Anniversary Post: The Apple I at 40 Years Old

I am out of time, and I must get up early and visit my brother this morning. So I’m replaying last year’s anniversary post. But it’s quite interesting. It’s worth another go. -FM

Apple IToday, the Apple I is 40 years old. The company itself was started just ten days earlier. It’s interesting that in the public consciousness, Apple is Steve Jobs. Yet the first Apple computer was not built by Steve Jobs. In fact, I don’t think that Steve Jobs ever built a computer. He was the sales guy — the PR man. The Apple I was built by Steve Wozniak. So was the Apple II. Wozniak was the tech guy of the company for as long as the company couldn’t afford to hire tech people from outside.

Apparently, a year earlier, Wozniak had attended a computer club meeting. He was so inspired that he decided to build his own computer. And a year later, he had. Forgive me for not thinking much about the non-technical aspects of business, but I just don’t think that Jobs’ “idea” of selling the computer was all that brilliant. But he’s the man who everyone remembers. And he’s the man who every know-nothing uses (along with Bill Gates) as examples of entrepreneurship and why we need to keep Mitt Romney’s taxes low.

The Apple I was a pretty basic unit. It came with 4 KB of memory — which could be expanded to 8 KB on board or 48 KB with expansion cards. I know, this sounds like nothing. But the truth is that with 48 KB, there are some pretty decent user applications that can be created. In particular, I’ve run totally acceptable word processors and spreadsheets on computers of that quality. But the biggest thing that limited all computers of that age was the video. The Apple I had a 40×24 character display. It looked something like this:

On March 5, 1975 Steve Wozniak attended
the first meeting of the Homebrew
Computer Club in Gordon French’s garage.
He was so inspired that he immediately
set to work on what would become the
Apple I computer. Wozniak calculated
that laying out his design would cost
$1,000 and parts would cost another $20
per computer; he hoped to recoup his
costs if 50 people bought his design
for $40 each. His friend Steve Jobs
obtained an order from a local computer
store the Byte Shop the affordable
computer store in Mt View California
for 50 computers at $500 each. To
fulfill the $25,000 order, they obtained
$20,000 in parts at 30 days net and
delivered the finished product in 10
days. Apple went on to be one of the
biggest computer companies in the world
by stealing innovations of other
companies and suing any competitors. Now
people buy Apple products because of its
brand, even though better products at
cheaper prices are widely available.

Happy anniversary Apple I!

9 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: The Apple I at 40 Years Old

  1. Hmm. When it finally came along, the Commadore64 was so much more a computer, but it did have a big upfront cost. The real cream of the crop for computers without hard drives was the Amiga (also a Commadore product).

    The problem I have with Apple branded products is that their build quality is not good, physically…and they are intentionally made to be near impossible to service.

    • Certainly today in terms of quality. I remember the Apple II and it was really well built machine. But it doesn’t much matter what you look at. You can get a much better computer for $3,000 than for $300. With the Apple, you also have to pay for the brand. It amazes me that it is worth something to people. To me, it’s kind of an anti-brand. I wouldn’t want people thinking I’m some Apple cultist. Not that their products are necessarily bad. But you know the saying, “Apple isn’t a computer; it’s a lifestyle.” It makes me want to retch.

    • No kidding. I had a used Mac laptop years ago; I killed the keyboard (I always kill keyboards) and found online instructions on how to repair it for, like, a $10 part I could get on eBay. Nice, easy, cheap.

      So when it died, I got another used Mac laptop. A newer model. And this last weekend the keyboard died from my killing it. No problem, I thought, I’ll just look up how to fix it. Holy shit! It’s virtually a superhuman task! You literally have to rip the keyboard out of the frame and replace 52 little screws (which are commonly sold in packs of 50), that is if you were lucky enough not to damage the logic board in the process. Screw this junk!

      So instead I just bought an external keyboard, and hopefully this jerry-rigged setup lasts long enough for me to cobble together some money so I can buy a PC and add some memory sticks to it. I MUST have at least 8 GB. Although, now that you mention it, I was always pretty happy with my Commodore 64 and a cassette-tape drive . . .

  2. I don’t know much about computers obviously but I do love my iPod so I can ignore the radio in favor of music that drives you up the wall.

    Only it takes extra effort these days so now I just download songs to my phone and play them that way.

    • Right. I have a very nice mp3 player on my phone. Of course, I’ll bet I had a non-Apple mp3 player long before you had an iPod because — everyone together — Apple never invents anything!

      • I wanted an iPod because I knew they were designed for computer idiots and I am a computer idiot.

        But I also know they stole it from Xerox’s PARC. To quote Pirates of Silicon Valley:

        Steve Jobs: What is this? This is like doing business with a praying mantis. You get seduced, and then eaten alive afterwards?

        Bill Gates: Get real, would ya? You and I are both like guys who had this rich neighbor – Xerox – who left the door open all the time. And you go sneakin’ in to steal a TV set. Only when you get there, you realize that I got there first. I got the loot, Steve! And you’re yellin’? “That’s not fair. I wanted to try to steal it first.” You’re too late.

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