy or holding his tongue. Apple lore is rife with stories involving anxiety-inducing first encounters with the company's mercurial CEO, and as a new engineer on a high-profile Apple team, Santamaria was coached on how to act by a colleague before the demo with Jobs started: "Whatever happens, pretend like it's going well."

For this demo, the team was split up with Jobs in one room and the others occupying three other rooms, as expected in the podcast episode. As the story goes, Jobs makes the first call, which Santamaria answers. After some chitchat, they connect to a third caller and the screen expands from a simple one-to-one view into a bigger, more elaborate 3D group calling view. It was this feature in particular that seemed to have impressed Jobs the most.

After the classic "woom" sound, when the interface popped out into the 3D view, that's when Jobs exclaimed, "I'm gonna make the crowd shit their pants!" Jobs did eventually announce iChat's group video calling feature at Apple's 2004 Worldwide Developers' Conference to several waves of applause, with the most enthusiastic audience reaction occurring at the exact moment Jobs had predicted: when iChat expanded into the 3D view (see it for yourself at the 1:35:00 timestamp). To know whether the other part of his prediction came true, well, you'd have to have been there.