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From Steve Jobs’s Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Aug 20th 2010

SM: After NeXT was acquired by Apple, did you have any involvement at all with the company?

JH: No. I traveled for some time, and while I was traveling I met Keith Teare at a conference in Bangkok. There were very few Internet cafés in Bangkok, and we ran into each other at one. Keith started telling me about an idea he had that evolved into RealNames. I got involved with RealNames but never on a day-to-day basis. I was on the board.

I also took some time to help various startups, including making some investments in some of them. That lasted for two or three years before the Internet world crashed. RealNames collapsed as well in 2002. I remained in touch with Steve on a regular basis. In 2001, he came to Paris and we had a conversation about what would be interesting going forward. I told him at that time that he would have no choice but to make a phone.

He asked me to come back and explore the phone idea because he felt that in a few years down the road it could be the right time for a phone. I rejoined Apple, but I remained in France. I became CTO of the application division. I had a team in Paris of around twenty people, and we did develop technologies such as iCal and iSync. The synchronization was the most important aspect to me because I felt it was critical to have accurate synchronization before anyone could really use multiple devices, the phone in particular.

SM: The only other player out there with decent synchronization is Palm.

JH: Palm was decent as long as you did not look inside. They did not have the benefit of a full operating system, and they did well with what they had. Nokia acquired Symbian, which I thought was a huge mistake. It got them into a world that was already dying. When the iPhone came out, it changed the game. Nokia could be the best at the hardware and the radio, but that was not going to make them the number one phone. Those traits are now a commodity. Apple changed the game with the software and the App Store.

SM: When you were in Paris working on the iCal and iSync, were those early experiments to move toward the phone?

JH: No, we were very much linked with most of the phone companies. We were doing experiments with our product that never saw the light of day. At some point Steve was convinced of the market credibility, and an entirely new project began for the iPhone. That all happened by 2005.

SM: How was the organization brought together to go for the iPhone?

JH: When the decision to make the iPhone happened, all of the other phone-oriented developments, especially those outside of the United States, were stopped. Everything was done behind locked doors in San Francisco. I could have decided to move and continue with the iPhone, but for personal reasons I wanted to stay in Paris. I also did not want to continue working with Apple remotely, especially in the position I had. It meant I spent all of my time flying and dealing with big company issues. I left Apple before the iPhone came out.

SM: We all know what happened with the iPhone. What happened with you after you left Apple in 2005?

JH: I did some more traveling. I took trip to Bhutan with my wife, and she really liked it because she is a botanist. She decided to write a book, so we went there many times, up to three times a year. I also went to other places throughout Asia. At the same time, I had children who were school-aged so I could not spend all my time traveling.

I could not just live in Paris and do nothing. I was never able to do very much with photography when I was at Apple. Things like Flickr were popping up and quickly evolving. In a sense, it was a way to get beyond personal things because their tagging system allowed you to post pictures for the rest of the world. There was a lot of social interaction around it, and I found it to be a good way to make friends. Of course, that quickly led to popularity contests where people voted for each other’s pictures.

This segment is part 5 in the series : From Steve Jobs's Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot
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